Saturday, January 07, 2006

The History of the Dying Game

No need to write the obituary yet, but I have enough reason to believe that the game of cricket is dying, and has been for some time. No, I haven’t conjured this piece of information to create either sensation or panic. In fact, my statement is based on comments and views expressed by established and bona fide experts in the field of cricket over the years.

Now, according to pundits, many international sports have perished and continue to do so from time to time, so cricket is not unique in this respect. Remember the death of Tennis in the 80’s with the arrival of better racquets and the boom-boom servers? Or the recent predicted demise of Formula one in America due to a farce over tyres? And apparently, for the most oxymoronic reasons, excess money is killing English Football these days! With most of this money coming mainly from rich (very rich actually) Russian and American business tycoons, Old Trafford and Stamford bridge are all set to become the next battlefields in the cold war. Who in his right mind would want to watch a game of football under these circumstances, right?

However, what makes cricket different from the above is that it has been a dying sport right from its very inception. And over the years, whether due to boredom, overexposure, or just pain old cynicism, the game has always been under attack and doubts have always been expressed over its chances to survive in the long term.

While the Aussies had to travel a great distance to kill the English game back in 1882, the Americans didn’t have to travel at all to do the same to West Indian cricket in the late 90’s. Beaming American sports via Satellite TV was enough to kill a sport considered by many to be a religion in that region.

Anyway, I wonder that if defeat by a mere eight run was enough to kill the game in England more then a century ago, what will it take to kill it in Bangladesh today? And what goes through the mind of the Bangladesh supporters? I guess something like “Should never have been born or conceived to begin with”. But again, you can’t argue with the guys who felt that the introduction of Bangladesh to Test cricket was essential to ensure the longevity of the game. After all, with so few countries playing the game, it did not make sense to keep all eggs in one or a few baskets. Somebody forgot to tell them that a few in the face work just as well.

Going back to the 1930’s, while plans to eliminate a few odd million were still on the drawing board in Germany, a group of Englishmen went about their task of methodically killing the spirit of the game. “Bodyline”, they called it. Not only will it kill someone, but if not stopped in time, it will be the end of cricket, and all other relations between England and Australia. Watching Harmison dish out the similar nasty stuff on the first day of the Ashes series, I wondered why the Aussies even bothered the first time around. After all, apart from a split cheek or two, and a few broken bones, nobody has ever died, have they?

Can’t recall the death of cricket in the 40’s or 50’s but I am sure the game couldn’t have survived in the 60’s. After all, pretty much everything pre-60’s, from music to morals, died in that decade, so what chance did poor old cricket have. Dull boring draws played in white clothes didn’t help either. Come to think of it, Powerplays and Supersubs made more sense in that decade. After all, the times were right to experiment with stupid and meaningless things anyway.

While I mention Powerplay and Supersubs, I am tempted to use another American word as it seems to have a natural association, especially in context to cricket. Allow me (please) before I continue to throw a bit of light on the history of this dying game.


Wow, feels better already. Ironically, this is also the word that comes to mind whenever I think of the medicine my mom use to give me when I was a kid – yes, the same one with a red label! I am sure my mom meant well, but sometimes I wonder if it was at all necessary to subject me to that torture in the first place. After all, the medicine only helped in getting rid of the cold in a week, which would have gone in seven days anyway.

Occasionally, you do come across some guys, long hair, guitar in hand (the works basically), who will look across the haze of smoke and convince you that everything, cricket included, died after the 60’s and life hasn’t been worth living after that. The fact that most of these guys were born in the 70’s is an entirely different matter.

However, it was not the lack of Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll in the 70’s that did cricket in, but a guy who had the vision to turn cricket into a professional sport. That was it, the final nail in the coffin. Cricket was about to become a circus played under lights with white balls and coloured clothes. Kerry’s boys may or may not have indulged in all the aforementioned niceties, but they did now how to play at night and got loads of money for doing it. While there was a consensus, amongst the experts that is, that this novelty would soon die down, these same guys were concerned that it would kill game overall. After all, the last thing people wanted was rich players and packed stadiums.

And so the demise of Test cricket continued from the 70’s right through the 80’s and 90’s with Apartheid, Indo-Pak relations and English weather playing their part in ensuring it’s slow demise. And though we are only half way into this decade, we hear that One-day cricket is about to die at the hands of Test cricket and Twenty20 cricket!

Funny enough, this strange phenomenon of death has not spared the various disciplines of the game either. The art of fast bowling perished when Fred Trueman hung his boots and it continued to do so in subsequent years with a whole lot of bowlers from around the world.

Obviously wicket keeping ceased to be an art after Alan Knott took off his gloves, and spin had little chance once the Indian trio of Bedi, Chandra and Prasanna called it a day. Actually, the art of leg-spin bowling did revive for a few years in to 80’s with the likes of Abdul Qadir, but then a 16-year old came along, and in one over killed the art once and for all. And I don’t have to look into a crystal ball to predict the demise of leg spin (again) in a year or two when Shane Warne retires. Talk about a cat having seven lives!

I am not sure about fielding but the genuine all-rounder did perish after Imran, Kapil and Botham left the scene. And yes, how can I forget the master of all deaths; the art of captaincy after Mike Brearley. Remember Steve Waugh anyone?

So you see, cricket has always been a dying game, but I wouldn’t worry too much. Somehow, I have a funny feeling the game will outlive all of us. After all, we have the experts or custodians of the game who continue to come up with all kind of remedies to prevent the demise of the game. Dare I mention Powerplay and Supersubs again? Or are they already forgotten in the midst of the demise of English cricket after the first ball after tea on the first day of the first Ashes Test Match this summer.

Anyway, leave you all to ponder over the future of the game, while I pray for a quick demise of Australian cricket. After all, the history of the game tells me that mortality ensures longevity.


Blogger raj said...

That was a masterpiece. Oh! When we have the likes of you in this world, why are we subject to inane experts in TOI, HINDU, SAHARA ONE, ESPN, Cricinfo etc?

Life is unfair. Not a single comment on this beautiful piece in 3 months while junk articles elsewhere get more attention.

Whatever, I hope you are happy to know that atleast one person understood and appreciated your creation

4:33 AM  
Blogger Shankar Anand said...

Good one Saurabh

4:59 AM  

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