We have lost our cricketers, we have lost the game, we have lost the art of true devotion. Cricket is meandering on tired grounds, says TISHANI DOSHI.
... and India's Laxmipathy Balaji.
I SPENT five crucial years of my life in a heathen nation, unaware of the implications of the game of cricket. As a country, America had its own sporting fascinations: baseball, basketball, soccer, football. It had its own green lawns, its own 80,000-seater stadiums, its own traditions of violence and comprehension. But I stood outside it all, because I'd had good, strong beginnings in Madras, where my father used to traipse off to every cricket match, sporting the brightest shirt in his wardrobe so I could try to spot him at home on the TV.
The game has changed a lot in recent years. When I finished my stint with pursuing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I returned to these shores determined to become a born-again. I struggled, as most converts will do, with the vagaries of the new game. My approach to the sport remains the same; simplistic, pure, big picture vs. nitty gritty. I don't know my rules, terminology, lingo, statistics: never have and never will. I'm not an expert and I don't hope to redeem these failings. I know only how my father became a man obsessed, subject to some higher authority that neither he nor I fully understood. Something that compelled him to wake up in the middle of the night to sit in front of the TV in that strange, dawn light, while cricket-mad crowds in some other part of the world cheered their heroes on. It was a scary, wonderful thing to see. As wonderful as spotting Viv Richards in the lobby of the Taj Hotel, leaning against the staircase like a reclining Greek God.
This year's World Cup was like the fixer of the short-circuit, reconnecting the loop, being joined at the banks of a holy river with millions of other devotees. The return to the game was instant, it was deluge, the flood-gates had opened. I was watching cricket again and the world was watching with me. The whole nation was eating, breathing, living, talking cricket. It was a rip-roaring jolly time poking fun at the ridiculousness of Mandira Bedi, beer and barbeque cricket parties, in-depth discussions and predictions, holidays from work because India was playing an important game. It united a nation in doubt. India put on a feisty show, beat Pakistan, which some say was the most important thing anyway, but lost in the final to a dominating Australian side. After all this, there was a lull. And during this time, I watched and read how the media has been treating cricket, and I've been trying to decipher what it is we really lost.
We have lost our cricketers. How can I say this differently? We have lost our cricketers, we have lost the game, we have lost the art of true devotion. Cricket is meandering on tired grounds. It has left the realm of mysticism, moved from the pure sphere of almost religious leanings to a deceitful arena devoid of myth, fable, and legend. It's as if cricketers have suddenly been exposed for puppets whose strings are pulled on by oily, fat businessmen in nameless buildings. It's rife with match-fixers, rows over players' contracts, internal team politics and brawls, scandal over players' conduct on and off the field, and petty discussions about players' diets, exercise regimens and sleeping patterns. To make the political metaphor more complete, these teams have started moving around with battalions of psychotherapists, yoga coaches, psychiatrists, masseurs, much like politicians moving around in their motorcades with their cabinet of ministers to add to their sense of self-importance. The disappointing thing is that the media actually encourages and attaches significance to such banalities.
A battle ... New Zealand's Lou Vincent ...
The original heathen nation I was talking about has recently turned the world into a battlefield. But the degeneration of cricket has happened of our own making, something we've done without their help. By "we", I'm talking about the media: sports writers, television reporters, the people who get to glamorise or highlight the "disgrace" of cricket players (think Azharuddin, Hanse Cronje, Shane Warne) who have tainted the "gentleman's game". The move towards this violence and politicisation has happened slowly, and it has been a gradual disillusion, coming apart as surely as the myth of Santa Claus falls apart in a child's stubborn, wanting-to-believe-as-long-as-possible mind. It's like having to explain why America and the United Kingdom went to war on Iraq with their sexed-up dossiers in the hunt for fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction. It's boring, double-speak, hypocritical talk. The plain fact is our cricketers have been converted into warriors.
The New Zealand cricket team is currently here, and much has been made of the upcoming "battle" between the Black Caps and Ganguly's Boys (boys being a highly objectionable word, conjuring up a boys will be boys, so please excuse their bad behaviour attitude). I've been reading how their coach, Ashley Ross (whose favourite book is The Art of War by Sun Tzu terribly passé), has taken innovative methods to train his team for India's rigorous conditions. These, trying to outdo India in India tactics, include studying the opposition with spy-like missions, blasting loud cheers into players' ears so they attune themselves to the crowds, replicating humid conditions. Maybe he's had them running around with double layers of clothes so the heat won't take too much of a toll on them, some kind of simulation akin to how American soldiers are trained to cope with desert conditions. If this is the case, then Flemming's Lemmings will certainly have to put on their groin protectors and war paint because India is a country that takes its politics and religions seriously, and cricket has suddenly come to be the meeting point for these two sides of the same coin.
When you read the recent write-ups about cricket being played around the world, these are the words that recur with disturbing frequency: victory, battle, tactics, sledge-pledges, challenge, ruthlessness, carnage, injuries, war, victory, opponent. All these words being spat out by sportsmen and parroted by media people is not doing anyone any good. It's only highlighting the Us Vs. Them syndrome, enshrining the idea of the opponent, the "other", which is the primary reason for violence in the world today. To advocate this in the realm of sports is on par with handing out spears to youngsters and setting them loose on the streets, telling them to dispose of the world's infidels. It's not okay to look at the game as an opportunity to march out like a band of soldiers under a leader, go out there and cream the pulp out of the opposing side. If we're worried about the effects that cricketers as "idols" have on children, let's worry about how they're encouraging a shocking strain of fanaticism, reducing a game with gracious traditions to a mere variety of blood-sport.
There's a difference in watching a team playing with a sense of spirit, and competitiveness, something inspiring in what they can do with the bat and ball on the field, not what they do in their free time, what charities they support, what cars they drive. There's a thing called talent. There's a difference then, with the surge of pride that comes when the world's best batsman (who happens to be Indian) walks out onto any green playing field and plays with the flair and conviction that only the best batsman in the world can play with. It's quite different from national pride, which quickly wavers and falls with the earliest disappointment, (think fickle Roman masses, think recent harassment of Indian cricketer's families during the recent World Cup).
It would be nice to harken back to a time when cricketers came without faces, when you heard of their accomplishments through the radio, when they didn't wear branded shirts and endorse shoes and move around like a flock of sheep with their lucky charms and victory laps. When you wouldn't know them if they walked down the street. When they got to keep their anonymity and you got to keep your legends. Heck, I would even give up the glorious sight of Viv Richards leaning against the Taj banister for a pure time like that. It would be something like the camera guy finally finding my father in his bright pink shirt, and telling the world Here's a portrait of a true cricketing fan.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Send this article to Friends by