A few days back, I’d met up with Harsha Bhogle for what was part ‘catch-up’, part interview [which, when it appears, I’ll link to here] for Rediff & India Abroad. As always, much fun, and extremely informative.
At one point we were discussing the three forms of the game and the increasingly crowded calendar that has resulted from the popularity of T20s. Shane Warne is just one of many who in recent times has said the ODI has outlived its usefulness, and must go.
The argument advanced by this group is that when the ODI was devised, it was seen as a compressed alternative to Test cricket, and was meant to cater to the thrill-seekers while “conventional” cricket catered to those who like their cricket to be layered, nuanced, and as much a mental as physical sport. Now that the T20s provide the capsule thrills [and provide them better than the ODIs], there really is no need for the intermediate format, is the argument: retain Tests for the purity, and T20s for the kicks, and be done with it.
Harsha had an argument against, and it was based on cricketing grounds. In sum: for the structure to hold, each form of the game should feed off the others not merely financially, but also from the point of view of player development. Thus, Harsha argued, if you accept that a top class ODI batsman should be able to bat through 25, 30 overs, that is more than one session of Test cricket. If you remove the ODI from the mix, the gulf between T20 and Tests, from a batting point of view, becomes way too vast, and over time you end up with a situation where players are good enough to play either the one or the other. If you take that argument further, you could conceive of a situation where the really talented players only want to play T20s, leaving the Test arena to the second rung players.
Hence, Harsha was arguing, we need a strong ODI structure to run parallel with Tests and T20s, and one part of the solution could be doing away with bilateral ODI series altogether [later this year we are scheduled to play seven of those against Australia, and that is overkill in anyone’s lexicon] and only have the Champions’ Trophy and World Cup formats.
If a system where national teams play international ODI tournaments only once every other year is to work, though, you need a strong domestic ODI structure — and that could be where initiatives like the Corporates Trophy launching today could come in handy.
The flip side of course is that it further crowds the calendar, and puts even more pressure on national players in particular, who will find this new tournament eating into the little time they have to rest, recuperate, and work on their skills — and the answer to that could be that at some point soon, the stakeholders of cricket, including players, need to sit down across the table and work out a calendar, both domestic and international, that reconciles the conflicting needs.
Addendum: Former India player WV Raman reckons that among other things, the Corporate Trophy will help develop the game at grassroots level.
In Mumbai, the corporates that provided employment to cricketers gradually began to ease out of the situation, and by the mid-1990s, the players here became professionals, in the sense that they played cricket right through the year to earn money. Of course, in recent years, the average first-class cricketer does make enough money in a season but cricketers need to look at life after their playing days are over. A lot of cricketers suddenly find themselves in a no-man’s land after their playing days for want of a job. With cricket having become an industry of sorts, there are enough opportunities but not everyone can hope to get a placement.
In this context, the initiative of the BCCI needs to be commended. Its foresight in not allowing the corporates to have guest players will force them to employ cricketers in the future.
Personally, I think this concept works better in theory than it will in practice — but that is for another post, another day.