Saturday, November 14, 2009

After Bradman, it's got to be Tendulkar

Since that momentous tour to England in 1930, Don Bradman has been God in the pantheon of great batsmen. An endless, and still unresolved, debate has followed regarding the next best batsman in the history of cricket. At various times critics, fans and former players have floated warped theories, often confused with personal prejudices, about the likes of W.G. Grace, Victor Trumper and Jack Hobbs being as good - and even better - than Bradman. Modern observers have anointed super batsmen of the ilk of Garfield Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar, Vivian Richards and Brian Lara as being no. 2 to the peerless Bradman.

There can never be another Bradman. He was a phenomenon the like of which not only cricket, but all of sport has never seen, before or after. Bradman is not the greatest simply for his iconic Test average of 99.94, or the amazing manner in which he reeled off his double centuries and more, or because he scored 300 runs in a day in a Test match, or because of his mammoth aggregate of 974 runs in that 1930 Ashes series. The Don is inarguably the best-ever for the way he turned around Test series, for the stirring fightbacks that he engineered, for the way he clinched series for Australia, particularly the Ashes - the only real contest of those times - for his dominance of the bowlers, for the dominance of Australia through his career, save the infamous Bodyline series.

Bradman’s flawless 254 at Lord’s in 1930 is considered by critics, as well as The Don himself, as his best innings. It was followed in the next Test at Headingley by what was then the highest Test score of 334, comprising 309 in a single day. But it was in the final Test at The Oval with the series level at 1-1, that the 22-year-old knocked up a superb 232 to wrest the Ashes. That was to become Bradman’s hallmark.

After toying with the West Indies and South African bowling and squaring up to the scourge of Bodyline, Bradman once again swept through like a hurricane in epic partnerships with Bill Ponsford in the last two Test matches in 1934. He knocked up 304 at Headingley, and 244 and 77 at The Oval, regaining the Ashes once again. Never again during Bradman’s career did Australia to lose the Ashes, nor another series. This was a tour when Bradman was unwell right through, which resulted in poor form in some of the earlier matches. But as always, he came back with a vengeance. Then on the eve of departure for home, he fell seriously ill and for a few days hovered between life and death.

That might have finished anyone’s career, but Bradman was made of sterner stuff. He missed the entire domestic season of 1934-35 and the tour to South Africa in 1935-36. When the English came calling again in 1936-37, Bradman was faced with the biggest challenge of his days on the field. A number of stalwarts of the past decade or so were gone, and Bradman was now captain of a weak Australian team. He was making a comeback to the Test arena after a near-fatal experience. And then, England went two up in the five-Test series.

Suddenly, the knives were out. That was just the spur Bradman needed to unveil his magic once again. He carved out tremendous innings of 270, 212 and 169 in the last three Test matches, clinching the series yet again. That is the only instance in the 132-year history of Test cricket that a team won a five-Test series after being down 0-2. The bemused English captain, and good friend of The Don, Gubby Allen, could only remark wistfully, “The Australian XI is simply Bradman and no-one else.” He was dead right, of course.

In the 1938 Ashes series Bradman scored hundreds in all the three Tests in which he batted, and Australia were leading 1-0. On a flat track in the final Test at The Oval Len Hutton parked himself at the crease, piling up a record 364. Bradman broke his ankle while turning his arm over in order to relieve his weary bowlers. He could not bat in either innings and England won that timeless Test to square the series.

After the Second World War it seemed doubtful that Bradman would return to the Test arena. He was keeping indifferent health and age seemed to have taken away the edge. But again the incomparable Don confounded friends and critics alike. This time there were to be no fightbacks and turnarounds, but dominance instead right from the start. Like he did in the previous 1938 series, Bradman scored centuries in the first Tests of all his three Test series after the War, and hundreds in eight consecutive Test matches, the sequence beginning with the third game of the 1936-37 rubber and culminating with the second encounter of the 1946-47 faceoff.

