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Too Much Cricket or Too Few Players? June 24, 2006

Posted by Arnold in Arnold, Cricket.

I've been particularly surprised by the amount of attention this whole issue of "player burnout" in cricket has been given. Here's how I see it.

There is a market for a certain amount of cricket. Good business strategy would involve trying to ensure that as much cricket as possible is played without exceeding the demand that there is for it. All the cricket boards are business organizations and would thus do what they can to maximize their profits. There is nothing wrong in this. And certainly the amount of cricket being played currently doesn't seem to be too much for the public to handle.

The question that then arises is — Are cricketers able to cope up with this much cricket physically, mentally and otherwise? Having never played the sport myself at anything that even comes close to a professional level, I do not feel that I am personally qualified to make this judgment. In fact, I think it's a personal decision by each player to decide how much cricket he feels his body can take.

What if this figure that the player decides for himself does not match with the amount of cricket his national team has to play in the calendar year? As the amount of cricket being played increases, this is becoming more and more true. And hence we have players complaining. What is to be done?

I think cricket would do well to take a look at, and learn some lessons from, its American cousin — baseball. The job of a Major League Baseball starting pitcher is one of the hardest and most physically tasking in professional sport. An MLB team's regular season consists of better than 150 games. And then there's the post-season. No pitcher, no matter how great, can be expected to pitch every game. It's just not physically possible. To tackle this problem, teams rely on that time-tested strategy of rotation. A pitcher plays only one of out every 4-5 games. (Also a pitcher who starts the game will rarely pitch through to the end, but this solution is not possible to adopt in cricket since there aren't really any "substitutions" in cricket.)

I believe rotation is the key to the current problem in international cricket. Don't play your best eleven every match. Instead of a squad of 20 players whom you expect to carry you through the year, increase your squad size to 30-35 players. And use them in rotation. This forces teams to ensure that they have a deep bench and a good "second" team. Having just 3-4 match winners will no longer cut it, since they can't play every game. Teams with more depth in their lineups will naturally do better in the long run and this is what's important in the end.

The amount a particular player is used in the rotation policy depends on a number of factors like how fit that player is, what his role in the team is (an allrounder might play less games since his task his harder), the quality of the player, etc. The players' contracts would also be decided dependent the amount the board plans to use them. In other words, the more you play the more you earn. (One big difference between the MLB and the cricket boards is that while baseball players frequently shift clubs, cricketers tend not to "shift" countries.)

Some people might feel that this rotation policy would lead to a reduction in the level and quality of the sport. I don't think this is true. The slight drop in level, due to the fact that you won't the best twenty-two playing all the time, will be made up for by the fact that your players are less fatigued when they do play and hence can perform better. Besides, with more top-level match experience, the "second string" players will automatically improve and close the gap between them and the first eleven. Also, the rotation needs to be done carefully so as not to have all your first eleven resting for any particular game. Rotation would also mean that stress related injuries should reduce, and this can only be good for the game.

And at the end of the day, the cricketing boards will be happy because the increased number of games will fill their coffers up faster.



1. Y V SAI MADHAV - June 24, 2006

This is my post on the issue of ‘burnout’ on my blog viewlogic.blogspot.com

In recent days, everyone, that is, the players, the media and the administrators have been showing concern over the ‘burnout’ caused by too much cricket. Even a newcomer like Dhoni is also concerned and has offered a solution. Dhoni wants the team management to come up with a rotation policy. With an Australian at the helm, ideas also sound different. Sehwag wants the authorities to ensure that the players get extended breaks between matches. For the last one season, Sehwag has been spending more time in the dressing room, rather than at the batting crease ! I fully agree with the view of Sunil Gavaskar over the issue of too much cricket. The players are much better looked after now in terms of the money. The fact that they represent the country should be motivational enough. Playing 100 days out of a total of 365 days is tiresome, to say the least. The Indian cricketers are a pampered lot and their views on the burnout issue only reinforces that belief. Look at the tennis players who slog it out on a daily basis. The same is with the footballers. Let us for a moment think about Leander and Bhupathi. They give everything for the sake of the country in Davis Cup in the midst of the packed schedule that modern tennis is. Yet, never have they complained. Things like ‘patriotism’ can sound old fashioned and even jingoistic to the Indian cricketer of the present day.

2. samratsengupta - June 26, 2006

Good post Arnold.
Rotation and maintaining a pool seems to be the way to go. We will see fresher players, new bowling actions and batting styles, more competition, Iand gradually an improvement in standards.

I feel comparison of cricket with other sports is highly tenuous.
The physical fitness levels required are of different magnitude altogether with respect to basketball, football, tennis etc. One need not spend much time on physical training, cardio etc compared to other sports.
But then this should make cricket a 365 day game, but that is not so, because one gets worn out in the mind, playing the whole day is taxing on the mind, and muscles also get weary,
even sitting in the dressing room is not a total relaxation as one expends nervous energy.
Whereas in other sports it is a more focused 2-3 hours and job’s done.
So Cricket is a different ball game altogether and players demands should not be refused giving examples of other sports .

3. Aniket - June 27, 2006

Your idea of a rotation policy seems pretty good. But the comparison with baseball I feel is unfair. True, the pitchers do have a hard time during a 9-inning baseball game but I feel that in cricket, bowlers work much more than baseball pitchers. Especially in tests. So any comparison would be truly unfair.
Also I feel that a rotation policy, practically, wont work in cricket. In cricket, a lot depends on your luck and your form, maybe more than in any other game. Hence selectors will always select in-form players rather than rest them. And though a lot of players complain about the overdose of cricket, many would love to play for their country at every given chance. Especially since they know that their place in the first team might be under threat. So the fringe players will never accept such a rotation policy. I guess the only solution is that the final choice should be left to the player himself. If he feels that he needs rest, then he should be allowed to do so. Because there is a lot of needless cricket going on & there is no need for the first team to turn up for all the matches. But suggesting the creation of 30 odd player pool seems too far-fetched an idea. At least for now.

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