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