Having weathered an uncertain start in his first Test innings after the War, Bradman went on to score 187 at Brisbane, and 234 in the next Test at Sydney. Australia went two up, and England could not fight back. India felt the full weight of Bradman’s bat on their maiden voyage to Australia in 1947-48. The Don crashed 185 in the first Test, hundred in each innings of the third Test, and a double century in the 4th Test. The Indian players could only hold this man in awe.

On his final tour to England in 1948 at the age of forty, Bradman yet again wrested the initiative with his 138 in the first Test. Then in his penultimate Test at his favourite English ground, Headingley, the champion combined in an incredible 301-run stand with Arthur Morris, successfully chasing a target of over 400 runs on the last day, returning unconquered with 173 to his name and minutes to spare. England were left shell-shocked. Bradman departed the scene with a first-class average in excess of 95.

It is indeed well nigh impossible for any batsman to come within light years of the immortal Don. The finest wielders of the willow will always be looking up reverentially at this Goliath of batsmanship. But of the rest down history, it can now safely be said that Sachin Tendulkar is the best. Bradman’s Test career lasted twenty years, interrupted by the War; Tendulkar has today completed twenty years in Test cricket, and shows no signs of hanging up his boots. It is not unlikely that he will play to the age that The Don did. By then he will have created benchmarks that will be hard to obliterate from the record books.

When he started out as a child prodigy in 1989, Tendulkar wanted to dominate the bowlers in the manner that Vivian Richards did, characterized by that rasping pull off the front foot, dismissing the fast bowlers contemptuously in that first decade. Then his back trouble forced him to take away that awesome shot from his repertoire. In the early stages of his career he would have the bowling at his mercy, then lose interest after scoring a big hundred and give away his wicket. He overcame that and the double centuries started to come and for another two years he continued in his attacking mode.

If the 1991-92 series in Australia turned Sachin into India’s best Test batsman at the age of eighteen, the tour to New Zealand in 1994 saw him assume the mantle in the One-day game as well. Asked to open the batting, his breathtaking straight hitting sent the pulses racing, and he has not looked back since. His sublime strokeplay in the 1996 World Cup, the hammering of Australia at Sharjah, the furious assault on arguably the best-ever leg-spinner Shane Warne, are now part of folklore. By 2001-02, his Test average was close to 60.

Then suddenly in 2001-02, he found that his reflexes were slowing, perhaps he was sighting the ball just that trifle of a second later. He tried to curb himself, and bat in the Gavaskar mould in Test cricket, cautious, cutting out the risks, being selective in his strokeplay.. The trip to the Caribbean in 2002 saw him dismissed for a succession of low Test scores. Was the great Tendulkar’s career on the wane, everyone wanted to know. They had not reckoned with the Tendulkar spirit, his grit, determination and passion for the game.

The little man fought back and was on a high again in the 2003 World Cup. Showing exemplary consistency, he was the single-most important factor in India reaching the final. His demolition of the Pakistani pace attack that boasted of the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar is a saga that will never be forgotten in the annals of the game. He was player-of-the-tournament even as Australia ran away with the final. Then followed another in a series of injuries, entailing an operation to his hand.

Tendulkar was desperately seeking a new avatar. He was not quite himself, and his quest to
redefine his batting led to an extraordinary, if not bizarre, innings in the fourth and final Test at Sydney in January 2004, Steve Waugh’s swansong. Tendulkar hardly played a shot on the off-side, yet scored an unbeaten 241, his highest Test score then, and earned the man-of-the-match prize. That was nothing else but determination, innovation and genius. Even when he was not playing well, he was hitting up a huge score against the best side in the world.

There was more anguish to follow. He was dogged by a tennis elbow and his plight was not dissimilar to that of Bradman in 1946-47. Tendulkar himself was worried that his career might be over. In 2005 he looked a pale shadow of himself. There was no spontaneity about his batting, he seemed leaden-footed, and was making a conscious and laboured effort to move his foot forward. It was a sad sight, and many began write the obituary of his days at the crease.

