The real reason cricket’s getting boring
Has anyone else noticed how boring it is being a cricket fan in India these days? There was a time, till the 1990s, when cricket fans lived in a constant state of emotional stress. Before a series started, you’d sit counting days, your heart beating faster as match-day drew closer.
That excitement doesn’t exist any more—mostly because there are few days to count between one series and the next. Also, One Day cricket has become largely irrelevant and no Twenty20 game ever “feels” important. Finally, there’s so much cricket being played that much of it is completely mediocre and one-sided. This makes it extremely hard to keep track of what to watch “live”, what to check on occasionally, and what to ignore completely.
But there’s another reason it has become increasingly hard to stay engaged with Indian cricket. Odd as it sounds, it’s because India have become a good Test team.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, and even the early 2000s, when Indian teams were relatively inferior, there was a reason to watch every match. Against teams that were worse than us on paper, our inconsistency ensured we could take nothing for granted. Beating Sri Lanka, West Indies or even New Zealand away from home was considered close to impossible.
And when we took on teams that were better than us, we watched in hope—less that we could pull off a surprise, more that we would at least witness heroic failure. Remember Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar smashing South African bowlers all around the park in Cape Town back in 1997? Tendulkar got 169 off 254 balls. Azhar got 115 off 110 balls. Glorious. India lost the Test by 282 runs, but that partnership still makes us feel warm and fuzzy even two decades later.
What all this boils down to is that there was a time when any contest against either Australia, England, South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies or Sri Lanka provided something to look forward to. Because those were so tense, series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh came as pleasant, stress-free interludes.
The balance has changed completely now.
Where matches against Sri Lanka and West Indies used to be super-competitive, these have now fallen into the same category as those against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh used to be. The Indian team today is good enough, and consistent enough, to ensure that they’re almost guaranteed to dominate these contests.
Earlier, we used to spend at least a week’s worth of sleepless nights before a game against Pakistan. Now we play Pakistan so rarely that every match gets an ad campaign of its own.
Basically, there are only three, maybe four, contests that have the potential to put you through the emotional wringer.
There is an argument that all sports suffer from this kind of imbalance. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominated tennis for a decade (and seem to be doing it again this year). There are only three-four teams vying for the English Premier League title. The difference in tennis is that the big guns play each other more often, so individual rivalries play out over time. In football, the result of every match is crucial towards the final league standing.
Back then, we could only dream of a time when an Indian team could dominate world cricket. Who knew it would make things less fun.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen.