Preserve the Sanctity of Test Cricket

Oh no! Not two of them. As though one Indian Premier League (IPL) was not enough to satiate your year's fill of excitement...Someone had to say it. Who better than Virendra Sehwag? And he put it bluntly. Four months of IPLs a year would see many early retirements from international cricket.

"Players retire karke sirf IPL hi khelenge," the Delhi Daredevils captain is reported to have said. (Players will retire to only play IPL). Not that Sehwag is the first to have expressed such fears, but nobody has made the point so tellingly and with such earthy sarcasm.

IPL may be a huge success, but it is international cricket that the public wants to see, Sehwag is clear in his mind. The Delhi captain is in good company. Only two nights earlier, best-selling author Lord Jeffrey Archer had declared with all the emphasis at his command on a TV show that what was being seen in the IPL was not cricket. "Cricket is when Sachin Tendulkar plays for India against England at Lord's," he thundered.

Now that Rahul Dravid, former India captain and now skipper of Bangalore's Royal Challengers, has also expressed similar views, things should be seen in the right perspective: nothing should be done that will interfere with Test cricket. Having a century old tradition, it is the ultimate. There is little space, if any, for two IPLs in a single year. In any case, too much of a good thing is harmful.

For all the newfound passion, the excitement of the last-ball finishes in flood-lit stadiums, the long sixes, the hat-tricks, the red and purple caps (an idea copied from yellow jersey of the Tour de France cycling marathon), the corporate sponsorships and investments worth hundreds of billions of dollars, the American-style cheerleaders and kisses blown by Bollywood stars and exhortations from team dug-outs till actor-owner Shah Rukh Khan was told it was not proper for him to be seen there, you would rather read accounts of the Australia-West Indies and England-New Zealand Tests in distant Kingston and Manchester in the next morning's newspapers. Regretably, they are too skimpy.

To the discerning fans of the game Monty Panesar's six-wicket spell for England or Stuart Clark's fiver for Australia were bowling feats of a far higher order than Sohail Tanvir's sixer or hat-tricks by Laxmipathi Balaji or Amit Misra in IPL matches for Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils.

Centuries by Ponting for Australia and Strauss for England rather than some slam-bang knocks in the IPL were what batsmanship was all about.

Going by Sehwag's statement, there are cricketers who, while being happy to make a quick million from the IPL, are looking forward to getting back into the international circuit. Players like him with several years of cricket still ahead of them would not like to burn themselves out before time.

Clark, whose five-wicket spell came in for high praise from captain Ponting, is among those who preferred not to play in the IPL so he could keep himself fresh for the campaign in the West Indies. 

About the young Indian players who have done well in the IPL, let's not forget they came into it via the usual route, i.e., domestic cricket like the Ranji Trophy and youth tournaments. It is not as if they are a product of the IPL. The IPL was a platform that brought them and their families some deservingly earned money. Good luck to them and let's hope they make the wisest use of their earnings. Even they should be guided on how to prevent burnouts.

The cricket board would do well to see that the IPL does not acquire dimensions that will harm the interests of the traditional domestic and international game. Money, however important, is not all. Less time, more fun is how some would describe IPL cricket. But let there be a limit to the greed for money and hunger for fun. 

(K. Datta is a veteran sports writer. He can be reached at dattak.2007@rediffmail.com)


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