Once again the fabled Tendulkar tenacity came to the fore. Since the spring of 2007, he started to find the right balance between attack and defence, confidence began to override diffidence and self-doubt, the fear of failure receded. Though he lost his wicket a number of times in the 90s, he was aggressive in the One-dayers, and solid in the Test matches. India won the Test series in England thanks in large measure to his resilience.

The tour Down Under in 2007-08 saw the final transition of Tendulkar into a happy blend of Sunil Gavaskar for his technical excellence, and Vivian Richards for his awesome strokeplay, with inimitable innovation to boot. All the time he carried the team on his shoulders. His aggressive batting nearly snatched the Test series from Australia, the umpiring howlers in the acrimonious Sydney Test also having a hand. Tendulkar played a major part in the humiliation of Australia in the One-day triangular , and in India winning the trophy.

2008 saw the little champion surpass Lara’s record Test aggregate, and later help India chase down a target of nearly 400 runs in the fourth innings of the Chennai Test against England with his superb unbeaten century. He marches on in 2009, the latest evidence of which was that breathtaking and valiant 175 in the One-dayer against Australia at Hyderabad. How far this remarkable, lovable little character will go is now impossible to fathom.

He has already made a mockery of people’s projections of the number of runs and hundreds they thought he would score. Already approaching 13,000 runs in Test cricket with an average close to 55 and 42 centuries, and past 17,000 runs in One-day Internationals at nearly 45 per innings and a strike-rate in excess of 85, with 45 tons, the Tendulkar treasure trove has grown to mind-boggling proportions.

It is never wise to get ahead of oneself, to speculate about the future but, barring injuries, a final tally of 15,000 runs in Test matches, 20,000 runs in the One-dayers and 100 hundreds in the two versions put together is not beyond the capability of this astonishing player. Or will he upset our calculations again?

It needed two great batsmen to equal Bradman. If Tendulkar is Gavaskar and Viv rolled into one, if The Don himself said that Tendulkar plays like him, if he has scored such an amazing number of runs at the highest level, is the highest run-getter and scorer of tons in both forms of the game, if he has carried the expectations of a billion of his countrymen with unprecedented success for two decades, if he shows no signs of giving up or giving in, then there can be no question: Tendulkar has to be the next best after Bradman.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’ which is a biography of Don Bradman and a panorama of batting from W.G. Grace to Sachin Tendulkar will appear on the bookshelves soon).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Half a million cheered “Good old Pip” and the King hailed the triumphant Prince

This is the story of a man who followed his dream, of a prince who set his eyes on a lofty goal, worked towards it assiduously, relentlessly and intelligently, with passion and patience, and eventually won the biggest prize of them all. Horses were the passion of Maharana Vijaysinhji, ruler of Rajpipla. He wanted to own the best horses in the world, and to win the most prestigious horse races devised by man. Minor successes did not satisfy the ambitious young man. He wanted dearly to reach the pinnacle, and did. That is why it is such an inspiring tale.

Succeeding his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji as ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres first-class Rajpipla State in the Rewakantha Agency of the Bombay Presidency in the year 1915, the adroit Vijaysinhji established himself as a leading light of the Indian racecourses very early. In 1919 he won the first-ever Indian Derby, then known as the Country Bred Derby and run in Calcutta, with his Kunigal-bred horse Tipster, ridden by the famous Australian jockey ‘Bunty’ Brown.

Having been bestowed with the title of Maharaja in 1921, Vijaysinhji then set his eyes on the centre of the Empire and travelled extensively the next year in the British Isles, Europe and United States of America, not just exploring the racing world and western society, but also studying the workings of modern governments, systems and institutions. He called on President Warren Harding in Washington, and visited New York to gain first-hand knowledge of the stock exchange. Back in England, he bought himself an estate near London on the banks of the Thames, with a 27-room Victorian mansion and extensive grounds, named ‘The Manor’ at Old Windsor in Berkshire.

