Player power

There have been hints during the West Indies tour Down Under that the programme drafted for the teams is at best rather an impossible one. The complaint has been mostly because the Australian board has made out an itinerary which scrambles all the matches together, with one-dayers and Tests all mixed up.

It is not the whine of a losing team; far from it. Pakistan had nothing to do for days on end during their short stay to take part in the triangular one-day series. Wasim Akram was extremely vocal about it and he was right on that count. A better programme would have brought Pakistan to Australia after or before the Tests, allowed them to finish the one-day series and return. Australia and the West Indies could then have got down to the serious business of Test cricket -- or else they could have finished with it before Pakistan arrived.

Probably the best thing that came out of this muddle was the resolve of the three captains involved -- Courtney Walsh, Mark Taylor and Akram -- to form some kind of players' organisation which could have a say in both the itineraries and the amount of cricket which teams are asked to play these days. The very mention of player power would cause some of the bureaucrats who run the game to shake in their shoes but this is exactly what the game needs today.

It was dissatisfaction with the way the game was being administered that led to the success which Kerry Packer had in luring away the cream to play in his pyjama parties. The players were aware that they were the draw and that they were being used to fill the pockets of others; hence the revolt succeeded and ended with the players benefitting financially.

The formation of a formal players organisation should not be aimed exclusively at negotiating players' fees though that could well be one of the things which an organisation could take up. There is the matter of umpires, TV commentators and also schedules which are important to the game; all three are factors which could lead to decreasing spectator interest.

Standards are insisted upon from most people involved in the game today but any old person can be a TV panelist and propagate misinformation, damn players after they have played one Test (Maninder Singh's damning of David Johnson as not proper Test material after seeing the latter just once during the India-South Africa series is a good example) and pass judgments that do the players no good. There should be accountability here and the people to demand it should be the ones involved, the ones who serve as so much cannon fodder -- the players. After all, if they were not out there in the middle, all these pundits would have no way of making a living, what?

Given the amount of cricket being played these days, the number of umpires needed has markedly increased. But are any standards being adhered to when umpires are posted? Are the men who make repeated mistakes -- the TV camera does expose many people -- advised and then told that their chances of continuing to get assignments would decrease if they make no effort to improve? There should be some method whereby the feedback from players is heard as, once again, a bad decision can affect a player's career. One error by an umpire can mean the loss of a lucrative contract. It can mean exclusion from the team. Now that the umpires have somebody who can haul up players if they are observed to show dissent or question the decisions made by the man in white -- the ICC referees have been in operation for some time now -- what about the players?

Additionally, there should be some representation for players -- or at least for former players who can speak for the ones doing active duty -- when schedules are drawn up. An excess of the game is as harmful as a lack of it and jaded players can only give poor performances. Greedy administrators who seek to make their teams play as much as possible in order to rake in more and more appearance money should be kept in check -- and nobody knows the burdens of modern-day cricket better than the players themselves. The International Cricket Conference needs to take a good hard look at a number of things when it next meets. Players make the game what it is. They should necessarily come first.