July 11, 2008

Michael Jeh

Just not cricket

Michael Jeh

Some of the responses to my previous post got me thinking: do cricket administrators consider the modern game an unattractive product? Why do I say this? Well, it must be. Why else would you need a host of other ‘sideshows’ to keep the public entertained? Is the cricket itself not enough?

Perhaps I’m old fashioned. Perhaps I’m one of the minority who still likes to go to a cricket match to actually … wait for it …watch a game of cricket. Why do I feel slightly guilty for admitting that? Because I know that I will cop some stick for not “lightening up” or for not moving with the times or for not embracing the ‘circus’ that cricket has become.

Boorish, drunken, loud spectators aside, we’ve now got a situation where the organisers themselves are almost admitting their product is so poor in entertainment value that they need to put on a ‘Variety Show’ between overs to keep us from falling asleep. Pop music played throughout a match, handicapped athletics races during scheduled breaks, cheap radio station promotions on-ground and PA systems that introduce every player as if they were announcing a heavyweight boxing fight.

If I wanted a rock concert or a children's show, I would have chosen to spend my money elsewhere. The cricket itself was enough to keep me riveted to every ball bowled. Obviously, people like me are not the ones that administrators want to attract to the stadium.

In an era where batsmen are regularly scoring at over four runs per over, bowlers are nudging 150 kilometres per hour and the standard of fielding is taking the game to new heights, why do real cricket fans need any other entertainment? Compare this to the 1970’s when 220 runs in 80 overs of military medium pace was probably considered a good day’s play.

I used to love the quiet moments, especially after a wicket fell, when I could turn to my neighbour and dissect the nuances of the dismissal and bask in the glory of being a sideline expert. What about a quiet lunch break when a robust discussion could take place with a dozen strangers sitting near you, each one bringing their own personal perspective to that session’s events? Silence created it’s own deafening tension when there was a close game to be won or lost. Listening to the radio commentary whilst watching a series of maiden overs was like sipping a fine wine, a slow and gentle seduction of the senses. The new atmosphere is like being at a disco, slamming down ‘Alcopops’ so you get drunk in a hurry.

We now have the latest abomination: American-style cheerleaders in a Twenty20 game that is already so fast-paced that it leaves you breathless. You’d find more culture in yogurt. Is it not enough that McCullum is smiting mighty sixes every few balls or that Symonds’ acrobatics in the field defy belief? Breathless between brilliance, do we need to be assaulted by yet another form of entertainment, lest we get bored and leave before this three hour game is finished? It's like needing to watch a thriller film during sex.

Today’s cricketers have every right to feel aggrieved. They are fitter, faster and more skilled than ever. Yet, their employers feel the need to augment their entertainment value with cheap add-ons. Perhaps it’s just a cynical way to attract more than just 'cricket fans'. This is now packaged entertainment for consumers with empty minds and full pockets.

PS - Some of my mates tell me that watching the cricket whilst making love is perfectly acceptable behaviour. Now there's a true fan.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Balaji on (July 15, 2008, 11:28 GMT)

There is a simple way out - do what is being commonly done in India by the sensible. Dont go anwhere near a stadium. Get Satellite TV, put it on mute, get your friends across, your drinks out of the fridge and enjoy the cricket. Of course, keep the remote handy if you are in India to cut out the ads!! Wondered something about the Indian tour schedule? Why do Australia play at top notch venues and everybody else at B grade centres? That is not a fair rotation policy whatever BCCI may say :(

Posted by Michael Jeh on (July 13, 2008, 10:14 GMT)

Hi Pramod. Fair point you make. I'm not necessarily saying it's good or bad. That sort of entertainment doesn't appeal to me but I'm sure for every traditionalist like me that switches off, a dozen 'new fans' are discovered.

I suppose my question is: are they attracted by the quality of the cricket or with the whole package deal? I suspect the latter. It's almost like cricket can only be sold as a package deal, bundled up with lots of other things that I may find tiresome but lots of others love. I like my entertainment in neat little compartments that aren't cross-pollinated but I'm sure others disagree. As I said earlier, if I go to a concert, I go for the music, if I go to a circus, I don't expect to also see a film, etc etc...

It's only an opinion of course but I think modern cricket is good enough entertainment value on its own.

