Do the Fans need a break?
After a rivetting summer of Test match cricket, do the fans really need more cricket?
‘Too much of a good thing’ is a well-earned phrase when we describe the current non-stop cricketing action that has been prevailing in the cricketing calendar for the past few years. Less than a week since the culmination of one of the most absorbing test series in recent times – England vs. India, fans find themselves switching from the 5 day game to the high octane mode of ODI cricket in the form of The Asia Cup, being held in the UAE.
A number of players who participated in that high pressure and draining series form part of the Indian contingent taking part in the latest edition of this tournament. Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja have already spent over 60 days on the road before touching down in Dubai. While this increases the risk of injuries to players who play multiple formats, it also induces fatigue and possibly a loss of motivation to perform at their best at all times.
Players and cricket boards have taken this up for a while now to no avail. Media rights and big bucks dictate the schedule of sports nowadays. Some players do get breaks though, like Virat Kohli being granted a leave of absence from this edition to decide the champions of Asia.
But what about the most important stakeholders of the game – The Fans? When will the requirement of the fans be considered before the ICC plans the cricket itinerary in the future? What exactly are the requirements one would ask? Well, for starters it could exactly be what the players themselves go through – fatigue! Cricket used to be a summer sport but with today’s never ending inflow of cash into the game, the cricket caravan just keeps on rolling, from one nation to the other. Consider this. The international calendar began with the Test series between India and South Africa, Bangladesh vs. Sri Lanka and the culmination of the Ashes. That was quickly followed by a huge Test series between Australia and South Africa and one between England and New Zealand. No sooner did they end; we had the IPL carnival commencing which ran all through April and May and also a T20 series between The West Indies and Pakistan. Then there was Pakistan’s tour of Ireland and England where they played the opponents role in Ireland’s initiation at the highest level apart from a test series with the leader of the United Kingdom. The month of June then saw Afghanistan’s debut in the Test arena against mighty India, a T20 series between The Afghans and The Bangladeshis, the cricketers from the Emerald Isle (Sri Lanka) taking on the ones from the Caribbean Islands, India’s tour of Ireland, Pakistan’s T20 series against Scotland and England’s LOI series between Scotland and Australia. July saw the start of a T20 series between Australia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, India’s continued tour of England (LOI series), Pakistan vs. Zimbabwe ODI series, a full series of Bangladesh in the West Indies, and also between South Africa and Sri Lanka. August then heralded in the start of the highly anticipated test series between England and India, an LOI series between Ireland and Afghanistan and continuation of other series as well as another edition of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). September then saw the culmination of the England vs. India Test series and The CPL, the start of yet another format in ‘The 100’ and finally bringing us to the ongoing Asia Cup (not to mention a host of matches among Associate nations). Phew…you get the point.
It’s just been an overflow of cricket right through the year and with even more cricket lined up in the coming months, the cricket engine shows no signs of slowing down. While many a young fan would be thrilled – the more cricket the better- and with the ICC arguing that new fans are being added to the game everyday, there seems to be no reason for the ICC to cut back the number of matches played in a year. But this is where the phrase ‘Too much of a good thing’ really takes shape.
‘Craving’ is what causes the anticipation and brings on the excitement to anything in life. And the key to creating that craving is the ‘rarity’ of an event or commodity. A fitness enthusiast would crave a cheat meal at the end of the week, simply by being disciplined and avoiding it through the week. If he or she had indulged in careless eating during the week, they would not really crave it once the weekend approached, thereby nullifying the excitement as well. Similarly a superhero movie in years gone by was one which every superhero fan waited with baited breath but with the current deluge of people in capes or tights or both, flooding the screens, it has undoubtedly brought the craving and thrill factor for many down. This is exactly what is happening with cricket right now. With an unending number of matches being played, the excitement and craving has all but evaporated. It has been replaced by fatigue for even the most ardent fan, who could use a breather before being engaged in another cycle of matches and tournaments. Add to this the unending number of matches in coloured clothing with no real stakes removes the vital ingredient of context in the modern game.
The law of diminishing returns is also at play here. What that states is that there is a decrease in output (elation and disappointment) caused by the increase in a single factor of production (matches). The elation or disappointment one felt when one’s favourite team was victorious or defeated has been replaced by hard-core pragmatism that the more matches their team plays, the more likely they are to win or lose a few. This is what the overkill of cricket in recent times has done and if this warning is not heeded to, it could lead to an overall decrease in interest in the game.
Another downside to this perpetual frenzy of cricket entertainment is that the fans are unable to truly savour the moment. Take the case of the just concluded series between England and India. Undoubtedly one of the most engrossing series of the year, where fortunes ebbed and flowed, where you had two equally matched teams pitted against each other, a master of swing going up against the best batsman in the world, a young Englishman coming of age as an all-rounder and other intriguing battles within the contest, fans were unable to really sit back and relish the highs and lows of the series that had just ended as they were asked to switch their attention almost immediately to The Asia Cup. In the days of old, fans would sit around with their mates, beer in hand and reflect on a great series once it was done, emotions and opinions ruling the day. Unfortunately, with fans having to constantly switch their attention from one series to the next, it has robbed them of the very contentment that sport is meant to bring.
Finally, with too many formats presiding in the modern game, fans would surely be hard pressed to keep track of all the matches taking place across the various formats with any genuine interest. There is no other sport that has three major formats. While the true connoisseur would argue that Test cricket is the real deal, the thrill a second action of T20 is exactly the format that the young and restless are drawn to. That leaves the ODI format- once the cash cow of the cricket world- losing almost all relevance in an overcrowded cricket landscape. The best way forward for the game to maintain its appeal is to have Test cricket and T20 as the 2 major formats with the ODI format keeping its significance in the form of The World Cup, taking place every 4 years.
Of course The ICC would argue that the forces of ‘Demand and supply’ are exactly what brought the game and the schedule to this stage. These forces have indisputably increased the game’s fan base and have filled the coffers of The ICC and the respective boards they govern. The infusion of much needed cash can only help in increasing the footprint of the game around the globe. The ICC though would do well to take a leaf out of other professional sports like soccer, basketball, formula 1, where a well-defined season and format can still captivate the fans and keep them yearning for more. It is this very aspect of ‘rarity’ that will ensure that the appeal of the game endures.
Well, while The ICC ponders its Future Tour Programs and fans debate over this raging topic, lets not forget that the second round of India vs. Pakistan clashes at The Asia Cup takes place today, which means pop the corn, keep your coffee brewing, join the match threads on social media and prepare yourself for yet another long night of infinite cricketing action.