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June 23, 2008

Samir Chopra

The difference between a fan and a fan

Samir Chopra

There is a fairly well-established stereotype of the Australian cricket fan out there: loud, beer-swilling, male, proudly, passionately patriotic (and did I say loud and beer-swilling?) I want to point to another stereotype of the Australian fan that I carry around in my head: the enthusiastic recreational player come to watch the highest form of the game.

Australia owes part of its cricketing strength at least, to the extensive, well-organised network of recreational cricket that is visible in its summers. And each summer, a large segment of this population turns up at the Test matches and one-day internationals, all keen to see players practice the highest form of the game. Their presence ensures Australian crowds often provide the most knowledgeable spectators at Test cricket. And it reminds us of how the game played in the middle is experienced very differently by those watching in the stands, and how at least one, facile, binary division of cricket fans is possible: those who play and those who don't.

One abiding memory of the Test cricket I watched at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide is of the fan who while watching the game, revealed a knowledge of the game that only a player could possess. This knowledge is perhaps best revealed by a quiet patience, with player mistakes in particular, and a quick appreciation of cricketing skill, regardless of the nationality of the player.

This fan will not impatiently call for batsman to get a move on regardless of game situation, and will be tolerant of occasional mishaps, largely because he is aware of the difficulty of playing the game well, and knows that mistakes will happen. This fan will readily applaud a display of cricketing competence, no matter what the player's nationality; a good shot is a good shot, no matter who plays it.

The playing fan also pays particular, thoughtful, attention to the players out in the middle, analysing as best as he can, their bowling skills or the structure of a shot; for him, watching a cricket match affords yet another opportunity for study of a game that obsesses him. The player fan is also more accepting of the misfortunes of the game; the loss of a wicket late in the day is borne with fortitude. This fan has not as yet, swallowed completely, the picture of the game sold to him by its television version; he is able to come to the ground and gain access to the essentials, unobscured by several dozen replays and cued music.

The fan who plays the game realises something the non-playing fan often does not: it's just a game. Some people play it better than others; it's not perfect, and everyone gets it wrong once in a while; it's hard, so when someone does something right, its worth noting.

Most fundamentally, for the fan who plays the game, what happens out in the middle is not pure spectacle or performance (what Mihir Bose termed tamasha), with players to be primarily heckled, applauded or castigated. Instead the doings on the pitch represent striving, first and foremost. It is that striving that the playing fan recognises, in himself, as well as in those flinging themselves about on the field. And it is that recognition that changes his relationship to the game being played and makes him different from other fans.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Hersh on (July 1, 2008, 23:42 GMT)

Good article, as Samir re-stated, we all view the game differently, from the beer-guzzler, the student, and the player who has been in the same situation.

Posted by John on (June 28, 2008, 8:49 GMT)

Samir, There is also one other kind of patient fan.

Not the playing kind, but the one who remembers playing a few times, remembers how scary it is to have a ball rear off a good length at your ribs, knows exactly what the commentator is saying when he says the dew is making things difficult for spinners, knows the ecstacy of ball hitting the middle of the bat, basically fancies himself as a bit of an all-rounder who can bat at any position, but actually shite at everything.

Posted by Vishvesh on (June 26, 2008, 18:25 GMT)

I don't think it makes a lot of sense. A fan judges player A based on his peers, i.e., other international players. So a catch that is expected to be taken in international cricket is dropped by Player A I will shout at him irrespective of the fact that it would have been described as a half chance in my Sunday league.

The only place where it makes a difference is in strategies.

Posted by Som on (June 26, 2008, 17:01 GMT)

I could not agree more Samir. Of course playing fans have a better idea of what exactly is going in the middle and they even try to predict the next twist and turn in the plot. Naturally, the playing fans are less excitable. It does not elude me either that there are two distinct types of fans -- those who root for a team and those who follow the personality cult. A Tendulkar-powered win evokes more joy among certain Indians than say, a Suresh Raina-fashioned one. The personality cult is not bad either, for it often transcends boundary. No wonder, many Indians wanted India to beat West Indies but prayed for Lara to come good with his magic wood. Did I say it was me?

