If you have followed Indian cricket over a considerable length of time, you would have to strain your memory to remember the romance of an off-season — periods when you would pine for some live cricket on your TV. Those yearnings would help us understand Miss Strickland’s views on the effects of absence on the heart.
The last really long break from cricket in this writer’s memory was in 2004 when the triumphant Indian team returned from Pakistan in April. With no hot-weather action like the IPL to keep our boys going, we faithful had to wait till the middle of July when Sri Lanka were hosting the Asia Cup.
And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Go back to 2000 and you’ll find an Indian calendar so bereft of action between May and October, we had to satisfy our thirst for cricket with exhibition games like World XI vs Asia XI. In fact, going without any action through the Indian summer was a given. It was thought insane to be playing when the temperature outside was touching 45 degrees Celsius.
It was during such periods of pining that the little action available to us held great value. And so our days would be planned around the cricket. Classes would be bunked. Meetings would be postponed. Offices would be emptied out quickly. Roads would be deserted. Not knowing when we'll get our next serving of cricket, the sport would become the pivot around which normal life revolved.
We now live in the world of instant gratification. It’s hard to go a month when the Indian team isn’t playing. The circus has been rolling from one city to another for as long as one can remember. Harare now, Port of Spain and Kingston before that, Birmingham, London and Cardiff going further back, and before that the country-wide jamboree that is the IPL — don’t the players ever get exhausted of the hotel rooms and transcontinental flights?
And so there’s no off-season anymore. There’s no waiting around. There’s no pining. There’s no agonising build-up to a tournament. There’s live cricket on your TV just as sure as there’s water in your taps. Just turn it on, it’s always there. Before you’ve had the chance to chew down and digest one tournament, the next one comes along.
Things have come to such a pass, we had a Test series last year bang in the middle of the monsoon when New Zealand came visiting. It is an event with no precedent in Indian cricket.
The question to ask then is this: what is the purpose of sports teams, particularly ones like the Indian cricket team that have a long, rich history? Do they exist to pursue and inspire a tradition of discipline and excellence? Or do they exist for baser reasons like stimulating the commercial interests of sporting associations and television networks?
Should these teams at all times hold themselves to high standards? Or should they dilute down their own rich history by participating in trivial events such as the one in Zimbabwe?
More importantly, there must be some point when the cricket fan says, “I’ve had enough,” and the cricket board listens to him. Where lies that point? Who knows?