The world’s leading trainers and jockeys were regular guests at Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s sprawling seaside ‘Palm Beach’ Napeansea Road residence at Bombay, and the grand ‘Sommerville Guest House’ at Nandod (New Rajpipla town), the capital of Rajpipla State. Steve Donoghue, an expert on the great Epsom Derby, was a visitor in 1924. Quizzed about the path to a Derby win, the legendary jockey advised his host to buy a good yearling or two every year. On returning home Donoghue purchased Embargo for the Maharaja that summer, and rode him to victory in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas as well as Irish Derby in 1926. Vijaysinhji, who had been knighted the previous year, felt convinced that he was well on the way to realising his big aspiration.

Winning the blue riband of the turf was, however, not such an easy ride. A caller in 1932 was the celebrated trainer Fred Darling, whose input was to start breeding with good mares (which matter 75 per cent as the Maharaja himself held) and a proven stallion. And so the keen Vijaysinhji started a stud in England with Embargo as sire, even as he continued buying high quality yearlings.

In July the same year, Darling’s protege Marcus Marsh, now training for the Maharaja, spotted a promising colt at the Newmarket sales, and received approval to purchase him. They named him Windsor Lad. The genial animal shaped extremely well under the tutelage of Marsh, a younger son of the late Richard Marsh who had trained three Derby winners for King Edward VII, and later trained the horses of the reigning King George V.

In 1933 Windsor Lad won the Criterion at Newmarket. As a three-year-old in 1934 he finished at the head of the field in the 1 ½ miles Chester Vase and the mile-long Newmarket Stakes. His discerning owner was now certain that the colt had the requisite stamina as well as speed.

The favourite for the Derby was the unbeaten Colombo, winner of seven races in 1933 and two in the current season. But he had not proved himself in a twelve furlong race, and Maharaja Vijaysinhji confidently stated that Colombo did not worry him. So sure was he of Windsor Lad’s prowess that in a signed article later he declared that he didn’t think he would win the Derby, he knew.

An estimated half a million people began descending on the Epsom Downs right since daybreak on 6th June 1934. Around noon dark clouds drifted in and a sharp shower broke the three-week-long dry spell. Just at this time the royal cavalcade drove in led by the Rolls-Royce of King George V and Queen Mary; and followed by those carrying the Duke and Duchess of York, who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the present Queen Elizabeth II; other members of the family and the King of Greece. The Prince of Wales, who succeeded as King Edward VIII but abdicated soon, joined them a little later.

There was a huge buzz around the race as usual, but more so for the prophesy of Gipsy Lee, made as far back 1868, that a horse with a ‘W’ in its name would win in 1934. There were also a number of uncanny coincidences around the number 13, which particularly fancied the ladies, who backed Windsor Lad.

They were off five minutes after the scheduled 3 o’clock start, and Donoghue on Medieval Knight set a fast pace along the rails, with Colombo right behind. But reaching the top of the hill, the leader cracked and Colombo was baulked. Seizing the opportunity, Tiberius slipped by the side of the rails, pursued closely by Easton and Windsor Lad, down the hill towards the iconic Tattenham Corner.

Just after taking the big bend to the left, Tiberius began to fade and was passed. The dashing Charlie Smirke - returning after a ban of five years - soon breezed Windsor Lad past Easton. Meanwhile Colombo recovered and made a great run on the outside in the centre of the course. The crowd thought that the hitherto invincible favourite would carry the day yet again, and began yelling “Colombo wins”. In the final furlong the three horses were bunched closely together. At this moment Colombo’s stamina failed him even as Windsor Lad surged to the post, equalling the record of 2 minutes 34 seconds set up by Hyperion the previous year.

The jubilant 44-year-old Maharaja was already a popular figure on the English racecourses and had been affectionately nicknamed ‘Pip’ by friends and the public alike. Now the multitude roared “Good old Pip” as he led his victorious colt back to the unsaddling area. Soon the King invited Maharaja Vijaysinhji to the royal box, high up above the finishing post, and raised a toast to this exhilarating win.

