After becoming an expert in the hook shot that ends in a six over the third-man boundary and scoring a few goals in hockey after all the hard work was done by the other 10 players, I confessed to myself that studying the two games from the ropes was a better option. Though I wish I had started that process earlier than 1996, around 15 years of watching, reading and sometimes still practising that 'hook shot' over has allowed me this space on Cricketnext and IBNLive to write and get read.
The other day my son was learning how to cycle - to put it right, the act of balancing. "If you don't pay attention, the only way you go is down," I shouted from a distance. He craned his neck backwards, causing the bicycle to go in all directions before he got his feet on the ground to escape a tumble. "I thought my dad won't let me fall." The words stunned me.
The boy is right. The art of balancing doesn't mean that you order an instruction manual and the next day you can walk a narrow beam. It needs support to start things off, monitoring from close quarters and a periodic stock of status to fine-tune and refine the art.
I haven't played or administered cricket at any mentionable level, but having graduated from watching to reporting and analysing it, I can, to a degree, decode that it's time to take that periodic stock of things before the proceedings become mundane or get reduced to a Twenty20 Mardi Gras.
Some suggestions (no worries if these get trashed; at least I made an effort):
1. The serious judge of a true Test No. 1 would be home-and-away Test series. It must hurt a team to be called 'lions at home but lambs abroad', an adage commonly attached to India and more recently England - both losers of the No. 1 Test rank. But throw any team a challenge and it would be ready to prove its worth on any soil. One may counter this argument citing South Africa, who snatched the No. 1 status in both Tests and ODIs from England in England. But then won't it be an even playing field if every bilateral series be turned into a four-Test affair on home-and-away basis?
2. Make teams break a sweat to get Test status. As far as Test status is concerned, no ICC member should be promoted to that level on a permanent basis. Test cricket doesn't need infants or toddlers. Like any other employment procedure, a newly granted Test status should have a probation period of three years, after which a decision can be taken purely on the basis of performance and results. It won't be a bad idea either if the ICC sets targets to be achieved in that probation period to keep the teams on their toes. It will help prevent repeating mistakes like Bangladesh, who have won just three of their 73 Tests so far - one against the low-lying Zimbabwe and two against a rebuilding West Indies.
3. Don't stain Test cricket with technology. Test cricket is the sanctum sanctorum. It's the Mecca that unfeigned cricketers crave for. Only the chosen ones feel that ground, while the rest fall by the wayside in ODIs or T20Is and some moolah-hunters settle for barter in flashy local leagues. The legendary Dicky Bird puts everything into perspective in these lines he told the Daily Mirrorsometime back: "Umpiring is done by a machine [now]. In my era, we made the decisions on the field." Let's keep machines for cricket played out of the temple.
1. Stop bilateral ODI series to break the monotony and augment the longevity of a player's career. It would be wrong if I don't admit that India and Sri Lanka are playing each other like compulsive shoppers; the rate of recurrence is nothing but foolish. Bilateral ODIs either need a 'Stop' sign or some serious break in frequency. The reason why Indo-Pak encounters never lose sheen is not just because of the acrimony between the two countries but also the seldom occurrence of their meetings.
2. Split-innings ODIs. This will serve twin purposes. One it will break the boredom that one-dayers allude to of late and two it will introduce a touch of T20 slam-bang to ODI cricket. And there's no harm in lending an ear to Gary Kirsten's idea of limiting T20 cricket to a club level. If anything, it has direct relation to split-innings ODIs, which can cater to the T20 fans in ODIs with 100 overs split over four innings.
3. Grill Associates before drafting them into ODI cricket. Before granting ODI status to Associate Members, ICC should put them through a qualification phase where they play the A teams of other Full Members for at least one year. Otherwise, it's difficult to gauge the performance of such teams in an Associate vs Associate match as the standards are not much different. On the other hand, A teams present a far better challenge which could be used as a yardstick. This will not only improve their competitive skills but will also spare ICC events from hopeless affairs.
It will be only prudent that I conclude this attempt to knock at cricket's administrative door with a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous American poet and educator: "Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody."