Monday, April 9, 2012

Why does cricket want its Bolts to be Misyokis?

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Patrick Makau Misyoki is the world record holder in marathon. 2 hours 3 minutes to run 26.2 miles. Usain Bolt is the world record holder for the 100m sprint @ 9.56 seconds. No one counts Usain Bolt's inability to run or want to run a marathon as a negative. Similarly Patrick Makau Misyoki will probably never aspire to be a sprinter.

And there is nothing wrong in this picture.

I do not follow marathoning or track and field on a daily basis. My interest levels peak with the Olympics and when there is a marathon in Chicago. I do not understand how the 2 sports have evolved. Which came first, I do not know. A marathon has a lot of ancient history surrounding it, some of it may be myths. I am not sure what the 100m history is. In short I don't know much about the sport, its history, evolution, etc.

But I am also not so naive to assume that since both involve running they are essentially the same sport.

Even for a casual observer like me, it is evident that sprinting is vastly different than marathoning. Each format subjects athletes to different tests. If a sprint is about strength and agility a marathon is about endurance and stamina. This is of course not to suggest that you don't need strength and agility for a marathon but it would seem that endurance is the real test.

It is more or less accepted that marathoning and sprinting, are different sports, or vastly different disciplines in the same sport. One format is not considered to be a stepping stone to the other. In cricket however there is a confusion in my mind as to what to make of the 2 formats.

I was initially open to arguments that T20 is the same product in a different package, but I am hesitant to hang on to that concept. I am increasingly beginning to think of them as 2 different sports alltogether.

Why do we punctuate the exploits of Keorien Pollard with a 'but is he Test material?' instead of wholeheartedly celebrating his talents like the world celebrates Usain Bolt's. Why are we so easily and unconditionally seduced by the Rahul Dravids, the Chandrapauls and the VVS Laxmans that being woeful in the T20 game does not even cause a dent to their reputations? Why does cricket want its Bolts to be Misyokis as well?

I may be wrong but it seems to me that the marathon and the 100m dash have evolved independently. The 100m is not a shortened marathon. The situation in cricket is indeed different where the T20 is the shortened ODI and the ODI is a shortened Test.

In this evolution, sadly administrators are cannibalizing a traditional format with a new one. The conventional reasoning has been that there is no big money to be made in Test Cricket; at least not in the quantities and margins that T20 affords. While that may be, its not a reasoning I am willing to accept at face value because no efforts seem to have been made to market Test Cricket. Instead the administrators have used up the infrastructure, star power and an existing customer base to entirely leave Test cricket to its own designs while investing every ounce of administrative and marketing resources in building the T20 game.

If a game like golf can draw worldwide audiences, who are willing to wait 4 days for a winner to be crowned, be profitable, and have its billionaire stars; why not Test cricket.

And while administrators are furiously securing the future of T20 cricket at the expense of Test cricket, players, experts and even casual fans are unwilling to wholeheartedly embrace T20 experts like Pollard, asking instead that he eventually prove his worth in the Test arena.

And disagree with both.

I don't know if we would necessarily get there but I would like to see the game evolve to two specialized sports. Tests and ODIs built around the traditional bi-lateral series model and franchise based T20 model both running in parallel with overlapping schedules and with athletes; not entertainers; choosing one format to make a career in.

Why can't there be an IPL season in progress as Team India visits the West Indies and England for summer tours?

Presumably sprinters make more money and achieve more fame than marathoners but they both have thrived for over a century.

Instead what we are seeing administrators strive towards is favor one model at the expense of a traditional one. Though no administrator will admit it, the IPL for all its apparent benefits is negatively impacting India's Test standing and financially weaker countries like the West Indies.

In trying to manage all formats as one sport the administrators are failing to allow at least one format to realize its full potential.

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