The behemoth has raised its head again. The retirement of Lasith Malinga will take away from the purest form of the game, another soldier, one who belonged to that ever-diminishing breed of high quality bowlers who could potentially change the complexion of game each time he came on for a spell.
Bit by bit, slowly and very steadily, the pace-bowling tank is getting empty and for those who continue to revere the Test match format of the game, there couldn’t be worse news. The worry stems from the fact that the balance between the bat and the ball has already tilted greatly in favour of the former.
Cricket bats have been reinvented many times over, cricket balls have probably remained the same as they have been for years. Pitches have been doctored, but only to ensure that Tests last the full five days to aid the broadcaster. In turn, the curators get instructed to err on the side of caution – a high-scoring draw does not incite as much criticism as a game that finishes in three days. Boundary ropes have been pulled up despite all this and this is probably for those willow-wielders, who under normal circumstances would have never made it to playing elevens on the basis of their batting alone.
Unless the state association and the cricket boards get headed by bowlers, the situation is unlikely to change in favour of the bowlers.
Then, juxtapose that with the retirement of Malinga from Tests and the situation ceases to seem rosy, if it ever did. As it had when Brett Lee had called it quits. Or when Shane Bond had walked away into the sunset. Or a Shaun Tait. Or Andrew Flintoff. Amongst others. These are a few of their ilk, who brought a semblance of balance between the bat and the ball despite the pitches. Pace was their companion, but more importantly, they had the heart of an ox, the courage to swim against the waves and conviction to believe. A belief to win it on their own.
Barring a few exceptions like Dale Steyn and to an extent Morne Morkel, there aren’t too many of them left. Zaheer Khan is another, who does not have the pace but his craftiness in his trade is unrivalled. And he is not getting any younger either.
To expect more to be produced in this day and age of two-minute noodle cricket, will be akin to expecting a batsman to leave a free-hit alone.
To an extent, Malinga was pushed into the retirement. The struggle to call it quits would have engulfed him for some time and about there cannot be too much doubt. Had it not been for Sri Lanka’s selectors’ decision to recall him from the Indian Premier League, he would have still carried on, providing the fans some hope of being around when needed in the Tests. That, however, would be trivialising the issue. Truth be told, had it not been for the rich T20 tournaments around the world, the decision to call it quits would have not been as immediate. It is a no-brainer that the given the options the modern-day cricketer has, it is not a hard call to make – a couple of injuries and one is off.
According to many, allowing IPL a window could solve some of the problems. It may do so, especially in case of the batsmen, who probably do not burn out as quickly as the bowlers. It will also solve the issue of the country boards coming in the way of these cricketers making their living off the IPLs and like.
And yet, the crux of the problem may still remain – Malinga ended his career not only because he was being recalled but in his own words, “long-standing degenerative condition in the right knee.” Juggling around with all the three formats of the international game to go with the more lucrative club cricket can only push further the bowlers towards the issues of the aforementioned kind, in turn culminating into early exits from the game.
The only option that the ICC and the respective boards, therefore have, is to cut down on the meaningless cricket within the coterie of Test-playing nations. The most recent ICC decision to cut out the Associates from the World Cup made no sense because that tournament is a quadrennial tournament; it is the games around the year that need to be looked at with a magnifying glass.
Instead, one hopes that the ODI League that has been planned by the ICC offers a chance for the bottom-rung sides to climb up the ladder if they have to play the top-ranked ones over the four-year cycle.
Having every second series, for example, between India and Sri Lanka was the case of bad planning at best (since 2007-08, India and Sri Lanka have played in a series in 50% of the limited overs tournaments that they have played in all). It is both, unnecessary and irrelevant. And in no small, taxing for the players involved. Similarly, having a seven-match long ODI series after a five Test match Ashes was an open invitation to player breakdowns. In the hindsight, it was no surprise then, that England and Australia failed to go beyond the last eight stage in the World Cup.
Some serious thinking to be done by the ICC to not only save the Tests but also potent-quality pace bowlers from extinction.