It has been a week where images from the present have stirred memories of a horrific past and an overdose of cricket is almost numbing one's senses. The Vadodara ODI was resuscitated from its deathbed only by lusty blows from Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar, which allowed India to finally breathe in honour. Not only did it bring the match to a stirring end, it also evoked images from a past best left forgotten.
The Australian bowlers fed full toss after full toss to these two batsmen in a display of one of the worst bowling performances seen in years. As Australia started sinking under a torrent of sixes and fours, a horrifying image came back to haunt me. Years ago, Hansie Cronje, through his gentle full-tosses, had allowed India to claw back into a match that they had given up for the dead. It was a one-day series played in India, which later came to be known as the one where bookies had offered loads of money to players to manipulate the result.
With Ponting not falling back on his best bowler, Brett Lee, in the death overs, I could feel myself covered in cold sweat. Mercifully, there was a cricketing explanation for this. The Australian frontline attack was exhausted and broke down, while Lee was not even fit to turn his arm. Ponting's lament after the match was a genuine cry from a player to the administrators to ration the scheduling, otherwise many outstanding players would become martyrs to cricket's greed.
From a spectator's point of view, it would also mean mediocrity on display, as the best players would not be fit enough to give their best.
T20s might be good for the game and its spread, as many believe, especially those who have discovered pots of gold in its marketing, but how much cricket can a player play round the year without risking a breakdown? There may be spectators out there who are immune to the fatigue that many of us are going through, but for players, it is a hard physical workout and the reason why the ratio of breakdowns in recent times has increased.
India, the home of cricket and its money, has been one of the worst sufferers, with its three main players — Sehwag, Yuvraj and Zaheer — all out due to injuries at one point last month.
Till Ponting's outburst, the players, after the advent of IPL, have generally kept quiet despite their having serious problems with an excess of one-dayers and Tests. It is money that is buying their silence. A key Australian player and a member of the New South Wales team which won the Champions League, had this to say about T20 cricket: “This will ruin cricket, finish the skills of the game, but what to do, you guys are offering so much money.”
When three firms are shelling out over Rs 1,000 crore a year for the telecast rights of three different formats of the game, the money on offer and number of matches has to be huge.
If, in the past, the greed of a few players tainted this sport forever, today it is the administrators who are playing with
fire. In the end, it is spectators who are cheated — the quality of matches suffer with the best players often laid low by injury. Unless they revolt, this never-ending action will be beamed into our homes 24x7, like it or lump it.