Indian administrators must provide greater incentive for cricketers to play five-day game.
Too much financial disparity between IPL and Tests
When the 149th edition of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack was published last week, passages from Notes by the Editor garnered the most attention.
At 37, Lawrence Booth is no advocate of the old school. But in his first assessment of where the sport stands and what it can look forward to, there was little ambivalence.
"The sport stands on a precipice," he wrote. "It is there because of cricket itself. More specifically, it is because of Twenty20, a Pandora's Box masquerading as a panacea."
With the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the heart of the global Twenty20 caravan, it was natural that he addressed India's role in the new order. "India have ended up with a special gift; the clout to shape an entire sport," he said. "But too often their game appears driven by the self-interest of the few. ...
"Other countries run the game along self-serving lines too; cricket's boardrooms are not awash with altruism. But none wields the [Board of Control for Cricket in India] BCCI's power, nor shares their responsibility. The disintegration of India's feted batting line-up has coincided with the rise of a Twenty20-based nationalism, the growth of private marketeers and high-level conflicts of interest. It is a perfect storm. And the global game sits unsteadily in the eye. India, your sport needs you."
Predictably, those words have caused a furore in India, even if most of those taking umbrage don't appear to have bothered to read the notes in their entirety. Coupled with Kevin Pietersen's comment about England being jealous of the IPL, the tone of most debates has degenerated into us-against-them.
Even for someone that's followed Indian cricket closely for more than a decade, though, it's hard to evaluate how much the board values Test cricket. The excuses trotted out following the 4-0 debacles in England and Australia convinced some that they couldn't care less. At the same time, it can't be ignored that India played 14 Tests last season, or that they have 10 scheduled at home in 2012/13.
Unlike Cricket Australia, who held the Big Bash Twenty20 competition right in the middle of an Australia-India series, the IPL has never clashed with a series featuring the national team. Neither has the Champions League. The IPL has almost always been played right at the end of the season, after the national team's Test engagements are complete.
Where then does the criticism stem from? Primarily from the fact that the five-day game isn't promoted anything like as much as the Twenty20 competitions that the board has a stake in. India have no traditional Test matches, and games are awarded on a rotation basis, often to venues with little or no enthusiasm for the game in whites.
There are still Indian centres that cherish Test cricket.
At Chennai in December 2008, despite unprecedented security – there were 5,000 policemen and paramilitaries in the area, given that the game was being played less than three weeks after the Mumbai terror attacks – a large voluble crowd cheered India home as they chased down 387 for victory. At the other extreme, you have venues like Mohali, where schoolkids had to be bussed in so that when Sachin Tendulkar surpassed Brian Lara as Test cricket's leading scorer, there wouldn't just be eerie silence for a soundtrack.
Most of all though, the board gets and deserves flak for not making Test cricket lucrative enough.
It's easy to understand why some may prioritise the IPL when even an uncapped fringe player gets a Rs3 million (Dh214,802) contract. You have to play a dozen Tests to make the same money. In one season of IPL, Vinay Kumar, who has one Test cap, will have banked more – US$1million (Dh3.67m) – than VVS Laxman did after representing India in 134 games. Until that disparity is addressed, the board's motives are always likely to be questioned.
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