To be candid I, for one, was not at all surprised by the report that Australian cricket bosses are aiming to cut the number of international fixtures to ease the heavy workload for players. 'Too much cricket' has been the refrain for some time now among players – both former and present – as well as the media. Administrators, however, do not seem to agree and with the backing of willing sponsors who are pumping in more and more money into the game, the schedule has become even more crammed.
The last straw has obviously been what the Aussie team just completing their seven-match tour of India has had to endure. They came without some key players thanks mainly to injuries. But their lot became quite unenviable on the tour when, after almost every match, a cricketer had to fly back home with some ailment or the other. Replacements were flown in as the bench strength was stretched to the limit and at one time the Aussies had just 12 fit men – clearly the result of an over congested international calendar. According to an Australian newspaper nearly 35 cricketers have represented Australia in the ODI squad during the current calendar year whereas only 25 players were listed on the central playing contracts. Indeed, on arriving in India captain Ricky Ponting and coach Tim Nielsen complained that seven matches were too much and five would have been ideal.
There is a limit to what the human body, however fit, can take. In the last couple of years, in particular, the advent – and raging popularity – of Twenty20 has seen tournaments mushroom. As it is, with the proliferation of Tests and ODIs during the 90s and into the new millennium, there was much talk of an overdose of cricket which could play havoc with players’ fitness levels. Even with the appointment of special coaches and fitness trainers there was no shortage of injured players. As Richard Hadlee said in a recent interview, the problem with the cricketers is that they continue playing with niggling injuries which could have severe long term implications. "Cricketers want to play all formats of the game because of the financial rewarded involved but that will result in wear and tear of the body and the mind. Players need rest to clear up injuries. My advice is to think long term and not short term. Young players are worried someone else will take their place if they miss a game but my view is that if you are a good enough player and decide to rest to recover from an injury the selectors will understand." He advocated that the players pace themselves out since the body could only do so much.
In the last couple of years, many leading cricketers from Geoff Boycott to Sachin Tendulkar, from Matthew Hayden to Rahul Dravid have complained that the cricketers were being pushed too hard and continuous all year round cricket was taking its toll. They admitted that they were struggling to cope with an increasingly hectic workload. Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait, in an interview some time ago, made it clear that with the amount of cricket that's being played "there's going to be injuries and there's going to be fatigued players".
Boycott, an outspoken critic of "too much cricket", has repeatedly singled out the case of Marcus Trescothick. In his column, about a year ago, he said that the former England opening batsman could be the first casualty of the game’s never-quenching thirst for money and warned that this was just the beginning with more cricketers likely to be overcome by stress-related problems. He was of the view that administrators around the world knew the solution but they would not oblige. "There is a quick and easy way of stopping this [from] happening but it would involve the game's administrators taking the one step that they dread - cutting back on the amount of international cricket. But international cricket brings in millions of pounds and there is no way the administrators will stop their money-grabbing ways. It means players are being worked into the ground and the burden of playing non-stop cricket is taking its toll," he rued.
About the same time Tendulkar too called for administrators to cut international fixtures and prevent players burning out. He said the workload of international players was too demanding and administrators need to schedule longer breaks in the season. "We can have more cricket, but it's equally important to have a little more gap in between the tours," Tendulkar said. "This way the player gets time to unwind and spend some time with the family, assess what happened in the previous series and work on certain things and then come to the next contest well prepared." But then, he also admitted that the calendar has become crammed and "there is nothing much we can do about it. We just have to get on with it."
If anything, since then the workload has increased, thanks mainly to the popularity of Twenty20 cricket. We have had two World Cup competitions, any number of domestic tournaments, two editions of the IPL, the Champions League and so on. All this is in addition to the growing number of Tests and ODIs and little wonder that the player injury list is becoming much more frequent. The time has clearly come for administrators to take a call on this mushrooming problem but with bagfuls of money coming in will they do so?