The emasculation of cricket

In the old days, cricket was hardcore and hairy. We examine how it became its current metrosexual version.

Ground staff cover the pitch at SuperSport Park on December 16, 2010 in Centurion.

THE COVERING OF PITCHES

Till the 1960s, it was standard practice to leave the playing area unprotected from the harsh effects of rain and sun. This led to wickets becoming ‘sticky’. The ball would grip, bounce and turn inconsistently. Batting to finger spinners on such wickets was nightmarish, so it needed great skill and concentration. The covering of wickets has significantly reduced the extent of damage spinners can cause.

Vijay Merchant, the man with the highest average after Bradman, thrived on wet wickets. What would he have averaged on the sleeping beauties of the modern era that are accorded Z-category protection? Sadly, fans since the 1970s haven’t had the pleasure of a riveting contest on a ‘sticky dog’.

Bob Willis bounces Australia opener Wally Edwards, Perth, December 1974-75. (Patrick Eagar/Getty Images)

THE AVAILABILITY OF PROTECTIVE GEAR

Before the arrival of helmets and the assortment of protective pads, cricketers had little more than skill and instinct to rely on while facing dangerous bowlers. It was a life-and-death situation. In the 1962 Barbados Test, India captain Nari Contractor’s skull was fractured by Charlie Griffith’s bouncer. Contractor was comatose six days. He recovered but did not play Tests again. Such events made the invention of protective equipment necessary.

This is why we marvel at players of those times. Sunil Gavaskar made over 10,000 Test runs without a helmet. And he scored them against some of the most feared fast bowlers of all time: Holding, Marshall, Roberts, Imran and many more. Batsmen had courage then. They have chest pads and visors now. We’re not advocating blood-sport but merely praising the courageous heroes of yore.


FLAT WICKETS, SHORTER BOUNDARIES

A huge share of cricket’s revenues comes from television rights. It is natural then that the broadcast right-holders would want cricket to be TV-friendly. More people would then watch it, ensuring greater revenues for the right holders, and in extension, for administrators and players. One way to make cricket TV-friendly has been to ensure lots of fours and sixes. This has been done by bringing in the boundaries and preparing batting friendly-wickets.

This week, West Indies and New Zealand played two T20s at the CBRP Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida, USA, where the boundaries were about 65 metres on all sides. West Indies struck 12 sixes in the first match and 13 in the second. Even checked drives cleared the ropes easily. There was a time when sixes were a rare treat batsmen helped themselves to after getting their eye in. Now, they go for it from the first ball. The dessert is now the main course.


NEW BAT TECHNOLOGIES

Short boundaries and flat wickets combined with new-age sticks have empowered batsmen like never before. Earlier, batsmen needed real strength and timing to clear long boundaries with lightweight sticks. Now, modern bats have thick edges and enhanced sweet spots. They pick up better and vibrate less. The result: the ball travels longer off the bat.

These days, a well-struck shot goes several rows back into the stands. But even poorly-timed hits and edges carry all the way. Remember the wimpy, slightly-built tail-ender who couldn’t hit a big one if his life depended on it? He’s history.

(1939) Denis Compton, England cricketer and Arsenal footballer is then an army gunner. (Getty Images)

ECONOMIC & MENTAL PRESSURES

In the amateur era, cricket was a pastime, a handy side income and a distraction from the hardship of war and economic depression. In the first five decades of the 1900s, international cricket remained largely suspended while wars raged around the world. Most well-known cricketers supplemented their cricketing incomes with orthodox careers. Cricket brought them fame and respect, but it didn’t pay so well. They played for their land and they played for pride.

The great Australian cricketer Keith Miller, also a World War II pilot, put the pressure of sport in its rightful place with this immortal quote: "Pressure? I'll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not." Today, cricket is professionally run and offers players millions of dollars for three hours of work a day. Tony Greig commented recently, “The England players even have food tasters and someone to tuck them into bed at night.” The sport sure has come a long way.

Who's afraid of reverse-swinging yorkers now?

THE END OF REVERSE SWING

The dark art is all but dead, particularly in limited overs cricket. Not too long ago, the likes of Waqar and Wasim were giving batsmen hell, making the ball move in magical ways. Online video sites are replete with nostalgia for their wizardry. Now, most international cricket is played with the Kookaburra ball, which reverse-swings the least of the balls available for international cricket. It is just one of the many legislations that has protected the interests of batsmen.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have been able to purchase batting replacements for the loss of Michael Hussey and spin reinforcements in the form of Samuel Badree. They appear… More »

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »