I used to be a big fan of cricket and the last couple of years, I had not been watching much, not the least because of lack of access to Cricket Channels sitting at Seattle. And Indian team had a few debacles and Australia has become predictable. Now I started watching Cricket again starting with the current India-Aussie series and boy the game changed so much.
The 1990s look nostalgic to me, when every team had an equal probability to win. Back then, Australia was not so strong and West Indies was not so pathetic. South Africa and Sri Lanka were at their peaks, while India and Pakistan had extremely good players. New Zealand and England were getting as they always were, disciplined but not too threatening. In terms of fun - 1993 Hero Cup,1994 Wills Trophy, 1996 Wills World cup, 1996 Titan Cup and 1998 Sharjhah cup were so unforgettable and times seems to have change a lot. The atmosphere and celebration no longer seems to be there. Even the world cups like those in England (1999), South Africa(2003) and West Indies (2007) looked a lot sedate in comparison. Looking a bit deep, I see a pattern. I always wondered how cricketers world over seem to reach to the top in unison and get out in unison. At one point in 1996 almost the entire Indian team was 23-24 years old, all of them trying to cement their position. And like high school graduation, there seems to be a batch of people who come in at the same time and graduate at the same time.
The first wave took in the 1970s with the coming of Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, Viv Richards, and so on. The first wave of cricket ended after the 1992 when a ton a great players left the game. Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes, Krish Srikanth, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, David boon... all who made the first wave of ODI cricket were gone. Their age of ODI cricket was just a shortened version of the Test match. Bowlers were still at the top, batsmen tried to be cautious and concentrated more on techniques. At one point Desmond Haynes, 17 centuries and 7000 odd runs were insurmountable. But a new wave of cricket took place just before the 1996 world cup. With 15 over field restrictions and the retirement of many great bowlers, a new age of young cricketers took to challenge every possible batting record. Sachin, Jayasurya, Kirsten, Anwar, Ganguly and later Hayden and Gilchrist, totally changed the role of openers. Big hundreds were no longer the issue and once improbably 300+ scores on a 50 over game became the norm. Explosive people like Afridi made cricket look like baseball with a do-or-die hits for every ball. And the once improbable Hayne's record was beaten by almost every credible batsman of the era. In fact, Tendulkar has now 41 centuries and 16000 odd runs, something unimaginable 10 years ago.
Now all these greats of second wave seem to be going off at the same time, just like the first wavers did a 15 years ago. Kirsten, Wasim Akram, Lara, Walsh, Warne, McGrath, Srinath... have all gone. Soon, there wont be Dravid, Ganguly, Tendulkar, Gilchrist, Ponting, McGrath, Inzamam Ul Haq, Jayasurya and world cricket will look a lot different. As this third wave begins cricket seems to get more equalized. Australia dominated entirely during the late second wave with the peaking of all their greats - Warne, McGrath, Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden, Symonds... Now, already with teh first two gone the bowling looks weak and with Gilchrist gone the top order and wicket-keeping will take a hit. And there is no credible alternative to the top three batsman. Clark, Hussey, Haddin look nowhere near the greats and with a weak bowling Australia looks to be beatable once again as India has shown. India seems to be positive with the third wave with the historic failures of Indian team like running between the wickets, pace bowling and fielding have changed the lot, while there must definitely be worries on historic Indian spin department. It looks the weakest in India's cricket history.
Time will tell how man of the current batch will replace the records set by the second wave guys like those of Tendulkar and Muralidharan. At school, we used to spend hours speaking of the great comparisons like batting of Mark Waugh-Sachin-Lara, spinning of Kumble-Muralidaran-Mustaq-Warne, fast bowling of Akram-Srinath-McGrath-Walsh. A lot of these people including Tendulkar, Kumble, Walsh and Akram were splendid ambassadors of the game with their exemplarily on-field behavior. Compared with those, the current behavior on the field looks uncouth and barbaric. When people Tendulkar, Kumble and Warne celebrated their victories there was a touch of grace. It was fun and even the appealing to the umpire was amazing. But, with the unrefined third wave, the appeals and celebration had to be restrained by ICC so much that the match looks sedate.