Lady luck had indeed smiled on the Indian prince when Colombo got hemmed in behind Medieval Knight, but ultimately it was the deft training of Marsh, the speed and stamina of the muscular Windsor Lad, and the skill of Smirke that carried the day.

No other Indian owner had won the Derby before, nor one after, in its history dating back to 1780. One of the first to congratulate Maharaja Vijaysinhji was his close friend the Aga Khan, himself a distinguished Derby winner. Dreams do indeed come true, if you persist long enough. During the Second World War, Maharaja Vijaysinhji donated three Spitfire aircrafts named ‘Rajpipla’, ‘Windsor Lad’, and ‘Embargo’,  and a Hawker Hurricane night fighter ‘Rajpipla II’, and the headlines ran “Windsor Lad will fly”. The Maharaja was honoured with a GBE in 1945, and when the winds of change wafted in, he merged his State with the Union of India in 1948, bringing down the curtain on the 600-year rule of the Gohil Rajputs over Rajpipla State.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s forthcoming book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ on the victory of his grandfather Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla in the Epsom Derby 1934 will be published shortly. The erstwhile royal family of Rajpipla celebrated the platinum jubilee of this triumph on 6th June 2009 when a special postal cover was released to commemorate the occasion).

ICC Champions Trophy: a test for 50-overs cricket

Even though I feel that the International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy is redundant at this point, the tournament is a test for 50-overs cricket. Is there enough public interest left in this format, are the media buyers picking up enough advertisement spots, and will the event make a healthy profit? These are questions that will throw up interesting answers that will be a pointer to the future of the game itself.

With the first ball to be bowled just two days on, there is little media hype of the kind that usually envelopes an international cricket tournament. There is little doubt that Twenty20 has eclipsed One-day cricket. How deep are the scars? We will begin to know soon. Recently, the comparative valuation figures for One-dayers and T20 raised eyebrows. It is reckoned that not long ago a One-day International (ODI) involving India generated revenue of around $ 6 million from title sponsorship, telecast and in-stadia advertising. After the advent of T20, this figure has nose-dived to a million dollars.

An Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 match, on the other hand, was valued at $ 8 million, while a T20 World Cup match raked in $ 5 million. The anomaly is staring at us in the face right here. A much higher valuation in a domestic tournament than a World Cup! It does not make sense. Scratch the surface and the reality appears for those who can see it. It only confirms that the financial boom that cricket is witnessing is fueled by the great Indian middle-class with rupees to spend. For this huge mass of people, IPL is just the latest reality show, the newest tamasha. It is not just cricket for them, but a terrific evening’s entertainment for a month and a half, by the end of which they have had enough of the good thing, lapped up the razzmatazz, glitz and glamour, bet to their hearts’ content and in the process seen something on the field that resembles the game of cricket. They are left satiated, and they are not true cricket fans. And the media buyers have spent all their big bucks, with little in the bank for other things.

If that is it, so be it…..for the time being. Cricket makes the money and the real show, Test cricket, and the sideshow, One-day cricket, go on. The moot point is: are these two formats of the game making losses? Can the game go on without these two formats, and with only T20 day in and day out? Until just a year and a half ago it was being preached that the One-dayers would wipe out Test cricket. Now it is being professed that it is the One-day game that will die. Two decades ago, if we had let the ignorant media, cricket illiterates and moneybags have their say, Test cricket would indeed have been history. Not only did that not happen, today there is little danger of One-day cricket being obliterated. Just wait for the World Cup in a year and a half.

The fact is that a 50-overs Champions Trophy match is expected to raise $ 3 million. So how much does the ICC stand to make from the jamboree? A sum of $ 45 million, perhaps more, is not bad for a fortnight’s exertions. As we have discussed earlier, the need of the hour is the right balance in the bouquet of cricket, not just roses but also carnations and lilies, and in the right measure.

