MARK Taylor was one Australian cricketer for whom I had a great deal of respect. Over the last 24 hours, I have come to re-evaluate that sentiment and conclude that much of it was misplaced. There was an earlier re-evaluation when Taylor showed that he had more of the politician in him than the average cricketer by declaring after he had made 334 not out against Pakistan, instead of chasing the record Test score of 375.
Taylor put it down to the fact that he wanted to concentrate on winning the match rather than on setting a record but the truth is that he deferred to popular sentiment because that is the highest Test score made by an Australian. And no ordinary Australian - it was made by the late Don Bradman. (After the Don died at the age of 92, there were jokes doing the rounds that Taylor would commit suicide if he ever reached that age in order to never outdo the Don's legacy!).
Now Taylor has come up with a silly proposal - to make Tests four-day affairs rather than five as at present. One wonders at the reasons behind his proposal but the tendency to shorten everything and try to force a result is common to many sports. Australia has led the way in stupid things like this - 12 players now play in domestic one-day cricket with any 11 allowed to field and bowl and any 11 allowed to bat - and thus this kind of ridiculous proposal is in keeping with a trend. Remember, cavorting around in coloured clothing at night on a cricket field was an Australian "innovation."
Fortunately, there are saner souls around. England cricket captain Nasser Hussain has spoken out against the plan. Hussain told The Sunday Telegraph: "I think the Test cricket we've been playing for the last few years has been a fine shop-window for the game. People are too drugged up on quick-fix cricket so I don't think it's one of the best ideas I've heard."
"If Test cricket has survived this long there can't be much wrong with it and if it ain't broken don't fix it. Even if a game does end in a boring draw there's likely to have been some pretty exciting stuff along the way," said Hussain.
The danger lies in the fact that Australian Cricket Board chief executive Malcolm Speed, soon to take up a similar post with the International Cricket Council, is also in favour of the scheme. And every new official at the ICC has generally shown a tendency to try and change something or the other to put his stamp on the game. Whether it is rubbish or not, is immaterial.
Additionally, most of the boards in the subcontinent, which now has a big say in things, would be in favour of such an idea simply because it would mean more profits. Given the 10-year calendar that the ICC has drawn up for Tests between the 10 nations involved in the game, there is an increasing likelihood that there are unlikely to be too many five-Test tours. Cut the number of days as well and tours could well become much shorter.
One wonders where Taylor, a staunch supporter of Test cricket in its traditional form, got this brilliant idea. Indeed one wonders whether some company or the other is behind it. I can see no reason why such talk should begin at a time when we have just witnessed a three-Test sizzler between Australia and India, a series which produced such excellent cricket that watching the five one-day games that come after it is more of a chore.
One thing is sure: over the next few days, there will be more details forthcoming about the genesis of this great idea. And then we will know how much a man's outlook can be coloured by extraneous factors once he has left the arena. Till then, watch this space.