Posted by Samir Chopra on (June 26, 2008, 14:07 GMT)

As always, folks thanks for your comments. Let me seize on something Anshul points to. Which is the business of the felt cricket experience. Take something like trying to score quickly in a match where quick runs are needed, and the batsman has been pegged back by the bowler. A fan appreciative of the nuances of the game (and not necessarily a player) might still be able to understand why the batsman is not getting move on. Someone however, who has actually experienced that happen to him, will still have an interestingly different take on what is happening out there (he'll be recollecting memories of the time when he simply couldn't force the ball away, or find deliveries on the right line/length to hit and so on).

Posted by Anshul on (June 26, 2008, 7:33 GMT)

But there's a difference between a person who knows the game and a person who's played it. An ardent student will appreciate the nuances and sifting nature of the game. A player on the other hand will gasp and wonder at the skill required to flick a shoaib akhtar from outside off stump to square leg. Any keen observer will understand the nuances of the game in its strategies, its inner-plays yet they won't know what to wonder about a Lee bouncer. I once faced a 145 kmph ball rearing up towards my head, and, since then, I've grimaced in knowledge when Chanders and Flynn got theirs. I don't think I would have had the same reaction no matter how much I knew about the game had I not been at the end of one.

I think that's the point Samir should have really brought out. I know what he means.

Posted by Marcus on (June 25, 2008, 6:39 GMT)

Terry

I found the selection of Larwood particularly surprising, (not to mention Qadir) but I think the players were selected for their "enjoyability" as much as anything else.

Personally, I played junior club cricket, but as I wasn't very good I spent most of my time reading up on the game, so my statistical knowledge is close to an encyclopedic! So I agree with Mike Holman, playing experience (or at least skill) isn't essential for being a knowledgeable fan.

Posted by Murali Dhanakoti on (June 24, 2008, 17:20 GMT)

Nice article. I always found myself more evocative by my team's (Indiyeah!) fortunes than my friend who was casual about defeat and mistakes on field. Both of us played cricket at the same level (both were wicket keeper & batsman), but he was clearly the better player, he showed steely resolve in some match winning innings, and once admirably kept wickets to a fast bowler who was in a far superior grade than the one we played at and were exposed to normally. At first, I thought he was a guy who didn't reveal emotions, but then at some point, I began to realize that he could really appreciate the fickleness and eventuality of the game (due to the strengths and weaknesses of the teams and players involved). Having emphatically played a part in situations where defeat and victory were merely the end results, but the 'striving' was no less than the intent to win, I think he understood the game more than I did at a much deeper level and hence became a better judge and a better fan.

Posted by terry on (June 24, 2008, 14:59 GMT)

Lets consider the Don of the microphone, Ritchie Benaud. He played at the highest level, captained Australia and seen most cricket and cricket players since the late 40's. Surely a fan or viewer of cricket with these credentials would be more informed than most. Then consider this.... in his greatest test 11 ever he picked S barnes and D lillee as his two pace men. His reserve pace men were, lindwall, trueman,mcgrath and larwood. NO marshall, holding, wasim, donald, ambrose, garner, waqar, not even in the reserves! Thats why i believe current and ex-players have no more valid view or opinion than any other cricket fan. its all subjective!

Posted by Samir Chopra on (June 24, 2008, 14:35 GMT)

Folks, thanks for all your comments. Just to clarify things: I'm not trying to make the case that a playing fan is 'superior'. Just that he sees the games diffrently (or tends to). And that this difference manifests itself in his appreciation of the game. Others can also view the game similarly - its just harder to acquire. To go with the music analogy (suggested by Terry), yes, its about certain insights, which I can only see as enriching. I'm not a musician and I still enjoy music, yes, but I'm sure my take on it would be made different if I had taken lessons. I also like Kishore's distinction between the 'fan' and the 'connosseur' of the game - one worth drawing out. Put it this way, playing the game is not necessary or sufficient to make one a 'better' fan. But it does seem to help. And basically, the help it provides is in reminding the spectator that the game is about trying your hand at something in competition, in trying to be better than other players, yes, and yourself.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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