Is Test cricket really dying? Will it lose out to One-Day Internationals and Twenty20? Here’s my view: Tests will not go out of fashion soon.
Though Twenty20 has captured the imagination of the cricketing world, I believe it will not push Test cricket to the brink — not unless the next generation of cricket players decides to take shortcuts and is lured by megabucks.
My generation realises that Test cricket is the real thing, but the huge crowd participation and superb marketing and packaging of Twenty20 may see the coming generation of Indian cricketers hitching itself to the shorter version.
But not, I think, in England, Australia and South Africa. The Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and the New Year Test in Sydney still attract as big a crowd as an IPL or ODI match in India. Besides, the crowds there are far more knowledgeable and understand what the traditional form of cricket is all about; they won’t applaud if you edge one to the boundary. But in India and Pakistan, what matters is the boundary or a wicket, no matter how it comes.
As with Test cricket, there are doubts about Mumbai cricket too. At one time, there used to be as many as six or seven of our players in the Indian squad and some believe that the standard of Mumbai cricket has gone down in the last few years.
I don't think so: Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy for the 38th time last season and did well at the junior levels too. And getting into the Mumbai Ranji squad is as difficult as ever.
What has happened is that smaller centres have made rapid strides and places like Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Saurashtra are producing talented players in hordes. These players are hungry for success, have fewer distractions and are very dedicated. Also, thanks to the National Cricket Academy at Bangalore, they’re benefiting from good coaching — something that helped Mumbai in the past.
Importantly, the prize money in smaller centres runs into lakhs, while here it’s just Rs 15,000. Last year, I played for Indian Oil in the Sheesh Mahal Trophy in Lucknow and the prize fund was a whopping Rs 11 lakh. The Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) needs to do something about this.
Then, there should be more encouragement and chances at the school level. Sachin Tendulkar recently advised the MCA to allow all 13-14 players in the squad to bat in Harris & Giles Shield matches. In these knock-out tournaments, if a team loses in the first round, some players have to wait a whole year for another chance. I think it’s a good suggestion.
MCA should also start a corporate league, like the BCCI’s. This will motivate business houses to encourage players.
Next, players need jobs. The situation is grim as only the oil companies are recruiting sportspersons; banks stopped doing so long ago. Youngsters are taken for one or two years on stipends and don’t have job security. How, then, will they concentrate on their game?
I have confined myself to cricket, since I’ve been part of the system. But I like watching tennis and football and believe there is space for all sports. Their administrators just have to package them well.