During my tube ride back from London, I picked up the Evening Standard and came across a column by Tom Collomosse pondering about the future of test cricket (online edition of the article). The crux of the article was that players who are not ready or not equipped to handle the trials of test cricket are as famous (if not more) and command the big bucks as much as the established stars and legends of test cricket do. He was worried that the lure of the easy money will take away the players from test cricket, eventually leading to the demise of tests. Collomosse makes a great point: “There is a place for players like Kieron Pollard within cricket, but there must always be a place for players like Rahul Dravid.”
Let us get one thing straight. Test cricket is hard, whether you are a batsman or a bowler. With the increased use of technology and video analysis and the exposure the telecasts of cricket all over the world, ensure that if as a player you have any weaknesses, it will get ruthlessly exposed. The good ones adapt to it and keep refining their methods and come out on top.
The story of Phil Hughes comes to mind. He was scoring centuries for fun in county cricket. He debuted for Australia against South Africa and rolled off a century in Durban. However, by the time he made his Ashes debut, he was perceived to be weak against the rising ball and was targeted there. Eventually, he was dropped from the side (but that could be strictly down to Andrew Hilditch and his manic ways) and has spent the last two years playing his way back in to the Aussie test squad.
Ajantha Mendis, when he burst on to the test scene, was making legends look silly with his unorthodox approach to spin bowling and multiple variations. He was soon found out as batsmen got more used to his delivery modes and starting picking the variations from the hand. The novelty wore off and he found himself dropped from the Sri Lankan test side.
Test cricket is just too damned hard. The great ones are those who have survived the examinations, time and again, had their techniques interrogated and exploited, adapted to the increasing demands on their skills, discipline and powers of concentration, and survived to see the other side.
There will always be people who will take the short route to glory and money. Life is like that. It is not fair to single out players who would rather make the quick buck through Twenty20 and be famous for hitting mediocre bowling out of the park. Don’t get me wrong; I am as much a fan of Twenty20 cricket as I am a fan of test cricket. Some players are just not cut out for test match cricket. A very good test cricket batsman may not find a franchises pining for them but as we have seen with Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid, great test batsmen can adapt to the demands of Twenty20 cricket but not vice versa.
Collomosse wonders about the choice in front of the future generation of cricketers:
The tricky question is what aspiring cricketers will think when they examine the cases of Dravid and Pollard. Would the majority of young batsmen want to have a career like that of Dravid, earning fame and money because of enduring excellence?
Or would such players look at the path Pollard has taken until now and decide that it is a more attractive one?
The worry that Twenty20 cricket is seen to be an attractive, exciting form of cricket that rakes in the money, and hence, test cricket will not be cared for, by the fans and the future generation of players taking to cricket, is misplaced. Certainly, there will be a number of players who will go the Twenty20 way to shore up their financial future, as the shelf life of a top-flight athlete is limited. But then, there will always be people that would look to test cricket to attain their glory and fame.
Athletes push themselves to the limits in training and on the field, because of their competitive streak. They want to win; they want to best the opposition; they want to prove to the world that they are worthy of glory. Test cricket is where a cricketer is put to, well, the test. It’s the pinnacle of cricket and there is no denying that. There will be another generation of cricket players from all over the world; some of them will be limited by their skills, drive and ambition, and there will be some who will attempt to climb the highest peaks. That is just the way life works.
In every walk of life and in every profession, you see people with plenty of talent and ambition. There are short cuts to fame and some take them. But then, you do see those that push themselves to be better – to be great. It is coded in some people’s DNA. These folks will always aim to achieve excellence and that’s no different to future generation of cricketers. The sport itself is much bigger than any nation, board, administration, league or player. It will be fine. It can take care of itself.