Posted by Pramod on (July 12, 2008, 21:03 GMT)

I'm from India. My wife hates watching cricket. She and a whole bunch of women like her loved the IPL. Is that good ? Or not ?

Posted by Michael Jeh on (July 12, 2008, 4:03 GMT)

Debunker, could not agree with you more when you say "I definitely understand where a lot of spectators are coming from when they seek total entertainment".

A lot of people come to the cricket for a total entertainment package of which the cricket forms some part of. Just because 100% of my enjoyment comes from watching the cricket per se does not make me Uncle Sam. When I want other entertainment, I will go to a circus, concert or other venue that offers this.

I'm not suggesting that the organisers SHOULD cater for a small minority like me. If they can fill their stadia with people looking for a total entertainment package, that's fine so long as they are prepared to sacrifice my type. I like going to the cricket to watch cricket but that's just my personal preference. When I go to a rock concert, I don't expect to see cricket. I go to listen to the music.

It's not just T20 though. All cricket in OZ is going down this path at a time when the 'core product' is great value.

Posted by Debunker on (July 11, 2008, 14:23 GMT)

Michael, I am probably not the first or last one to tell you to "get off that high horse". You profess a Uncle Sam type with us or against us combative attitude, even if you put in across articulately. There is obviously a line to be drawn at the "add-on" entertainment, but trashing everyone who is out to have a good time while watching their favorite sport is wholly myopic. Your comment about going to a game of cricket to "watch it" implies that others who actually enjoy in-between entertainment do not actually understand the game, and do not have the same passion. Unfortunately, the problem with your type of thinkers is that you give other way too little credit, most probably stemming from an inherent desire to boost your self-esteem. Personally, I could not care less for 99% of the shenanigans that go on around a cricket match these days, and would as much enjoy the quiet pauses, but I definitely understand where a lot of spectators are coming from when they seek total entertainment

Posted by John on (July 11, 2008, 13:08 GMT)

Jeh, do you remember those little golden ducks that used to walk across the screen when a batsman got out without troubling the scorers? Even that was an add-on!! The reason why we need stuff like that is to get the non-believers curious. Cricket will find it difficult to survive in its current form - with only 3 countries getting proper turnouts at Test matches. To attract the curious spectator is a vital job on the hands of the "administracrats" (term originally invented by JRod of cricketwithballs.com) This is why we have the add-ons. No I have a problem with these add-ons too, but that has more to do with their quality than their very presence.

Posted by Gulu on (July 11, 2008, 12:35 GMT)

Too bloody right, mate. And Sudhai, do you REALLY feel "the world is moving forward"?!

Posted by Matthew on (July 11, 2008, 12:19 GMT)

I grew up in South Africa while we were still banned from international competitions. Iremember going to watch local matches and rebel tours from the age of 5, each game packed to the rafters with people who were there to see a great match. Now, at 24, I am one of the few people that I know at my age that enjoy cricket, let alon prefere test matches to one dayers.So I can completely see where you are coming from Michael.

To me it feels as though a circus is being put on with the twenty20. Yes it is exciting and fun and colourful. But it honestly can't beat a grueling lunchtime session with two batsmen digging themselves in, or the fire that a new ball can install to the bowling side.

But I also agree with Sarem, in that some music between overs can help build an atmosphere that gets me pumped.

All in all, I pay my money to watch the game being played. all I want to see is good cricket.

Posted by R. Thirucumaran on (July 11, 2008, 11:58 GMT)

Just to add to my previous comment, I think the root of the problem lies in the fact that very few people actually appreciate a good game of cricket. They just want to see big sixes, that's all! No - one likes to see a riveting contest where the batsman is left guessing against the two - way swing (Zaheer Khan vs Vaughan last year). Why else do you think the ICC brought up the rule of mandatory ball change after 34 overs? It was so that people could see 150 runs being scored in the last 15 rather than some scintillating reverse swinging toe crushers!

Posted by T on (July 11, 2008, 10:49 GMT)

Personally I think cricket admin is trying to attract the wrong market. In my opinion they should compete with sailing for audiences. Sailing (America's Cup Sailing) is a niche sport but attracts obsene amounts of money and it doesn't have to dumb itself down to do it. To outsiders it appears boring, but to those in the know it's a highly tactical and physical sport. Cricket should be trying to tap into their type of audience.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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