While ICC is holding its event, it is also time to ponder a few aspects of the game that need addressing. One is about awarding a boundary when a fielder’s person or gear is touching the ropes and the ball at the same time while the ball is still inside the boundary. Four runs ought to be awarded when the ball, and not the fielder, touches or crosses a boundary. This criterion is alright for a sixer, not when the ball is on the ground.

Secondly, once the batsman crosses the popping crease with his bat or foot before the ball hits the stumps, he cannot be run out unless he attempts another run. This notion of the batsman being given out for not being grounded at the point of impact of the ball on the stumps, even if he is inside the crease, is idiotic to say the least. The idea is to cross the popping crease, nothing more.

Finally, with so much already on umpires’ minds, not to mention the intense scrutiny, why are they still burdened with the task of counting the deliveries of each over? Can’t the official scorer just post this information on the scoreboard? It is simple things that need addressing, with no need for sweeping changes, my dear armchair expert.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

A makeover for cricket

With the arrival of Twenty20 there has been much debate about the future of One-day cricket, the 50-overs format. The situation is not dissimilar to the one prevailing two decades ago when it was decreed by many who knew no better, that Test cricket was on the verge of extinction, that One-day cricket was the future of the game. Now it is being preached that Test cricket will, and must, co-exist with Twenty20, while the 50-overs game will perish.
Despite the huge popularity of Twenty20, one wonders what has changed so dramatically that the format that was said to be imminently suited to modern times only two years ago, is now thought to be languishing. Is it just the temporary stupor brought about by the dazzling success of Twenty20, or is there a deeper malaise?

One is inclined to think that Twenty20 is a bunch of freshly-cut, sweet-smelling, brightly-coloured flowers added to the splendid bouquet that we are already blessed with. Just as the new flowers, or a new, pretty girl on the arm, will attract greater attention, so is Twenty20 hogging the limelight. What can also not be ignored is that there was a fatigue setting in as regards the One-day game, and the sheer predictability and mechanical certainty of the format was beginning to get dreary. New ploys like super-sub, power play, and change of ball after 35 overs were tried, but this version was quickly losing its sheen.

Twenty20, and more specifically the Indian Premier League (IPL), arrived at the right time to give a fillip to the sport. But just as One-day cricket did not finish Test cricket, Twenty20 will not eclipse the One-day version. The English cricket authorities may appear to have over-reacted by scrapping the 50-over format, while retaining the 40-over game on their domestic circuit, or maybe they are on the right track.

Perhaps 100 overs are too many in a day. After all the English once played 60 overs-a-side One-day Internationals, and so were the first three World Cups on their shores, before they acquiesced to the 50-overs format. It is, therefore, ironic that they are the first to point towards the scaling down of the One-day game to 40-overs-a-side. Maybe that is indeed the solution. The crowd would get enough cricket in a day without looking for too much of a good thing. Here one would disagree with Sachin Tendulkar’s view that there should be two 20-over innings per team in a One-day match. That would be akin to playing two Twenty20 matches in a day, and will not have the One-day flavour in which players get a bit more time to express themselves.

If television makes sports viable in present times, then it is logical that the more live sports on television the more advertisement spots there are to earn revenue from. A One-day match offers two and a half times more opportunity for television commercials than a Twenty20 bash, and a Test match affords up to four and half times more advertisement time than a One-day International. So it makes commercial sense too to play all three forms of the game. To those who profess that Twenty20 will take over the game, one has only one question: Would you like to see 100 Twenty20 international matches per team in a year?

The key word is balance. One of the reasons for the fatigue with One-day cricket was the overkill, too much of it. The administrators failed to keep a proper balance between Test cricket and One-day cricket, and played too much of the latter. There was no need for an International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy after every two years when a four-year World Cup, One-day cricket’s Olympics, was doing fine. Individual boards like Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI neglected Test cricket in their greed to make extra bucks in the One-day arena.

