Samir Chopra July 28, 2008

I have a dream

I dream that American fans might be exposed to a high-quality broadcast of a one-day international final between two high-quality teams

My post on the representation of cricket in the American media triggered a flurry of responses which has prompted me prompted me to clarify and elaborate. My thesis was that the depiction of a particular image of cricket was playing a not-insignificant part in the continued failure of cricket to make an impression on the American sporting scene.

In response to the comments let me say a few things. No, it is not necessary that cricket become popular in the US; it will probably survive without American interest. Still, wondering why it is not is an interesting exercise that might reveal something about the game and the US too; an examination of cricket's history in the US and its failure to flourish after a good start is a fascinating exercise in its own right.

No, Americans are not incapable of understanding the complexities of cricket. Millions of them take the time to understand baseball's many variations, pitchers' deliveries, the mechanics of baseball hitting or fielding set plays; the closing moments of a tight baseball game when managers change batters, pitchers and try and manufacture runs can be as complex as a good chess game. And the shortest version of the game, Twenty20, is roughly equal to the length of a baseball game; in fact, T20 is guaranteed to end in a definite time-span, while tied baseball games can carry on indefinitely!

The problem instead, is that due to its depiction in the media, cricket comes across as a game not worth playing because it is not athletic enough, is effeminate, is hopelessly complex, baroque, and ultimately pointless because of its failure to guarantee a result. No game can hope to make inroads into the national psyche and pick up both players and audience in the face of such depictions. That is the issue. And this depiction again, does not tell us anything very deep about American culture; it merely shows us that US sporting media can be just as lazy as any other. Attempts to paint baseball as an easy game, a tip-n-run fest where full tosses are served up as the main course are equally lazy; they do not do justice to the game.

Perhaps all this analysis is moot; cricket is unpopular in the US; its flourishing there is not necessary for the game to be profitable; and like soccer, even if it acquires a large playing population, it might not ever capture the national imagination the way the big three--football, baseball and basketball--do. But in the end, what is interesting about this exercise for me is to note how easy it is to mask something desirable, interesting and passion-inspiring as boring, archaic and insipid. More than anything else, it is yet another interesting demonstration to me of the persuasive power of the visual and print media. And as such it sparks fantasies in me of how it could be combated; perhaps via thoughtful comparisons and contrasts with baseball to make it palatable to that fan base.

I dream, for instance, that a good baseball writer might be taken to games and paired with a cricket writer, and introduced to cricket's rules and variations; I volunteer for this task. The baseball writer might be prompted to write a useful comparison of the two games. I dream that American fans might be exposed to a high-quality broadcast of a one-day international final between two high-quality teams. The athleticism and power on display would be seductive. Indeed, whenever I've managed to show some classic catches to my American friends, they are simply amazed, (as I frequently am by the accuracy of fielder's throws in baseball!).

I dream of a well-written description of a bowlers-pitchers summit where Glenn McGrath and Roger Clemens exchange notes on swing, pace, and intimidation. Or a batter's summit where Sachin Tendulkar and Derek Jeter exchange notes on timing, placement and power (and perhaps strategies for dealing with obsessive, nosy media types). These exercises could teach us more about cricket itself and about its place in the sporting world. And perhaps help us all learn a bit more about other sporting cultures. All in good time, I suppose.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2008, 18:27 GMT

    I was raised on NFL Football and Baseball. Now I play cricket. I invited my cricket team over to watch the SuperBowl. It was so hard to explain to the same guys who had spent so much time with me teaching the forward defensive, proper bolwing action and nuances of field placement, how there is just as much going in a football game where the running back gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage. ie 22 guys just hit each other the play is over...too much stop start. The same can be said of a maiden over. Both plays can be things of beauty.

    We’re all more comfortable with what we grew up with. It takes a lot of time a patience to learn a new sport and adopt a new culture. How many cricket fanatics have asked a baseball fan or a NFL football fan to explain their game... and then just tried to learn from them... instead of comparing it to cricket? You may be surpised what you learn.

  • testli5504537 on August 4, 2008, 11:15 GMT

    In 1895 the game was introduced in the UK by a rich industrialist, and had a brief following as a novelty, but never "popular" in any real sense of the word, and certainly the statement, "England did follow Baseball" is just misleading.

