Too much is too bad

GREG CHAPPELL felicitates Rahul Dravid on his 100th Test. Ironically, the Indian skipper, in his 10-year Test career, has played only 11 Ranji Trophy matches.-PTI

International cricketers are going through a terrible phase. The ICC reckons it is beneath itself to even consider the appeal by the Federation of International Players' Association (FICA) that the number of matches be reduced. And finally, it has been threatened by the FICA President, Tim May, that if the matter is not resolved, the players would go on strike.

Never have we seen such a scenario before. How serious Tim May is about the threat only time will tell, but the players are getting the support of the majority of former international cricketers all over the world.

People have the right to express their own opinions and some former players did so by slamming the players. But this has become a one-sided debate, as most of the players from the teams in the subcontinent, who have been playing non-stop cricket, haven't openly countered the arguments of the former players.

The reason is that the players are effectively gagged on several issues because of the clauses in their central-retainer contract. It is not that they do not have counter-arguments, but rather that they do not have the freedom to express those points without risking violation of the contract and the termination of their careers. Unfortunately, their enforced silence will also have a detrimental effect on their performances and their careers.

There are two ways of looking at the problem of playing too many matches with its effect on the quality of a professional. It could be said that since the players have signed the contract with the board, they can't object to the number of matches played. But the flipside is that if it's going to affect their future, surely the problem needs to be addressed.

Unlike any other field game, cricket is basically a mental one. This means that a surfeit of matches puts an international cricketer's thought-processes in a rut. Physically the body of a cricketer is not taxed as much as that of a top quality footballer who plays nothing less than 70 high pressure games in a season. International cricketers are expected to play a maximum of 15 Tests and 30 ODIs per year.

People who are not willing to accept a cricketer's plight say that in a Test match no cricketer is on the ground for all the five days, whereas a footballer is running for 90 minutes. A batsman might get out to the first ball and would be resting for two days while his side is piling up a huge score. Similarly, not all the bowlers will be bowling 20 overs a day. While fielding, not every player would be running all the time.

However, what they tend to overlook is the kind of travelling the cricketers are made to undertake in different conditions. If the travel schedules are properly planned, cricketers too would be keen to turn out for their country. Any international sportsman takes pride in performing for the country but if nonsensical travelling is not giving them enough time to keep themselves mentally and physically fresh, the quality of the game will definitely suffer.

Those who are complaining are the fast bowlers. What Brett Lee said was supported by Michael Holding. Fast bowlers need to train continuously. If they are to play international matches every week in different places, where is the time for them to train? It's this lack of training that is making fast bowlers unfit.

There is hardly any time for the fast bowlers to recover. Tendulkar, with a cyst in the shoulder, could field but had he been a fast bowler would he have played the Test with that cyst?

Questioning the patriotic pride of international cricketers is not the right approach. The ideal way would be for the ICC Cricket Committee to invite leading international fast bowlers and listen to their problems. Why would any international cricketer object to the number of matches played if it's not going to affect his performance? This is the point the ICC needs to realise.

The game needs the players as much as the players need the game. Instead of fighting the battle through the media, skippers should voice their grievances in the annual international captains' meeting. And if the majority of them feel the need to make the game more interesting by suggesting solutions to the existing problems, the ICC should agree to them.

And a question to those who feel that everything is right with the international cricket schedule. Will such a schedule ever give a chance to these international cricketers to play domestic cricket? Dravid has played 100 Tests in 10 years, but in the same period he has played only 11 Ranji Trophy matches. In fact, from the year 2000 to 2004, he didn't get to play a single Ranji match.

The ICC may be the parent body, but the way things are going players have the right to feel they are being treated like slaves. This has to change. The ICC needs to understand that its relevance is only because of the players.

These players do the hard work that brings in the big money, while the ICC ignores their concerns and problems, and zealously guards its coffers to ensure that the income continues to flow into it. The ICC must remember that without the players its coffers and its clout will dry up.