The passing of my beloved mother, who was 97 years young, came as a big blow to me, even though she hadn’t been in great health for the last couple of years. It is never easy to lose a family member – that, too, the most central one without whom none of us would be here, mother. Loads of memories come flooding by. Those are what I will remember for whatever time I myself have on planet earth.
There were some great sportspersons who also left us during the year – Shane Warne in March, and God of football Pele, who died just a couple of days before the end of the year. Pele, without the slightest doubt, was the greatest footballer the world has seen. While I am no expert on the game, when ex-greats, who have seen him as well as Diego Maradona and the current pin-ups Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, call Pele the best ever, the judgement has to be accepted. Of course, the internet generation may not agree, but when there’s a great footballer from the current generation who disagrees, maybe it is time to pause, listen and then dismiss the thought from the mind.
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Coming to proceedings from the field of play, Saurashtra beat Mumbai outright in the Ranji Trophy for the first time ever - that, too, in Mumbai. Make no mistake, Saurashtra is a top team now and has been for the last many years. They are no longer overawed of the opposition as they used to be, and are now winning national trophies in all formats of the game. Niranjan Shah has not only built a world-class stadium but has also given the thrust to Saurashtra cricket.
That said, for a Mumbai cricketer growing up during the time when Mumbai was invincible to see a team that used to be rolled over easily beating Mumbai outright is a bitter pill to swallow.
The West Indian slide
One can now understand what Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding & Co. must be feeling when they see the performances of their team. The West Indies have always been a formidable team, but the one that Lloyd moulded into a ruthless winning machine was a team everyone wanted to avoid. It is true that champion teams in sport don’t always remain at the top, but the depths to which the West Indies have fallen is disheartening even for those players whom they terrorised during their pomp.
The players haven’t lost their quality all of a sudden. Instead, the other teams have become better, just as Saurashtra has improved in domestic cricket, and so are beating the former champions comfortably. Players today have many options – such as the various T20 leagues in the world – and so the incentive to play the longest format has disappeared.
County Championship in England was the main source of income for Lloyd, Richards, Holding, et al, and they made extra money when they played for the West Indies. Today, the West Indies players who are contracted to their Board get the amount they have signed for regardless of the number of games they play.
Knowing the temperament of the people of the region – they like to live for today and not worry about tomorrow – the guaranteed amount from the Board is like a disincentive to trying anything special.
The big stars are unavailable, busy as they are plying their trade in the different T20 leagues in the world. So if the West Indies Board wants better performances from its Test players, maybe another method needs to be tried. For example, if the Board has a performance-based fee structure, it would certainly help: it would make the players who are coasting along realise that they need to perform if they want to earn money. Instead of a retainer for the year, the match fee for all formats should be increased considerably with a slab system where those who have played more Test matches get more than others. The moment the tap of easy money is turned off, the commitment and application towards the job will increase. Players will realise that only when you do well will you be picked for the next game and get the higher match fee.
If this arrangement is deployed by every Board and the retainer system is done away with, the so-called workload factor will become a thing of the past. Players will realise that you get paid only when you play. They won’t cite tiredness as the reason for not playing matches for the country.
That this will happen in the new year is wishful thinking, of course. But here’s wishing all the readers a sporting year to remember and cherish forever.