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Enquiry: Is cricket being commoditized in India?

India's Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah
India's Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah
©Action Images via Reuters

The recently concluded Edgbaston test saw India fail to defend a 350 plus target for the first time in their test history. Needless to say, the criticism has come in from all corners on the players and the coaching staff. A few days later, a fresh squad took on England’s white ball team under interim coach VVS Laxman for the first T20I, while the regulars came back for the final two T20Is under designated head coach, Rahul Dravid. Elsewhere, Shikhar Dhawan has been named captain for a series against West Indies, scheduled to take place later during the month.

With captains, coaches and players changing like diapers change for a new-born baby, one needs to ask if India is handling its resources well. England have gone ahead with a clear mantra of different red and white ball coaches and while a few of the players are still expected to play both formats, the early indications are that the priority of the multi-format players will be test cricket.

England’s tactic ensures that the coaches have clear ideas about their respective formats and can work with their respective captains towards those goals. That being said, they have identified a core group of players in either format who are going to be mainstays in the respective formats. India, at the moment, seem to be going nowhere with this multiple team theory. While Dravid is the designated head coach and Rohit Sharma, the designated all-format captain, Dravid has already had to work with six different captains in his short tenure as coach. In the interim, Laxman has also had to step in as head coach for a series or half.

While multiple teams are definitely going to mean more opportunities for different players and more revenues, the questions are also plenty. Is cricket in India being commoditized? Earlier, there was a stipulated season where players played a certain number of matches, followed by an off-season. While the concept of an off-season has disappeared long back, the number of matches being played seems to be going up to insane proportions. Fans are getting access to more matches across formats, but the relevance of certain series’ is going for a toss. The recent ODI squad for the West Indies tour is a clear indication that it is a “less meaningful” tour for the team with all big players being rested in the name of “workload management.” The same could be said about the recently concluded Ireland series, where Hardik Pandya was the latest to don the captaincy hat.

There is no doubting the fact that players need to be looked after. The bigger question though is whether 14 matches over a one-month window with 30 odd different players, two different captains and two different coaches in the white ball format makes any sense. Not only is there an overdose of cricket, but it also deprives the management of long-term plans. Having 30 odd players with just a few months to go for the T20 World Cup means that there is very little clarity about the squad for the tournament. While the likes of Deepak Hooda and Ishan Kishan have played majority of these white ball matches with substantial impact, the stature of Virat Kohli and KL Rahul will definitely dictate the final squad selection.

Then comes the question whether international cricket is still going to be a priority for India going forward. With a bigger IPL window anticipated in future editions of the tournament, the big players will have to play for longer durations without any breaks to attract crowds. That will eventually result in more “workload management” in less meaningful bilateral tours and might even cost us more test match wins like the ones in Edgbaston and in South Africa. Jay Shah and Sourav Ganguly have reiterated that international cricket will remain priority, but the team selections hardly indicate that.

The scapegoat at the end of the day, for any unsuccessful campaign is going to be Dravid and his coaching staff. People have already questioned his coaching methods without realizing that he has just had too many changes to deal with in a short span of time. As India continues to commoditize cricket, may be its time to split the coaching and captaincy roles so that nobody gets singled out for a team’s failure.

More revenues are definitely good for the board and for the ICC, but the day is not far when the overdose will make fans lose interest in the game. The BCCI needs to be wary of that.