  • testli5504537 on August 2, 2008, 20:07 GMT

    Posted by: S. Sen at July 31, 2008 12:59 AM

    Why SHOULD Americans follow cricket? Indians and Englishmen don't follow much baseball, do they? ----------------------------------------------- Actually England did follow Baseball, and it was indeed popular period of time before World War 2. Teams like Tottenham, Derby County, and Preston North End all had teams. In fact Derby Counties former home The Baseball Grounds started out as a ball park not a soccer stadium.

  • testli5504537 on August 2, 2008, 18:03 GMT

    Golf, a very boring "sport", because of the high income participants, was marketed in the US until a mass appeal star (tiger Woods) came along.Soccer is played probably by more Americans(as kids) than any other sport but it has not caught on. Its all about marketing,Twenty20 should be in the 2012 Olympics and you'll see a Pro League in the US - as the group with the highest income in the US currently is people with a Cricketing background (Indian etc).Also The Canadian Govt is now officially funding Cricket and is working on getting cricket into the 2012 Olympics. Cricket is way more athletic and demanding than baseball, particularly in its short form .

  • testli5504537 on July 31, 2008, 5:00 GMT

    Cricket does not need to be popular in America to be a global sport. Even if it becomes as "popular" as rugby, that will be enough. Growing in popularity in Africa, Australasia, and here in Argentina as does not need America. Oh, and who was that ignoramus who said cricket was easy?

  • testli5504537 on July 31, 2008, 3:53 GMT

    Why should soccer and cricket be popular in all countries? USA has its own sporting history and this uniqueness should be celebrated. Alas! we in South Asia are fast losing our own domestic sports (Desi Kushti, Kabaddi, etc.). In America, even college games can boast tens of thousands of paying spectators, sporting rivalries date back decades and major sporting events are celebrated like religious rituals. Let this part of the world be unfettered by the blandness and uniformity of the rest of the world.

  • testli5504537 on July 31, 2008, 2:37 GMT

    Okay, if we can all accept that cricket and baseball are both great sports, and that Americans are more than intelligent enough to understand slow and cerebral sports, then let's try and understand how difficult it might be for cricket to break through in America. One aspect that stands out for me is that American sports culture is very sophisticated in terms of myriad sports talk shows, radio phone in shows, and print and media coverage. These shows concentrate 99.9 percent on the established sports scene, and even soccer cannot penetrate the daily debate. This culture is mirrored in the daily water cooler discussions of workers and students who watch sports. Soccer, lacrosse, athletics, horse racing, barely even Nascar, and certainly not cricket can penetrate this sporting culture. Uphill battle? Try Everest.

  • testli5504537 on July 31, 2008, 0:59 GMT

    Why SHOULD Americans follow cricket? Indians and Englishmen don't follow much baseball, do they? If cricket was an option at the elementary school level in America, then people probably would play, at least in the half-serious way in which they play soccer. I've known a few native-born Americans who play cricket at the club level in California, and they (unlike lots of Indians and Pakistanis) even take an interest in Test cricket. I don't think there's anything in the American "mentality" that precludes cricket. By the way, anybody who thinks that cricket isn't physically demanding has obviously never played the game competitively. Try running hard between the wickets for 25 overs, or bowling a 10-over spell of seam. Then do it five days in a row.

  • testli5504537 on July 30, 2008, 15:42 GMT

    "Violence in any form is bad. Every playing field in America has this ‘hecklers’ who throw insult at the players. "

    Nonsense. Cricket players in Pakistan are burned in effigy. Does that happen in America?

    Soccer riots in Britain are par for the course. That never happens in America.

  • testli5504537 on July 30, 2008, 13:24 GMT

    There is a Soccer violence. No doubt about that. That is because Soccer is played in 200 countries. More chances of negative things happening when you have 200+ countries playing a sport. In America, every year after a team wins some championship; we can witness cars getting burnt, glasses broken and people getting hurt. Players have gotten death threats from fans for performing poorly. Violence in any form is bad. Every playing field in America has this ‘hecklers’ who throw insult at the players. Even that is a form of violence.

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