The cricket world cup scheduled to be held in Australia in October this year has been postponed to 2021. No, we're not talking about the ICC T20 World Cup.
It's a much lesser popular form of the game, but has been around for more than two decades: Indoor Cricket. The 11th indoor cricket World Cup was scheduled this year, but has been deferred to October 2021 due to the coronavirus situation.
As the name suggests, the game is played within enclosed nets and the rules are vastly different to the outdoor version of the game. Eight players form a side and each innings is of 16 overs.
A batsman is not ‘out’ after he is dismissed. He has to bat four overs irrespective of the number of times he’s dismissed in that period.
The running between wickets is different too; a batsman need not run all the way to the bowler’s end to complete a run – he just has to reach a line that’s halfway down the pitch.
Sounds like a batsman’s paradise, doesn't it? Well, it's not. Five runs are deducted each time a batsman is dismissed. Three consecutive dot balls in an over results in a dismissal. Runs are awarded depending on which part of the net the ball is hit to. Each bowler has to bowl two overs. A host of such rules make indoor cricket a unique sport.
Unlike the outdoor version, the competitiveness in world events has largely been one-way traffic. Australia are the undisputed champions, having won each of the 10 World Cups till date. It’s no surprise as the game has been played there since the 1970s. They have an established structure, governed by Cricket Australia themselves. Big names like Michael Clarke, Steven Smith and Aaron Finch have all been through indoor cricket. New Zealand, South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and UAE have all hosted World Cups in the past.
India are underdogs at best, but have been making strides ever since being recognised by World Indoor Cricket Federation in 2010. India defeated England and Sri Lanka in their first World Cup in 2011. In their next, in 2014 in New Zealand, India won the Plate finals against England. They fell just short of repeating it three years later in Dubai, where they lost to England in the Plate final.
Popularising the game in India, though, has been a challenge. It is naturally popular in countries where climate hinders playing outdoor. Another deterrent is the expensive nature of the game; why would people pay to play cricket when they can do it free even on the streets?
"Sponsorship is the biggest challenge," says Milind Punja, the India Indoor Sports Foundation secretary. "Beyond Bangalore, a couple of cities in the south and Mumbai , there has not been much progress. But it's slowly improving. With social media, we can reach out to a lot of people and spread the game. People and corporates are beginning to get awareness and showing interest.
"It is an expensive sport, but it is happening. We have been able to send teams to every single international tournament from 2010, when we got recognised by WICF."
Another issue with the sport in India is that it's largely Bangalore centric. The city has two courts, with a couple more being built. Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai have one centre each while other places like Bengal have make-shift or unrecognised arrangements.IISF
"Because the infrastructure is in Mumbai, Bangalore and a couple of places down south, you'll see most of the players are from these places. The other places don't have proper tournaments or selection process, whereas we in Bangalore have a lot of tournaments. But when we have to select the team for India, we send out notices to all states. More often than not, 90 percent of the players in the Indian team are from Bangalore," says Punja.
The IISF hopes to spread the concept using brand ambassadors, while creating a structure similar to the outdoor game through more arenas across the country. The WICF is planning to spread the game to Asia too, through tournaments like 'Australiasia'.
Another big challenge is building a pool of players, as it's not a completely professional sport. All the indoor cricketers play the game 'part-time' with little rewards. Most in India have their roots in the outdoor sport before transitioning indoor. The adjustment is not easy, as the game demands agility and fitness apart from all-round skills as every player has to bat and bowl, and every fielding position is crucial.
Factors like weight of the ball (outdoor ball is 5.5 ounce, the indoor one is 3.5 ounce) and air-conditioners make a difference too.
"Outdoor cricketers who are flexible and all rounders would be suited for indoor cricket. Fielding is an integral part of indoor cricket. It's not like outdoor game where you can stand at third man or fine leg and chill," says Dhanush Bhaskar, former captain and current player. "Even someone who has played a good level in outdoor will take time to adapt to indoor."
Bhaskar, who is also the coach of the Masters (above 35 years) team, sayd the gap between India and other teams, even Australia, is narrowing.
"Australia, England and New Zealand have been playing since late 1990s. In India, the game took a leap only in 2011 when this board was created. The top teams play age group levels, and by the time they get to the main team, they would be well versed with the sport. They have a big advantage." he says.
"But now we have players who have been around for a few years, so we're improving. The gap is becoming less. When we played Australasia cup last year in Sri Lanka, we went to the final and played the final. In one of the games, we lost by just six runs to Australia. That's a very close margin. Nobody has beaten Australia in a world series and we came so very close. We almost won, but we let it slip in the last over. Hopefully the gap gets narrow in the coming years."