Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Future of Cricket

The Year: 2020.
The Venue: San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Occasion: World Cup Instant Cricket Finals.
Guatemala Vs Samoa.
An exciting final awaits the 100,000 screaming audiences and the millions watching on their television screens at home. People of all ages and races have come together, putting their differences and hatred for each other aside, for this momentous occasion.

As the cheering grows louder, the two captains take the field. The Guatemalan skipper, in his bright magenta outfit, appears extremely confident of his chances, although the dressing room is full of nervous men in Magenta, biting at their fingernails fearing the backlash from the fanatic supporters back home should they end up losing the finals.

At the other end, the Samoan dressing room is unusually quiet, with all the players, dressed in their traditional leaf-skirt and head-gear attire, bowing down in front of their Chief Shaman as he continues to chant a silent prayer to a Pagan God.  The Samoan captain, forced by the racist and ethnically intolerant ICC, is looking uncomfortable in the Fluorescent Green Toga that he has pulled over the leafy-skirt costume wearing which his team had conquered 36 other nations on its way to the finals.

As the match referee throws the Royal Thai Baht in the air, the Guatemalan skipper screams “Heads” while counting the rosary in his hand. The Toga clad Samoan skipper has already launched into a glorious Tribal Dance as an offering of prayer to his Pagan Lord.

Heads”, screams the Referee as the coin lands on the artificially laid green turf. The Guatemalan skipper collapses on the ground, even as he continues to clutch at the Rosary. The Magenta Men are already running in with loud cheers, and the supporters have already gotten their drums out as they start chanting “Guatemala, the Land of Champions”  in sync with the huge Mexican wave that has permeated through the crowds in the stadium.
Amidst the chaos, the cameras move towards the other end of the ground where the Samoan skipper is running towards the exit leading to the parking lot. The cameras catch the skipper casting aside his Toga and looking back every two seconds at the wild Samoan crowd chasing him with skulls and daggers, egged on by the blood-thirsty Head Shaman. The Samoan players, for their part, are also running towards their skipper to protect him from the crazy crowds. Oh, wait….they have the uprooted wickets in their hands, and one of them has just hurled the stump in his hand at his skipper, who luckily evades it even as he jumps straight into a waiting SUV about to speed away from the venue into safer havens.  

The media, have already made their way into the stadium, pushing aside the ambulance that was trying to come in to administer CPR to the victorious, albeit fallen, Guatemalan skipper. Half an hour later, amidst great fanfare and media glare, Kim Hughes, ex-captain of a luck-less Australia Cricket team in the 1980s, hands the “World Cup of Instant Cricket” to the Guatemalan Cricket Team. The country goes into delirium. The ultimate moment of triumph. The sweet culmination of years of hard work.  The perfect gratification for the sweat and toil that the team and the management put in for over 20 years.

It was all worth it. The World was conquered. 2020- Guatemala, World Champions.

As the Guatemalan flag is hoisted higher than the flags of the 119 other nations that had participated in this grand event, Sunil Gavaskar sitting in a desolate corner of the stadium reminisces sadly about the evolution of Cricket from a “Colonial Sport” to the World’s most popular “Game”. And the subsequent demise of the traditional powerhouses of the game.

It all started in the late 1970s when a greedy Australian tycoon decided that Test cricket was too boring and long, and had to be shortened in order to appeal to a larger audience.  That was the beginning of the One-Day cricket phenomenon, which literally added color to what was previously known as a dour sport meant only for the older and consequently, more sober, audiences. What followed was a series of innovations to make the game more colorful and appealing to a global audience.

Twenty20 caught on in the mid noughties, and went on to displace the 50 Over match as the de-facto standard for international cricket. Spurred by the popularity of the shortened game, the ICC went ahead with more changes in the name of “adding color “. As the innovations continued, the game went from 20 overs-a-side to 10, and then 5, and eventually reached its peak popularity in its current form – Instant Cricket.

With Instant Cricket, the game made its way into every part of the world, and the hitherto virgin nations took to the game like fish to water. As a direct consequence, the erstwhile powerhouses saw their influence diminish. Cricket crazy nations like India and Pakistan, where nearly a billion people used to gamble away their hard earned money on Cricket betting, were left in a lurch, and eventually had to shift their fanatical attention to other sports such as Football. Little did the Indian cricket board, BCCI, realize at the time when they aggressively campaigned for revolutionizing the sport, that their actions were going to come back to bite them where it hurts. And hurt, it did, when India did not even qualify for the World Cup 2020 play-offs from the SAARC region. The proverbial goose that laid the golden egg had been slaughtered in haste. And India had contrived to lose the one sport where it had a semblance of on-field World Domination and was a run-away winner off the field, thanks to a billion passionate fans and their ever-bulging wallets.

Today, as Guatemalans celebrate their maiden World Cup victory, a silent prayer to the colonial powers that laid the foundation of this revolution. The past 20 years has seen the game change from a Gentleman’s game to a common man’s game. 

The only complaint, if I may, is that what started off as an attempt to add more color to an already popular game resulted in the game ending up with just color. And nothing else.

And if it matters, the toss still continues to be important. More than it ever did!