Looking for a breather in a breathless world of cricket

Though a cricketer’s standing is defined by his performance in Tests, not many players subscribe to this view. While the Indian players regard the five-day format as the pinnacle of the sport, players from other countries do not think so.

Shakib Al Hasan has sought a six-month break from Test cricket. The Bangladesh all-rounder says the break would help him extend his playing career.   -  AP

Cricket is no longer a seasonal game for most countries. Yes, there is the home season when international matches are played against visiting teams, but after that season is done, most top teams, invariably, are off to play in another country. Thus, playing and travelling happens pretty much round the year. And it is more so if a player is good enough to be picked for the various T20 leagues that have cropped up all over the world.

In the old days, it was England who played round the year, with their domestic season stretching from mid-April to mid-September, and then after a month’s break at most, the England team would be off to play a Test series overseas. Of course, in those days they were called the MCC when they played overseas; they played in the MCC colours with a different cap too.

The Test matches used to be spread out, with the touring team playing the state team or a zonal team, and perhaps even another game before contesting the next Test. So it was more of a relaxed atmosphere. This allowed players, who were out of form, to try and regain their touch, while it also gave the fringe players the opportunity to show that they deserved to play in the next Test. The tours, thus, were spread out over a couple of months, quite unlike now when the teams are jumping from one Test to another within days, and those couple of days between matches are used for travelling to the next venue.

With no games in between Test matches, the out-of-form players have little chance of trying to get their mojo back, while the fringe players know that unless there is an injury, they will be on the playing field only during the lunch and tea intervals and after the day’s play, when the bowling coach and the fielding coach will put them through their paces.

Barring an injury to the first team player, a fringe player knows that the most he will be able to do is carry drinks, towels or some medical supplies to the players on the field.

In such a scenario, it is understandable that the regular players can get tired physically as well as mentally. There simply is no time to breathe. That’s why we see players wanting to take time off to refresh themselves, and thereby prolong their careers. Selectors also know that it’s better to have a keen player than a mentally and physically jaded one taking the field.

This is where the rotation policy comes in, and while the endeavour is to have a winning combination on the field, there will invariably be occasions when that may not be possible. The players also know which format to play and which to take a break from. As far as Indian players are concerned, it’s the 50-over game from which they would rather take a break than the Test matches or the T20 leagues.

Performance in Test matches defines one’s standing as a cricketer, while the T20 re-defines his bank balance. So you find the selectors ‘resting’ some players, especially the bowlers, in one-day internationals, thereby giving themselves the chance to see some emerging talent and assess how good that player is, and whether he has what it takes to go forward and become a good international cricketer.

In other countries, it seems to be different. Shakib Al Hasan has asked for a six-month break from Test cricket so that he can refresh himself and play longer.

AB de Villiers, the great South African player, has just made himself available for Test cricket after taking a year’s break. The year-round grind of international cricket can take a toll on the fittest of players, but de Villiers did not help his cause by opting to keep wickets in all three formats. That, along with being the captain and the best batsman in the side, was taxing and he withdrew from Test cricket. That South Africa now have a terrific wicketkeeper in Quinton de Kock will no doubt ease the burden on de Villiers and the cricket world will be hoping to see the mercurial batsman in full flow from this season onwards, and hopefully for a few years more. Bangladesh will also be hoping that the break from Test cricket will be just the kind of rest Shakib needs to help him play for a long time.

What this shows is that while the Indian players regard Test cricket as the pinnacle of the sport, players from other countries do not think so. There is no question that a player is invariably regarded by what he achieves in Test cricket than the limited-overs versions. But then, there are players who know they have achieved enough and don’t need to be concerned about where they sit among the greats.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :