In a world which puts a premium on speed over slowness, brevity over length, shortness over distance and the much shorter version of cricket over Tests, the itinerary of India’s tour to the West Indies seems a throwback to a time long forgotten.
These are times when in the name of acclimatization, all a cricket team gets is a couple of days nets before the start of the actual series. Unlike in the past, when a team would at least spend a fortnight, if not a month, playing practice matches, these days players are given no time to adapt to conditions very different from what they are used to at home.
The present day schedule, dictated by television companies with broadcasting rights, is to cram as many international matches as possible in as short a time as possible so that their profits get maximized. Therefore, it is a surprise that in the seven-week tour in which four Test matches are scheduled, India played two practice matches in fifteen days before the start of the first major encounter.
Not that the Indian players would mind this luxury of time while preparing for the series. It helps in jelling together, understanding each other better and more importantly, adapting to wicket and weather conditions, a significant component of cricket.
Test cricket was structured for a long-drawn battle with many twists and turns in between while meandering towards its final climax, even if in the end there was a possibility of a no result. The sport has seen major changes in its rules and regulations over the last few decades, to bring it in tune with the speed that a modern day lifestyle demands.
From timeless matches, to five-days, to one-day and now to a three-and-an-half-hour game, no other sport has seen such drastic restructuring as cricket has. Even after these radical changes, no one is sure what kind of future awaits us. Will the future of Test cricket be in the pink-ball played under flood-lights? Will the number of days get reduced from five to four and a restriction of 100 overs a side per innings?
The cricket playing world is scrambling to find ways and means to make the longer version of the game entertaining enough so that it can compete with the instant gratification generated by its shorter version. If, in the process, variety of subtle skills that require a craftsman’s patience to acquire and perfect, get lost on the way, blame it on our desperate quest for speed.
If Virat Kholi and his boys may find 15 days of preparations for the series an unusual happening in the present times, let them be told this banana-boat story:
India embarked on its four-month tour of the West Indies in 1953. The team, led by Vijay Hazare, first travelled from Mumbai to London by air and then took a ship from Southampton to Trinidad. The journey was completed in 15 days and Madhav Apte, the youngest member of the team, has been quoted by Mid-day sports editor Clayton Murzello as having told him:”I say it was a banana boat because the SS Golfito carried bananas from the West Indies to Europe and it returned empty which is why it rocked so much.”