A gun is no more dangerous than a cricket bat in the hands of a madman – Prince Philip
Which of these is the toughest job? Traffic police officer on the streets of Delhi, speaker of Indian parliament or bowler in a one-day international. Silly, the answer is too obvious.
“There might be some movement for the first 4 overs. That too because 2 balls are used which effectively means that the movement can be expected only for 2 overs with each ball”. Sanjay Manjrekar’s words at the start of India’s innings (the second one) during the last one day international between India & England sounded like death knell to one of the finest arts in the world of sport – bowling!
Watching cricket these days is akin to watching a boxer practicing with a punching bag. Bowlers in cricket today, be it test, one-day or T20, exist only one purpose – to enable batsmen bang the ball into the stands. Rare it is to watch to a batsman flummoxed with an exceptional ball from a bowler. Swing, bouncer, turn etc. may be words that are on the way out from cricket’s lexicon.
Look at the list of 10 players of the day. Kohli, Root, Williamson, Warner, Smith, de Villiers, Amla, Cook, Ashwin, Starc. Only two bowlers! Expand the list to Top 20 and you may end up with one or two more bowlers at the best. Look up the list of top 10 players during 2000-2005. At least five of the top ten players will be bowlers. Such has been the fall of the stature of bowlers.
Take a nostalgic look at the time when Kapil, Botham, Hadlee, Imran, Garner, Marshall, Roberts, Holding, Kumble, Murali, McGrath et al were playing. Whenever they stepped up to bowl, you expected something to happen. While facing them fans of the batsmen were either pitying the plight of the batsmen or admiring their skills in negotiating their skills of batsman ship. When was the last time you felt that way while watching any match these days?
Let’s look at some things that changed the game and made it into ‘modern cricket’. Ball, bat or protective gear, everything has improved a lot – all in favour of the batsmen. Pitches have lost all their bite. Perth or Kingston Jamaica pitches were batsmen’s nightmare. No longer. Every pitch report of every match is the same. “Flat, even bounce and outside chance of turn,” every commentator can say for every match to be played for the next 3 months! Next are the rules. Every rule is being re-written to make it a batsmen’s game all the way up to the tail. Imran, Walsh, Akram etc. were well known to wipe out the tail. Today, the tail plays as good as the mainline batsmen.
Technology has removed any degree of uncertainty that made the game of cricket what it is. Unpredictability and human error played their own part in swinging the games fortunes. DRS, third-umpire, Snick meter, Hotspot have virtually nullified any stroke of chance a bowler to snare a wicket. Again this technology is in favour of the batsmen. Last but not the least, the boundary line. As a first step in making a realistic comparison between batsmen of this era and of yesteryears is to reduce their runs scored by 10%. Most of today’s sixers (except may be a few by Chris Gayle) were either caught out on boundary line or would have earned four runs few decades ago. Let’s not forget that a six demotivates a bowler more than anything else. Again another anti-bowler step.
Only one thing is working in favour of the bowler, sometimes. Nature. Swing due to cold and heavy weather. Rest is stacked up against the bowlers. A run feast sells more than a wicket feast. Gross commercialization meant playing to the stands (literally!) than playing in the true spirit of the game. One spell from an unknown commodity can bamboozle batsman like what Chhal’s did to the Englishmen.
What is the hope? We can try few things. One, stick to one ball rule in one-day internationals -scoring against an older ball is part of the charm of the game of cricket. Two, uncover the pitches, so that nature plays its part. Three, pull back the ropes of the boundary and let the batsmen earn their runs.
If not, who needs bowlers? Few bowling machines can do the job. When machines are replacing many human jobs, why not that of a bowler?