Modern day Lucas' and Spielbergs keep cricket going

SURPRISING that cricket is unchanging - it remains the same game of bat/ball, runs and wickets - but scratch the surface a bit and profound changes become visible. Despite the feeling of tranquil serenity and calm on the surface, the fact is cricket is evolving constantly. Slowly but surely.

Some of the recent changes are superficial, they don't impact cricket in a real manner. If the players wear clothes like those of a circus trapeze artist (Indians in blue, West Indians in maroon) the colours may be aesthetically offensive but they don't interfere with the game.

Some other changes are also harmless, if not benign, and, in a way, are inevitable. In contemporary times commerce plays a large role, money decides how much cricket is played and where it is played. The sponsors are a valuable lifeline and television networks wield enormous clout because they connect viewers (who are consumers) and corporate who put money into the game. The usual complaint about too much cricket is correct but regrettably little can be done about this. It is, as the cliche goes, part of the game, you just have to accept it.

But some other recent changes are over-the-top and bizarre, they radically shake the foundations of the great game. The other day, beamed live on TV, were the images of some Zone cricket, an intercity 8-a-side tournament with strange rules guaranteed to send purists into the intensive care unit. Consider what they had, and let me warn you that you need to be stout of heart to take this:

Batsmen have cameras attached to their helmets. The keeper is equipped likewise to give viewers a fresh angle.

Fielders are also wired (remember Hansie Cronje in the last World Cup ?)

They are asked questions by commentators to get their take on proceedings in the middle.

Batsmen are similarly on-line. They receive instructions from the coach and talk to the viewers. Almost as much as the TV commentators.

Hits into designated zones in the field carry extra rewards, a strike over extra cover fetches batsmen 12 instead of six runs.

All this is a bit outlandish, perhaps insane, but as always happens there is a method in the madness. English cricket is struggling to keep its head above water - it is in a way a patient who is suffering from several life-threatening diseases at the same time. Which is why it needs all the life - support systems available in a hospital.

Main problem is every kid is focussed on Beckham, he'd rather kick a ball in a park instead of getting into a net to straighten his backlift.

Cricket, for the moment, is a low priority, even bowls /croquet /kite flying are more popular. Kids don't play cricket, they don't even watch, they would just rather be elsewhere. The result is there is a woeful dearth of talent in cricket and the sport slips into a low quality/low interest trap which leaves the sponsors totally cold.

Which is dangerous because cricket, like all sports, needs money, lots of money. Wages have to be paid, facilities need to be maintained and upgraded - it is very much the case of an aging model who must constantly slog to maintain her figure, look svelte, wear new clothes and appear ravishing. If this does not happen, it is, unfortunately, the end of the ramp. In a cruelly competitive world she will be pushed aside and someone else will step into the glare. Survival is difficult but cricket is coping, like an aging film studio, with gimmicky packages crafted by modern day Lucas' and Spielbergs.

Despite all these odds, perhaps because of these challenges, cricket is well managed in England, there is an admirable attention to detail and a clear understanding that efficiency is a paramount need. One such example of this came up when the Indian team went up to Lord's for training. The practise session was handled by one person - who had little to do but be around. Reason for this was everything, absolutely everything was in place to the last detail. Nobody had to run, scramble at the last minute, all needs of players (towels, balls, drinks, tea, whatever) and net bowlers stood by waiting to be called. There was no fuss, no halla - just simple efficiency.

That careful thought goes into making arrangements was again highlighted at lunch. The Lord's staff laid out a proper spread for the team, on the table were all the right curries, rotis and naans. They knew that Kumble/Laxman are strict vegetarians, so both got a special meal down to different types of achaar! Similar attention to detail was evident when it came to making arrangements for players' wives to watch cricket. They were formally invited (which was a nice thought), seated in a special enclosure and provided all necessary hospitality. When Lord's was told that most Indian players were unmarried and the Board does not recognise girlfriends/partners, the lady handling this matter smiled. That is a relief, she said. When the Aussies were here last year they had a very large contingent which required looking after.

How does one explain things being so neatly in place? How can Lord's have a ground staff of 5, max 7? Sachin Tendulkar has the answer. "The fact they have less people means everyone knows his job and has to perform," he says. "Nobody can point the finger at others and shift responsibility. Everyone is accountable, and professionally competent. Come to think of it, same holds for cricket and cricketers. Players have to be skilled, they must know their jobs and, in the ultimate analysis, are obliged to deliver. If someone does not, then bad luck, you pick another guy."

Tough, harsh and ruthless? Yes but then he seems to know all there is to know, he has a cricket encyclopedia permanently loaded in his brain!