Amritbani : Quality in Cricket

Amrit Mathur

New Delhi:

Considering there are plenty of things at the moment to arrest his attention, it was extremely thoughtful of Tiger Pataudi to send a letter congratulating Salil Oberoi. The Delhi player, currently on a Rhodes scholarship to England, bettered Pataudi senior’s record for the highest score in an Oxford — Cambridge game and has been named captain of Oxford for next season, the first Indian in 45 years after Tiger himself. What Salil had done, in terms of combining sporting and academic excellence, is pretty remarkable. In Delhi University such double roles are impossible, and no Economics. Hons student will be seen anywhere near a cricket ground. Ambitious (and ignorant) guys who thought they could do this met with disaster and have learnt the hard way that in today’s competitive environment, sportsperson don’t/can’t study. In a cruel toss up, talented athletes must choose between the classroom and the play field — trying to excel in both means you end up doing neither.

Salil says cricket in England is professionally organised, it is serious and disciplined. The coaches/trainers/other experts are at you all the time, a lot of effort and thought goes into preparation. The Oxford team plays college cricket and three first-class games against Gloucester, Lancashire and Derby. Salil’s performance opens up the debate on what county cricket means today. In an earlier era this was a huge badge of honour and considered a finishing school for cricketers from across the world. Players from the subcontinent realised it was suicidal to plant the left foot down the track and drive through the line in conditions where there was treacherous swing and lethal seam movement. More than just cricket, a stint in England was supposed to enlarge the vision of a cricketer, open his eyes to new methods and introduce him to a rigorous grind.

For pampered cricketers from India this cultural change was profoundly significant – players had to cook themselves/wash their clothes/travel on their own. It was a case of sahibs getting

the raw taste of socialism. With crowded international schedules, county cricket went out of fashion and top cricketers look at it now only as a convenience, not a privilege. For busy stars it is little more than a summer holiday where they get to play a few matches, train and stay in touch with the game and this pays for the wife’s shopping – perhaps not at Harrods, Knightsbridge but on Oxford Street. Some still swear by the utility of the county game, think the experience contributes to the all-round growth of young players. Others, among them SMG, are unimpressed. They believe county cricket is physically and mentally draining, and there is too much hype about too little quality. In a slightly different way, questions of quality control also plague the new Ranji format and the two divisions (Elite and Plate) have the added problem of accurately judging performances. Also, how does one compare players competing for slots in Duleep when they are playing in two altogether different leagues, against a different class of competition?

It is one thing to make runs against Zaheer, Irfan or Agarkar, quite another to thrash an obscure Plate-level bowler who throws up two half volleys with the new ball every over.

Amrit Mathur is media manager at BCCI