America's definition of cricket
Will it ever be possible to get a fair depiction of cricket in the US media? On current evidence, the prospects are bleak. Every television advertisement that features a cricket game, whether it be a tourism clip for the Caribbean or something else, invariably features a rather staid setting, perhaps with cucumber sandwiches and parasol-holding landed ladies in the background, in which portly men in creams amble up desultorily and deliver donkey drops which are clumsily hoicked past geriatric fielders. In these settings cricket does not so much resemble a game as much it does a government-mandated exercise program meant to replace drug prescription benefits for the rich and elderly.
Every print article in the US press meanwhile incessantly harps on the utter incomprehensibility of the game (which is guffaw inspiring given the Byzantine complexity of NFL penalty rules), the jaw-dropping durations of Test cricket (with no attempt to explain what relationship the length of the game bears to the endless variations it allows on a single theme, and how this cultivates a dedicated legion of fans), the inevitable mention of the quaint customs of 'tea' (its almost enough to make one wish this interval had been named differently) and 'drinks' (American readers might be forgiven for thinking gin and tonics are consumed by players to help with the tedium of the game). Much is made of the gigantic amounts of protection worn by cricket players with snickering about baseball players facing faster pitching with only a visor-less helmet for protection. No mention is made of the fact that cricket allows for the ball to bounce before it gets to the batsman, which allows for varying angles of attack by fast bowlers at a batsman's body (I simplify, of course, comparisons between cricket and baseball need more time and space than I can devote here). And it would be too much of course, to ask that any attention be paid to the rich body of cricketing literature, possibly more varied and complex than that associated with any other sport. There are also some half-hearted, superficial attempts at examinations of post-colonial tensions in cricket, most of which involve the phrase "the new economically empowered Indian middle-class." All in all, it's a depressing state of affairs to be surrounded by a culture which specializes in systematic, cliched misrepresentations of one's most abiding passion.
Despite the growing presence of cricket leagues in the US, despite the introduction of cricket as a recognized game in New York schools, despite the presence of large expatriate populations from cricket playing countries and even an American cricket team, cricket remains a profoundly misunderstood game in the US. Still, one should not complain too much. Soccer has a huge following in the US and still remains misunderstood; plenty of soccer artistry is unappreciated by a large segment of the population.
But, how one wishes the television advertisements mentioned above would instead feature Malcolm Marshall sending stumps cartwheeling, Viv Richards smashing one through midwicket or Jonty Rhodes catching swallows at gully. Pigs would be aviators before then, but one is allowed to dream.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here