And so it has happened. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan are likely to be unavailable for national duty if the teams — sorry, franchises — they will represent in the Indian Premier League are still involved in the competition when Australia tours the West Indies in May.
This is the development many have feared.
At its most base, it is a case of cash over country. But the potential unavailability of cricket’s brightest stars for their national teams is also a cultural shift of seismic proportions.
Traditionally, cricket’s prestige and money have converged at national level. Not any more. The advent of Twenty20 and its hyper-popularity in cricket’s biggest market has seen the world’s best cricketers picked up by private concerns. It’s a system some have compared to the global soccer market — and we have all seen the friction that exists between club and country there.
But when Harry Kewell’s club begrudgingly (or not so begrudgingly as the case may be) releases him for national duty, he plays the same game for the Socceroos as he does for Liverpool: same rules, same game-time, same skills on display.
Not so with cricket. T20 is almost unrecognisable from the sport’s pinnacle, Test matches. Different temperaments and disciplines often prosper in the different forms of the game. Take Yuvraj Singh. He is a champion in one form, a dud in the other.
The cash and s-x appeal offered by the IPL will unearth more players like the big hitting Singh. And with the new breed, a new era will surely follow, one in which Test cricket will likely fade. Anyone who doubts this need only look to the attitude of the Caribbean stars for confirmation.
While the predicament will understandably lead to the gnashing of teeth and tolling of bells, the uncomfortable truth is that international cricket has itself created a void for T20 to fill. One day matches are generally dull, Tests are predictable. Only Australia seems regularly capable of generating brilliance or inspiring it in their opponents, though the Indian teams aren’t far behind them. By any measure, world cricket is less competitive than it used to be and as a result less compelling.
Looked at in this light, T20 is less a revolution than a process of natural selection. The adaptation may not be to everyone’s taste but it may revitalise a sport played competitively by only a handful of nations, and in the doldrums after a woeful World Cup.
Who knows, the instant gratification of breakneck cricket may pall (even though there is a lot of Indian money saying it won’t). The more genteel but more intense form of the game could endear itself to the masses once more, particularly now that Australian dominance seems on the wane. But that also relies on a host of other factors: the willingness of television stations to continue devoting five days at a time to a game played at a snail’s pace, the recruitment of youngsters in the face of increased competition from other sports, value for sponsors, and so on.
In any event, it is difficult to see Test cricket dying altogether but it will not survive unscathed. Messrs Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul have already seen to that.