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Ashes to Dust

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When you strip all the hype and hyperboles off and stare at cold naked facts, you uncover a truth that is even more staggering than what the PR machines would have you believe - the 2009 Ashes is THE most important of all series' played in the last several years.

The Ashes comes right in the middle of a series of seismic, almost cataclysmic changes that have taken over cricket's evolution, and therefore has tremendous power to guide and control where this wild whirlpool called T20 takes the game. This, then, gives it a context that goes beyond its weighty history. Ashes 09 is not about English or Australian cricket anymore, it is, in fact, about the future of cricket and how its next era shapes up.

The showpiece events for T20 cricket - the two IPLs and the two World Cups, have been hugely successful. In that context, it becomes imperative that the showpiece event for Test cricket, the Ashes, matches it, a weight the Ashes 05 didn't have to bear.

Cricket's evolutionary race, like any other, is based on survival of the fittest. That the three formats will continue to co-exist and live happily ever after is a utopian idea. The natural course of any evolutionary journey is that when two or more entities are sharing one space, they will always be on the lookout to exterminate the other, even if involuntarily.

A major factor, often overlooked, that contributed to T20 becoming an international rage was the mammoth-sized flop show called the 2007 ODI World Cup that preceded the World T20. With dangerous and self-destructive ideas like four-day Tests already lurking in the minds of powerful ICC Chief Executives, it is painful to imagine the sort of long term domino-effect a boring or one-sided Ashes will have. Panic buttons will be pressed, hasty and desperate measures will be tried to 'save Tests' which will inevitably kill its core.

Test cricket, by its very nature, is an aberration in this twitter-led, popcorn era. That it survives as a popular professional sport providing decent-to-rich living in at least five countries is a bit of a miracle in itself. That the natural tide of the world at large is in favour of T20 means that for Tests every success will have small rewards while every dud will have huge consequences.

And then there is the small matter of salvaging whatever little is left of the forward thrust the sport received after England's 2005 triumph. Followers can delete and deny the existence of one embarrassing thrashing (5-0 down in Australia), but a second defeat would signal confirmation that what happened in 2005 was, in fact, a 'fluke', a one-off chance occurrence, and the optimism harvested from it has no shelf life. A strong Anglo-Aussie super hit tournament would also take some of the limelight, and indeed, pressure to keep the game going, off the shoulders of the Indian subcontinent.

A future without Tests is no future at all, because the T20 format is ravenous, out of control and busy devouring itself with overkill. Tests bring sanity, calm, order, wholesomeness and most importantly, long term sustainability.

It is possible that a flop Ashes will not lead to cascading events that affect the future of cricket, but it is possible that it will do. And therefore, the right thing to do as far as the big picture is concerned is to hope that Australia compete well but lose. Now, who's willing to volunteer to try and sell this point of view to Ponting?


(To know more about Sreeram, click here)




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