With regard to the brouhaha resulting from recent comments made by West Indies captain Chris Gayle the International Cricket Council would do well to pay close attention to points made in this article written by Cricinfo’s Andrew McGlashan, comments made by Gayle himself at a pre-Test presser and West Indies Players Association president and CEO Dinanath Ramnarine.
I have spoken to several players in the Caribbean who play internationally and regionally (Gayle not included) and they have expressed in varying degrees that they are seeing less and less personal benefit in playing Test cricket and four day cricket. With the options available these days many are refusing to accept the fact that Test cricket is not as revered by the young players as it once was. For a long time Test cricket was the pinnacle because there was no other option. Then came ODIs and most players were able to combine both forms of the game if given the opportunities. Now with a third (and extremely profitable) version on the scene the workload for all three formats is simply beyond human and decisions will have to be made, are being made and have already been made.
Some of the West Indian players have told me that they believe that Test cricket will be, in years to come, the almost exclusive domain of players who are incapable of performing in the Twenty20 format while there will be many capable players who choose to play T20 only and a handful of others who are likely to play both formats. These same players are of the view that One Day International cricket will fall by the wayside which is a point so obvious to me yet so under-discussed by the pundits and analysts. T20′s real victim will not be Test cricket, it will be the 50 over game which is already seeing dwindling attendance globally and losing relevance in the main.
Earlier this year one senior West Indian player told me, quite frankly, “after playing Twenty20 matches playing a 50 over game is like playing a Test match, it goes on for so long and makes no sense and I don’t think people (players and spectators) enjoy it as much anymore.” That is a damning indictment on a format which currently determines cricket’s World Cup champions. The ICC should take heed.
This same player said that many other players (West Indians and some from other international teams) privately share this view. I am not surprised by it. I was convinced since 2007,during the inaugural ICC T20 World Championship in South Africa that 50 over cricket will die a natural death in the not too distant future.
Going back to 2005 after he made his highest Test score of 317 against South Africa in Antigua Gayle, in a press conference, hinted at retirement from Test cricket. I remember accusing him afterwards of joking about it and advising him that he should not make such serious jokes in press conferences. I remember him insisting that he was rather serious and, importantly, this was before the international explosion of T20 cricket. I was not entirely convinced by him then but looking back now he was obviously not joking at all. How then can we be annoyed with Gayle if having assessed world cricket he thinks that it would be best for him to retire from Test cricket sometime in the near future and concentrate exclusively on T20?
Is this not what Adam Gilchrist, Scott Styris, Stephen Fleming and others have done? No one can convince me that Gilchrist in particular would not have been playing for Australia to this day had there been no explosion of T20, specifically the lucrative Indian Premier League. And I have my reservations about whether Matthew Hayden would have retired from Test cricket as well had he not have a hefty deal with Chennai Super Kings in his back pocket.
Those who are literally living in the cricketing past need to study the honest and sensible comments of Sir Gary Sobers.
“I have not been in this position. If I was in that situation, I would try to combine both forms of the game of cricket. And if I could not do that, then I would feel that Test cricket would remain the top priority. It would not be an easy decision to make. But I was never in a position like Chris Gayle where I had to choose between something like the IPL and international cricket. I suppose he will make the decision he feels is best for him.”
Sir Gary refuses to condemn Gayle for his choice, effectively saying “to each his own”. Sir Gary reckons that if he was not able to combine both forms of the game (is there anyone who doubts that he would have been an equal T20 superstar?) he would have opted to play Test cricket instead of T20. Gayle, apparently, sees things differently. And we must respect a man for stating his position clearly rather than floundering. Gayle has always been his own man, who is not shy in stating his position publicly. When he was in disagreement with the team curfew on the last Windies tour to England he made no secret of his position. We must respect the man for laying his cards on the table.
If he does not want to be West Indies captain he would not be the first. Many have resigned before. Many cannot handle the demands of leadership of an international cricket team. Mahela Jayawardene recently relinquished the captaincy of Sri Lanka. Who knows if it was not the first step of a medium term plan to quit Test cricket altogether?
If Gayle does not wish to prolong his Test career beyond any year then he, like Gilchrist and others, would have made a decision he thinks best. We may express regret but we cannot condemn a man for doing what he sees best for his life. We must respect such decisions as we have done, in the main, with Gilchrist and others.
Money is not an insignificant part of cricket and life but it is not the only aspect of either. Pedro Collins, in 2008, politely told the WICB ‘no thank you’ after they picked him for a solitary Test match. He opted instead to play for Surrey on a better financial contract. Tino Best made his way to the Indian Cricket League after he found himself out of the West Indies team and in need of money to pay his bills.
Gayle, having won US$1M from the Stanford Super Series and being bought for US$800,000 by the Kolkata Knight Riders may not be in the same position as Collins and Best. However a Test series takes a player away from home for significant periods each year and with Gayle now having achieved a level of financial security he may very well wish to spend more time with his family. He does have a mother, father and brother who have, at various times, been severely ill and as any caring son and brother might want, Gayle may just prefer to spend time with moms and pops rather than dueling it out on a cricket field with his mind not focused on the job at hand.
An exclusive T20 career would allow him more than enough time to bond with his family. Neither his mother or father are young people, the implications are obvious. And further this is a man who, since he was a teenager, has been spending the vast majority of his life away from his family, living through oppressive airport security and lonely hotel rooms.
Those of us who spend our lives commuting between home and work and relishing the odd vacation can see glamour painted all over the lifestyle of international cricketers but those who have experienced it will tell you that the novelty of it all wears off not so long after you’ve hit your tenth boundary or so.
And there is a final element which will see more and more players, as Gayle warns and McGlashan reiterates, choosing T20s over Tests. It is to do with injuries. Injuries, for fear of opposition exploitation, player insecurities and a host of other reasons with which I am all too familiar are the most under-reported aspect of international cricket.
For every one obvious injury cricket teams provide details on there are about five or six others being covered up with treatments, tablets, injections and whatever else physios and doctors deem necessary. A team will consider itself lucky beyond belief if there are five fully fit players in the playing eleven. Every other player has some niggle or another which potentially develops into something worse down the road.
And it does not require any level of intellectual genius to understand that five days of cricket is much more likely to worsen injuries than three hours of cricket. Not to mention that 90 overs per day for five days will potentially expose players to many more injuries than forty overs every few days. The decisions are obvious. We need not go further that the current Dwayne Bravo situation for ample evidence. Injured players will be able to make it through a 20 over romp unscathed as opposed to the rigours of 450 exhausting, never-ending overs spread over five torturous days whether in the oppressive and stifling heat of Eden Gardens or the numbing frigidity of Chester le Street.
Spectators have already been voting on the issue and we have seen the results on our television screens. Players are quietly making their decisions and it will come to the fore more and more. The revolution which T20 cricket has brought is not limited to gate receipts but includes a liberalization of player options among a host of other factors. The future has arrived and many refuse to see what is before their very noses.