Samir Chopra September 17, 2008

Cricket and all of the rest

As the guard in 'Run, Lola, Run' says at the beginning of the movie, when speaking of football: In the end, its 22 players and a ball

There is plenty to talk about when it comes to cricket these days: the Stanford bonanza, the Bangla exodus to the ICL, Andrew Symond's journey back from the precipice, the Australian decision to tour India despite the bomb blasts, and so on. But there isn't enough top-level international cricket being played. And quite frankly, all this talk of money, hypocrisy, authoritarian and incompetent boards, politics, and plenty of other matters not involving the direct contact of bat on ball, is enough to make me start hankering, seriously and desperately, for some good to honest international cricket. Real Soon Now. (As an Indian fan waiting for the Australians to show up, my anticipation is particularly intense).

Back in the days of Limited Media Coverage of Cricket [tm], the world seemed quite simple: there was the time that cricket was played, and there was the time it wasn't. One somehow found the means to get through those gaps as best as one could, and one dealt with the deprivation with a stiff upper lip (or a downcast one, depending on your personal style). Gaps between games were painful, and I dreaded the closing credits of television broadcasts. Cricket analysis only appeared when games were on, and the surrounding discussions were sketchy at best (or so it felt). One's anticipation was sharpened, and the limited diet of games only added to the sense of a scarce and valuable resource.

But now cricket coverage is 24/7; the administrative, political, and financial trappings of the game are quite extensive and obscure (and hence invite commentary); and thus, we are exposed to a lot of material on all that surrounds the game. While some of this is genuinely illuminative, there comes a time when I find myself thirsting for the very business that prompts all this verbiage in the first place. For this conversation, rather than magnifying the game, sometimes starts to make the game feel a bit small, a bit incidental to the business of television rights, travel permissions, player contracts, personalities, labor relations and all of the rest. And sometimes this conversation doesn't act as a filler or illuminator; sometimes it just makes me miss the simplicity of the game more.

One of the most refreshing aspects of Ajantha Mendis' debut in Test cricket was how much he forced the conversation surrounding cricket to be about playing: the different deliveries; how he was to be combated; the various minor successes against him; his tactics; all of them very good cricketing discussions to be had, and all directly relevant to the enjoyment of the game in front of us. For one brief period, the discussions about cricket were about the performances and the battles that make the game worthwhile. It was a splendid break from the Political Economy of International Cricket or The Power Relations of Post Colonial Sporting Economies or Race Relations in 21st Century Cricket or whatever.

I enjoy that sort of analysis myself and dabble a bit it in it from time to time. Indeed, our appreciation for the game can be enhanced by a consideration of the contexts it is played in, its history and its internal relations. Still, it's a game (a fact always enhanced by an actual visit to a cricket stadium), and sometimes it cries out for simplification to bare essentials, to a revealing of its basic nature and its fundamental simplicities.

As the guard in 'Run, Lola, Run' says at the beginning of the movie, when speaking of football: In the end, its 22 players and a ball. The rest is detail.

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