Disclaimer: This article in no way is meant to portray Kevin Pietersen or any other cricketer as a traitor.
“I love playing cricket.” This is how the dream begins, or at least should begin. The next thought, quite often is ‘How do I sustain myself playing cricket?’ The answer to which is, ‘by playing cricket at the highest level.’ The general progression after that is discovering that getting there is hard work. Either putting the hard yards in or convincing oneself that it’s not worth it, are the two options. The talented hard workers eventually end up playing at the highest level, i.e. internationally.
This might not be a universal truth, but sportsmen do not play for their country because of an unparalleled level of patriotism that burns inside them. Unlike soldiers, you wouldn’t expect them to lay down their lives in the line of duty.
If this were true, that cricketers played for their country because they want to serve her, Kevin Pietersen would have faced a moral dilemma so grave, that depression would only be the tip of the iceberg. Born and raised in Natal, now Kwa-Zulu Natal a province of South Africa, KP now represents England, albeit no longer in the one-day format. Patriotism would dictate that he plays for South Africa, but opportunity dictated he play for England. An inner struggle would have reflected in his performance against SA. But it doesn’t appear to be so. The question then arises does one’s birth land reserve the right to one’s loyalty or the land that provides opportunity for growth?
The thing with opportunity, however, is that the next one is always better. So when a tournament like the IPL comes along, which provides amounts of money that would take years and years and then some more to acquire for a work period of just 2 months, no one would pass that up. We can argue all we want, but the fact remains that the IPL has provided an unintended VRS. Kevin Pietersen retiring from one-day cricket blaming a cramped schedule and an aging body is his right. But why does he not stop playing in the IPL? Why ODIs and not Tests? After all, a Test match is more taxing, both physically and mentally. As a batsman, one would want to be on the field for the entire duration of the match, either scoring runs or taking catches, supporting the bowlers. The reason to ‘why not IPL’ has been debated long enough. The reason for why not ‘Test cricket’ not so much.
Test cricket is cricket’s ‘Holy Grail.’ Embedded with tradition and a unique culture, Test cricket provides cricketers and audiences with an experience of being part of the Genesis of the sport. It is a window into the creation of bat, ball and everything cricket. More importantly it has been ingrained in every cricketer that performance in Test cricket is what matters the most – the true test of a cricketer. A spot amongst the elite is foregone if one foregoes test cricket. In essence, playing and watching Test cricket is a matter of pride. A good Test match will always find an audience. Only boring 5 day draws can kill Test cricket and nothing else.
So the eldest child has an audience, but with the arrival of T-20, 50 over cricket has become ‘the problem child’ - the second of three brothers. It has neither the security of being the first born nor the joy of being the new born. It seems to be stuck in between a rock and a hard place craving for the audience’s attention. The game’s nanny (the ICC) tries to fidget around with the game in order to grab the parents’ (us) attention. Short of molesting it, ICC is trying everything. But perhaps the answer is not in a change forward but reverting back to its roots. Test cricket offers pride, T-20 money, what do ODIs have to offer? Unless the ICC can figure that out, KP won’t be the last to opt out of this format.
Maybe thinner bats, longer boundaries, uncovered wickets, limited protective gear (helmets without grills). These are just top of the head suggestions to build a ‘connect’ with history. Maybe show the audience if a Sehwag can still play the same way with Viv Richards’ equipment. Will Sachin be the same, with Bradman’s equipment? Will Steyn be even more fearsome? Is Morkel as tall as Garner? ODIs, what do you have to offer?