by Nomaan Qazi

Conferences do not have to be confined within the proximities of a gigantic hall or a business centre. The basic idea behind staging a conference in any walk of life is to share ideas and provide guidance to personnel who had previously lacked the required facilities or skills to gain momentum so as to set on the path of success and prosperity. It’s not always that the more senior person would showcase his superiority in terms of transferring skills and ideas. Sometimes the juniors can prove vital too. However, one department in which the seniors would surpass their juniors with flying colours is experience.

The beautiful game of cricket is, in a very similar manner, very closely related to real life. However, the hustle and bustle of modern day franchise T-20 leagues and the sudden shift in gear of cricket has rendered a lot of beauties to diminish from the game, and mid pitch conferences are no exception.

The pace of modern day cricket has increased to alarming levels, which has deprived the game of some of its basic characteristics that made it so much more enjoyable and enthralling as compared to many other sports being played around the world. One of those missing characteristics is a “mid-pitch conference” that used to be the norm when test cricket ruled, and even when 50 over cricket was the only other format. It brought so much more strategic inputs into the matches and invaluable guidance for the inexperienced lot amongst the eleven battling it out there in the middle.  

      With several legendary examples, it can be judged that timely advice in the middle of an innings to a young batsman or constant verbal support from the non-strikers end has saved the careers of many budding youngsters of their time. Bowlers have been converted into all-rounders and batsmen have been converted into seasoned all-rounders as well. Victories have been snatched from the jaws of defeat purely by virtue of a masterstroke or two struck in the middle as a result of strategic advice or mid-pitch planning.

If you were to go back in time to 1996 Zimbabwe’s tour of Pakistan when Wasim Akram pounded a massive 257 in the Sheikhupura test, he kept on talking to tail-ender Saqlain Mushtaq batting at the other end who, as a result of all that talking and bucking up, helped develop a mammoth 313 run partnership with Wasim Akram and took Pakistan from 237-7 to 550 before Saqlain got out for 79. The 1996 world champions Sri Lankan were masters at chalking out mid-pitch strategies courtesy of their master-minded players like Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and company. In 1999, West Indian master batsman Brian Lara, guided West Indies to a famous one wicket win by constantly speaking to Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh at the other end, hence managing to chase down 308 for victory. Younis Khan’s famous test debut century at Rawalpindi in 2000 was registered after Younis engaged in a big partnership with the experienced Wasim Akram, who played a fine hand of 79 and kept on speaking to the debutant which helped shrug off pressure from the youngster.

Michael Bevan’s countless contributions and match winning knocks batting with the tail leave us with no reason to consider him the greatest of his time when it came to boosting the game of tail-enders batting alongside him. Inzamam-ul-Haq was another master of this trade. The 2007 Port Elizabeth test was a perfect example when Inzamam (92 not out) featured in a 74-run last wicket stand with Mohammad Asif and showed the world what impact a master batsman’s presence and words of wisdom can have on the game of a somewhat incompetent batsman, and that too on a seaming pitch on which the home side had been bundled out for 124 earlier.

Sri Lanka’s world T-20 triumph in 2014 was solely due to the fact their senior pros Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Dilshan and Malinga were captaining the side jointly throughout the duration of the tournament right after their nominated skipper Dinesh Chandimal stepped away from the job in the best interest of the team. Regular mid-pitch conferences between these 4 stalwarts was the hallmark of Sri Lanka’s success at the mega event.

With the advent of T-20 cricket and the subsequent T-20 franchise leagues all around the world, this feature has all but diminished from the great game. The quickness of the T-20 game allows so little time to the teams in the middle that they hardly have any time to have meetings in the centre. In case they go a few minutes over the stipulated time, the captain would be in danger of getting penalised or banned for the subsequent matches. The players, as a consequence, have become so used to the shortest format that they carry on the same concept into test match and one day cricket. Such things have taken the traditional thrill factors out of the equation, thus sending out a much distorted signal to the modern day youngster vying to take on cricket as a career.

 Strategic timeouts in franchise T20 leagues have become the norm but international cricket council still has not taken any similar step in the international arena. The two longer and more classical formats of cricket are fast fading away and these calls for a quick rescue.