Hibernation was never in the DNA of today’s cricketer

The lockdown period of cricket has brought to the fore many discussions on the game. There have been several panel discussions as well as individual interviews with cricketers and cricket experts. The game needs to be kept alive and the only way to do so where �live cricket is not concerned is to have �live performance.

Cricket players old and new are in the news, each one giving their views and anecdotes of life on the field as well as off it. The thought of listening as well as watching highlights of some of the great moments of cricket is wonderful, but one feels that comparing one cricketer or team to another from a different era rests only with the bookworms. The averages and runs scored comparisons can never ever reflect the truth at most times.

In every 10 years, the changes in rules, regulations and the improvement in equipment makes the game an entirely different ball game. Test cricket before World War II and thereafter, over every decade, changed in several parameters of the game. The first sea of change was cricket losing its stature as an amateur sport to becoming more professional in its approach.

Cricketers, started looking at the sport as a way to make a living. One of India’s greatest all-rounders, Vinoo Mankad, was a good example of it. He opted to play club cricket in England in 1959 rather than play for India. He was, therefore, not selected in the touring squad. Mankad was finally called upon to save India at a time when the Indian side was down and out and his performance at Lords was one of the finest feats ever accomplished by a cricketer.

India took many years to finally be called a professional side. The BCCI had no money and therefore, the system of cricket becoming a full time profession was definitely not an option till the 21st century.

Rahul Dravid in one of his interviews recently said that the most crucial or significant decision he made before he played for the country was to concentrate on his cricket. He knew the uncertainty and the lack of financial returns of playing the game in India but his passion for the game is what pressed him into taking the risks that came with it.

This fortunately is not a tale for the present lot of cricketers as money has made the sport one that a cricketer can not only make plenty of but also enough to lead a good life in the future.

The commercial success of the game has brought a surfeit of cricket and in the last two decades made it into a 365 days affair. Cricketers were grumbling about excessive cricket, with players pleading and excusing themselves from playing for the country on the grounds of needing a break.

Unfortunately now, the uncertainty of life and the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has confined them to their homes. The frustration of not wielding their bat or ball and being caged among four walls must be quite a concern for them. This must have given rise to mental anguish in each one of them, especially, as they were used to the fast and active way of life earlier.

The present cricketers have never encountered being away from the game for such a long period of time and so the big question in their mind would be as to whether they will be able to perform at the same level as they did earlier.

This was a dilemma that cricketers in the earlier days faced year after year. The first-class season in India came to a close in March and the next season only got underway in November. Although, one did play club and corporate cricket, most of the months were sans cricket because of the monsoon.

One kept fit playing other sports and exercising on one’s own as facilities like gyms and fitness centers were not in existence then. After the long break and on return, one developed unconsciously at times a change in ones’ grip, stance and even in body movement. This is a fundamental issue that the present cricketer may face when they return. Fortunately for them they have video clippings of their earlier batting and bowling performances to compare with.

In our days one depended on the eye of one’s local coach. Most of them were brilliant in analysing and I can recall my coach, the legendary Kamal Bhandarkar in Pune, who would by watching just 10 minutes of my batting tell me what off season effects have come about in my batting.

It will be interesting to see how the modern cricketers handle the break from the game. Technology has spoilt them on being able to evaluate themselves but in my opinion they miss out on the human touch. They are fortunate that they play top-level cricket so frequently which kept their reflexes and movements alive. A long break like this is something they have never faced before.

In cricket it is nice to be physically fit but more than the six packs, it is the skill, technique, confidence and mental toughness that prevails in the middle. Cricket is not played through an on and off switch. Cricketers will need to chart their own current course, after all, hibernation for a present cricketer was never a part of their game.