Cricket’s administrators should be thankful for the bounty they are blessed with, the myriad hues of the game: Test matches, One-dayers and Twenty20. They should evolve a consensus, after due deliberations with the players, about the number of days of international cricket that each country should play. One would imagine that 90 days would be the threshold, comprising 12 Test matches, and 15 each One-day Internationals and Twenty20 games even in World Cup years. And the World Cups - One-day as well as Twenty20 - should be held once every four years. That is a lot of cricket, and when you add domestic tournaments and the IPL, it should be more than enough to satiate the fans and fill the coffers of the ICC and the Boards, and their partners - the television channels.

The agenda of the administrators should be sporting pitches that make for an engrossing contest between bat and ball, a four-year championship of Test cricket encompassing a points system that is easy to follow, with disincentives for batting too long and bowling too negatively, World Cups that are no more than a month long with a maximum of eight to ten matches per side, and a window for the IPL in April.

Everyone should accept that world cricket is governed by the Indian television market and so the IPL must become an international carnival of Twenty20 cricket for which all the mega stars of the world be made available, and each board should get a financial slice of. That is perhaps the road map for cricket at this juncture.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cricket: Bemused administrators, injudicious media

After two decades cricket is at the crossroads again. I remember it was in the late 1980s that there was a raging debate about the future of cricket. There were two camps, the purists and the futurists. The former felt that Test cricket would survive, while the futurists thought One-day cricket was the future. I am neither a purist out of touch with ground realities and current trends, nor a futuristic know-it-all swept away by the fads of the day. I am a cricketer, a cricket diehard, and I think I understand this intriguing sport pretty well.

Though I had never ever been published before, I sat down to write a book on the subject in 1990, and India's leading publisher of cricket books thought that my maiden effort was good enough to get into print. And so in 1992, coinciding with the fifth World Cup, I was delighted to see my book 'Test Cricket - End of the Road?' see the light of day. In it I argued that Test cricket is the real thing and would survive the onslaught of 'pop cricket' that I thought was One-day cricket. Many people thought I was a fool; talking through my hat.

Now look what has happened. A new imposter Twenty20 has arrived, and there is talk all around about the extinction of One-day cricket, the 50-over format. The exhilaration at the bat bashing the ball out of sight, the frenzied crowds, the surging television ratings, the heady cocktail of cricket icons, movie superstars, flashy tycoons and gyrating cheerleaders, all in one frame, have once again clouded the real picture. And, have you noticed, no one is saying that Test cricket is dying. It's the One-day format they think is in the ICU. Once again these are hasty, ill-judged and ill-informed conclusions. One can forgive the multitude, for all they are looking for is instant fun. But what about the venerable administrators and the holy media, one as confused as ever, the other wearing blinkers unlike their forbears who understood the subject they pontificated about.

A month or two ago the peerless Sachin Tendulkar said that Twenty20 is like dessert, while Test cricket is the full course. He is dead right of course. And when you come across the latest fashion, you do not change your entire wardrobe overnight. If boxer shorts are the flavour of the day, you do not throw away all your designer suits; if hot pants are what the design moghuls decree, you do not give away your chiffon sarees. Even a kid will tell you that people will always go back to designer suits and chiffon sarees, for that is what they look most elegant in. They are timeless like Test cricket, Wimbledon and the Derby.

The question then is: what is the way forward for cricket? Doubtlessly, there is need to fine-tune Test cricket, but only just. Sure, we need to take a fresh look at the 50-over game. But we need not get swept away by the box-office bonanza that is Twenty20 at this point of our existence.

So what should be done? That is a subject to be dealt at greater length in another piece. Suffice it to say at this moment that cricket’s administrators should not flog the golden goose as they did with One-day cricket; nor should they give step-motherly treatment to Test cricket which is actually the mother of all cricket. And the media should refrain from drawing hasty conclusions. They should look to men with perception, towards those who understand the evolution and ethos of the game, those who know what makes cricket the way of life that it is.

(Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter # IVRajpipla).