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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 29, Dated July 25, 2009
ICC: A Century of Cricket  

The Game Of Life

Cricket today reflects the frenetic, fleeting nature of our times


I LOVE CRICKET. Though it is rumoured that the cricket I love is dead, or dying. That’s all right. It’s okay to love the dead. Nargis, Nehru, Orwell –much of what we love is irretrievably dead. I said the cricket I love is dead. But the cricket many others love is kicking and bawling. The oldest saw about cricket is that it’s a metaphor for life. It’s the reason more great writers and thinkers have been drawn to it than to perhaps any other sport. As CLR James said, “What do they know of cricket who only know of cricket?”

Repose Kapil Dev awaits a fresh victim in a Test match in Harare, October 1992

For a hundred years what had set cricket apart, made it like life, was its sprawl. Like life it had stated and unstated rules, things that were forbidden in law, and things that were forbidden in spirit – both equally important, both equally honoured. Like life it had shifting rhythms, periods of frenzy followed by hours of languor: a player could be for hours in the middle of the pitch, poised to perish on a moment’s lapse, or he could be on the boundary, nodding with torpor, chewing lazily on leaves of grass. As in life, opportunity was whimsical: a player could play an entire five-day match without getting a single chance to put his bat to ball or to turn an arm. As in life, the elements were always the presiding deities: a dying sun could save a match; an overcast morning castle an innings. As in life, a great team could lose to a secondrate one; a journeyman player outshine a certified legend. And as in the philosophy of life, of causality and karma, there was the law of averages: given time, the good would prevail, the mediocre wither away. And you knew life was like cricket: you could live it hard and splendidly and yet at the end not know whether you had won or lost, only that you had lived and played.

Inevitably then, the cricket that is alive today is a cricket of its time. It is tight, tinselly and explosive – designed, in an age of hype, marketing and advertising, for television. In an age devastated by the whims of the mythic audience — the collective spectator — it pursues the spirit of entertainment above the spirit of excellence and contest. The bowler is no longer Hadlee or Holding. He is just a bunny boy who sets up the sixers that the helmeted batsmen can send flying into stands of screaming fans. In an age leached of all centralities, in which 24-hour news has made everything a blur, it caresses at no memory, merely fuels desire. Millions of my generation can recall, 30 years later, every great innings of Sunny Gavaskar, every great spell of Bedi and Chandra. Not one of today’s will be able to tell you what happened in the match between India and Australia month before last.
Today’s cricket — tight, tinselly and explosive — pursues entertainment over the spirit of excellence

No other modern sport — tennis, soccer, hockey — has had its amplitude so brutally shrunk. It is a judgment perhaps on life and not cricket, for cricket — alone among the great sports — must follow life. The only time I met Sunny he told me a story. When he came back from the 1982-83 twin tour of Pakistan and West Indies he met his father at dinner and could not stop waxing about the mesmeric batting of Jimmy Amarnath, who had scored more than 500 runs in each of the series against the greatest fast bowlers the game has ever seen. His father, said Sunny, heard him out intently, then said, “Whatever you say, Jimmy is not a patch on his father, the Lala.”

Like most people, I am perhaps fatally deluded by the magic of my youth. On the other hand, if cricket refused to become frantic and commercial, the world too might just follow suit.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 29, Dated July 25, 2009

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