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The death of the holy grail
Another one bites the dust. Earlier this week, Reece Topley became the latest English cricketer to give up the rigours of the red ball in pursuit of limited-overs glory. He joins Alex Hales and Adil Rashid as former county cricket players and their dreams of putting on the whites of the three lions are over. Several former players and pundits have damned the decision and criticisms have been rife. Furthermore, there are more and more people who are fearful for the future of the longest form of the game because of the lucrative contracts of T20 leagues around the world. Everyone who plays this game for a living will not deny that they would like to earn millions from playing in the next IPL and they will likely be jealous of the players who were signed up by a franchise. Despite T20 cricket being looked at the biggest reason for the demise of test cricket, there are few things to take into consideration that need to be changed, at least in England.
It is often said in any walk of life, “it’s not good to have too much of one thing”. One would wonder how this relates to the supposed demise of test cricket in England and its lack of importance in the modern player of today. With England, due to the television rights and popularity of the game, they can play north of up to 15 test matches a year. There was that ridiculous situation of four years ago where they had to contest two Ashes series in a period of less than five months. The following year, they played five test matches against India where those games were held in a period of 40 days. 90 overs a day for five days is excruciating on the body. As much as the stereotype of cricketers standing still on the field for the majority of the day, it is simply not true. The mental capacity of cricketers needs to be at a supreme level, all of which may be summed up with one moment of a stunning catch or wicket respectively. Therefore, cricketers need rest and time in between matches to recuperate both physically and emotionally. Playing those matches so regularly is not only a disservice to the players, but also it disregards the importance of a test match. This is what legends are judged by, so give it that stage and don’t make it such a frequent occurrence.
It is never a good idea to compare generations due to a plethora of reasons. Technology and the importance of fitness has revolutionised the sport and now, cricketers need to be in fantastic shape to have a chance of playing for their county, let alone their country. Despite that, I think it is useful to go back to 1980s and how county cricket was in that period of time. Every English test cricketer played regularly for their county and more importantly, some of the world’s best cricketers took time out of their years to live like a professional cricketer. Icons like Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Sunil Gavaskar credit the county cricket system for giving them a chance to improve their game. Akram even says that immediately after one season with Lancashire, he became the best bowler in the world because of the huge learning he had on how to bowl in every type of conditions. If we come back to the present day, while some foreign stars come once in a while, the quality of the county championship is not improving. This is not an inditement on the quality of English cricketers, but your game naturally improves when you play with international cricketers. Therefore, the ECB needs to rethink their domestic structure and rather than thinking about involving technology at that level, get back the stars of the world and entice them to see county cricket as a huge opportunity.
Over the next few months, it would not be surprising if more players limit themselves to playing the shorter forms of the game in England. It is a sad reality but rather than blaming the glamour of the IPL, the ECB needs to look at their own structure and realise the amount of pain they are putting their cricketers under.