"Now that India has lost so miserably in England, kids would listen to me when I tell them to get their forward defense right" said a visibly frustrated veteran cricket coach. When someone of his standing, having groomed nearly a dozen International and scores of first-class cricketers, says something like this, you ought to pay heed. He revealed that the younger generation is no longer interested in spending those extra hours to get their technique watertight, for the lure of hitting sixes and fours to get an IPL berth is blinding them.
Not too long ago, in cricket academies around the country, one would come across kids practicing the forward defense with an innocuous tennis ball or playing the cover-drive along the ground.
Post the IPL, the scenario has taken a 360 degree turn with most kids practicing the aerial shots and their coaches encouraging them to do so. That's the demand of the changing times, either you score quickly or you perish, they are heard mumbling.
While its guardians defend it, the IPL, as a format, even though it lasts only 45 days in a year, has changed the nature of cricket played in the country, especially at lower levels. The success of the IPL and the logistical convenience of organizing a T20 tournament as opposed to 50 overs or 2 days' tournament ensured that even the Under-12 kids are exposed to this format, in fact only this format, day in and day out. I've seen fathers/coaches scolding their wards who failed to score for three consecutive deliveries. That's what this format has done to cricket in the country. Kids who're brought up believing that the only way to climb the ladder is to fit the bill in T20 cricket, would find themselves ill equipped to deal with the rigors of longer format. That's the reason I don't come across players, except the old pros, at the Ranji level who seem to understand the value of batting 'time'. It doesn't come as a surprise when a lot of teams don't last even 125 overs on good batting surfaces. In fact, that's precisely how we, Rajasthan, won the Ranji trophy last season. We played old style cricket, while others were too busy in sharpening their T20 skills.
But, why would a batsman try to score quickly in the longer format? Well, for two reasons- 1. They don't know any other way of playing and 2. They want to impress the IPL franchise, for players with low strike rates don't catch the eye. Many young cricketers, the ones who somehow retained the art of playing in longer formats, are now sacrificing patience and technique for improvisation and flair. When your less performing peer gets an IPL deal, it's obvious to feel the heat and do something different.
While the seasoned players are not only smarter but also well equipped to shift gears to suit the demands of different formats, the priorities of the younger generation seem a little warped at the moment. The inability to negotiate a bouncer comfortably is no longer considered a problem as long as you can hit the long ball.
The problem doesn't lie with the IPL or the T20 format but the people who're running the show. State associations must step in to stop T20 tournaments for teenagers and BCCI must revamp the domestic calendar and get rid of meaningless domestic T20 and Fifty Over tournament for more four-days matches. If you have to play four-day cricket for 320 days in a year, 45 days of the IPL won't force you to change the fundamentals.
It's about time we realize the gravity of the situation.