Hired guns will hold key to the future

Cricket is headed the soccer way, where club games would get more prominence than international ones, writes R Mohan.

Chris Gayle has some wonderful news for world cricket. He will be appearing in the colours of the West Indies in limited-overs cricket in England this summer. The compromise he has struck with his home board should help deflect some of the criticism that he is only a paid gun prepared to produce runs in exchange for money paid by various T20 teams around the world.
 
The cricket landscape has changed considerably since the birth of the T20. The sands of time have shifted and there really is no rolling back to Test match dominated world cricket again. In fact, a time will not be far off when cricket will resemble the soccer format more and more with the club game enjoying primacy and limited-overs world events being the stage for inter-nations sport.
 
Test matches will continue to be played and the paid guns of the world will not pay it too much attention, especially if they have already evolved as cricketers from it and don’t need it anymore to shape their careers. The likes of Gayle and Malinga may not be seen in whites again and those who swear by the highest form of the game will have to learn to live with watching only those who are willing to make the sacrifices to play the Test match format.
 
The success of the IPL has spawned leagues around the cricket world with Sri Lanka due to join it soon. The Big Bash was a resounding success last Australian season, which means businessmen will be lining up to back it even more in the future. It’s possible that soon there could be a traveling league that will also take in stops in the United States and Canada. All it needs is some entrepreneurial spirit to get the game rolling into more non-traditional areas and the popularity of T20 means there is a cricket format that can readily be sold to countries with a captive audience in an Asian and Afro-Caribbean expats.
 
On-site audiences do not drive the game anymore in the era of riches in terms of television rights fees, which means taking it around should technically be the simplest thing. In the UK they are already talking of the IPL as great afternoon television with Gayle’s batting a particular draw for those who find watching live cricket a compulsive proposition. And Gayle will be there on prime time TV this season too as he plays the ODIs and a T20 against England although he will not be appearing for Somerset as first promised.
 
As the world’s most watched hired gun with affiliation to T20 teams in five countries in four different continents, Gayle is setting standards in a format that is least amenable to consistency. He is virtually doing the impossible at the moment with savvy that will be hard to emulate to the best of openers who by their very position in the batting order enjoy the ideal chance at T20 success. The Royal Challengers Bangalore are not the One-Man Army they were last season in IPL and CL and yet Gayle at the top means so much to them.
 
In terms of value for money, there has never been a better signing although AB de Villiers is batting so well as to also be a contender for the title, that too as Gayle’s teammate. And ‘AB’ is just the type who could be a cricketer of the future who could be affiliated to half a dozen T20 league teams. The hired guns will dominate the future because they will be best suited to take advantage of the changing cricket economy. Who cares so long as we get the best possible television viewing. That is what the game is going to be all about.



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