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April 17, 2009

Samir Chopra

No tension cricket

Samir Chopra



In a couple of days, I'm going to try a little experiment. I'm going to declare my allegiance to two cricket teams I've never given a damn about before and see if it gets me all worked up.

My loyalties as a cricket spectator are directed toward supporting India and Delhi. The former for all international games and the latter for domestic cricket; it has worked so far. For games involving other teams, a variety of other factors have always gelled to enable the identification of a clear-cut favorite. Growing up it meant the West Indies and Australia, two teams whose style of cricket promised plenty of attack and aggression. Later, it meant supporting the plucky Kiwis during their glory run in the 1980s. I cheered for the South Africans when they returned in the 1990s; it was an improbable return and demanded recognition. I cheered for Pakistan when Zaheer, Asif, Majid and Imran were my heroes. In domestic cricket, as in international cricket, the villains and the heroes were clearly defined: bold, bustling Delhi against those stodgy, tiffin-packing Bombay-wallahs. I identified with the Delhi players; they had gone to colleges I had heard about, they played in clubs with names that were familiar from the local newspapers. Heck, I even knew where they had grown up.

Last year, during the IPL's inaugural season, I found myself not caring about any of the teams performances. I didn't really care who won or lost, even though there was a Delhi team in the tournament. How could I ever get excited about it if true-blue locals weren't involved? Even though the Delhi team was largely made up of Delhi players, something about the overseas hires made it a bit fake. Part of the problem was that I hadn't subscribed for a broadcast package and so only read about the scores and the action after the games. The highlights seemed over-accelerated; the razzle-dazzle a bit jarring. But most importantly, where was all the nationalistic fervor that seemed to mark serious international cricket? Without it, cricket seemed to have lost a bit of bite. Sure, it was interesting to note Delhi players running up to McGrath and Asif to congratulate them on a wicket. But the tension of the games seemed artificial; how serious about the games could these players be, I thought, if an international game wasn't on the line?

I've lived for 21 years on the East Coast of the US, and have clear-cut favorites in all the New York teams: the Giants, the Jets, the Yankees, the Mets, the Knicks. But the constant rotation of players, the clear knowledge that these are players who could be playing somewhere else next year because of a better contractual deal ensures on my part a certain lack of attachment (and as a result, I don't buy into the contrived intra-New York rivalry either). Manny Ramirez should be playing for New York; he is from Washington Heights. But he plays for Los Angeles (and before that, for the RedSox!). Try as I might to reconcile myself with this fact intellectually, at some emotional level it means that I don't really get upset about the games' results. As someone pointed out a long time ago, cheering for large professional franchises in sport is a bit like cheering for Ford v. Chrysler.

But still, perhaps the city-based-professional-mercenary league is a good thing. Perhaps this detachment is required from the game. To be honest, after the incessantly nasty India-Australia spats of 2007-8, it was a bit of a relief to not have so many controversies lingering over every single game. And players play the game hard because they have professional pride and a competitive instinct (the hard-fought games in the EPL, the NFL or whatever else bear adequate testimony to this fact). Certainly, the IPL's games didn't seem to lack competitiveness; that I didn't get into them didn't mean the games weren't played hard and contested right down to the last ball.

So this year, I've gone ahead and purchased a broadband video package for the IPL. Ill try and cheer for the Delhi Daredevils and the Kings XI Punjab. I don't know if I'll get into it; I don't know if I'll be heartbroken if the Delhi Daredevils lose to the Mumbai Whatchmacallits. But it's worth a shot.

I do know one thing: I'll care much more about the T20 World Cup. And I'm still happy about the fact that in cricket, unlike any other sport, the bilateral international encounter still remains the pinnacle of the game.

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

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Posted by Atish_G on (April 24, 2009, 19:49 GMT)

Just enjoy the cricket, people !!!

Posted by Chinmay on (April 24, 2009, 9:22 GMT)

@Pranab:"@Chinmay - I am a KKR guy and i would like to donate Ajit Agarkar to you free of cost, might even pay for his air fare to get him out of our hands. :)"

I'll have Kaano Mulo over that Nehra guy we had last season or that Fernando guy we have this season any day :)

And, no, Delhi isn't the favourite to win IPL 2. The favourites this season are Mumbai, because of the pitches the games are going to be played on.

Posted by Pranab on (April 23, 2009, 7:38 GMT)

@Chinmay - I am a KKR guy and i would like to donate Ajit Agarkar to you free of cost, might even pay for his air fare to get him out of our hands. :)

@Samir, Delhi has a good team this year and is a title favorite.. so all the best!!

Posted by Mohan on (April 21, 2009, 13:36 GMT)

Marcus, I agree that a *tour* match currently doesn't generate much interest. Nor do Ranji matches. But that's because of how those matches are marketed and perceived by the fans. They are perceived to be sub-standard, second grade. Whereas IPL marketed itself as top class cricket and people lapped up city vs city matches with passion.

Posted by Mohan on (April 21, 2009, 13:26 GMT)

Regarding fans in other countries being deprived of Test cricket - we have to consider the other kind of deprivation that is going on under the nation-vs-nation system. As last year's IPL showed, there is enough demand in every major Indian city to fill the stadium for 7 matches in 6 weeks. Yet, all that the Indian fans get to watch under the international system is one international match every 2 years, if they are lucky. Why? Because there is only one Indian team, they play about 10 odi's and 5 Tests at home every year and those 15 matches have to be distributed across 20 centers.

As for whether Mumbai-Australia would be as popular as India-Australia - I see no reason why. Again, last year's IPL showed that intercity matches can generate huge interest. I see no reason why Mumbai-Aus or Karnataka-Pak won't generate the same level of interest, if not more. Entire India will be behind the Indian state teams.

Posted by Marcus on (April 21, 2009, 8:18 GMT)

Mohan, unfortunately you're right about the lack of meaningful crowds in too many Test-playing countries. But despite this I still think there are plenty of fans in all of those countries who'd still be deprived if Test cricket were to be moved out of them.

Would the success of a couple of individual New Zealanders in India boost the profile of the game in New Zealand? I'm not sure. But one thing I do know is that soccer in Australia has never been as popular here as it is now, after our qualification for the last World Cup- and although there have been Australian players doing well in England (Neill, Cahill etc.), it was the success of the national side that inspired so much passion in a previously-marginalised sport.

I'm sure that every Indian state could produce a competitive Test side, but can you honestly say that a tour match between Australia and Mumbai inspires as much excitement as the B-G contests? And would it be any more popular if that game was given Test status?

Posted by Anindo on (April 20, 2009, 12:49 GMT)

This article would have been relevant at the start of last year's IPL. Right now it is completely irrelevant and only shows that you did not follow the event last year. Would you have imagined a 100,000 delirious fans at the Den Gardens celebrating the dismissal of Virender Sehwag by Shoaib Akhtar? Well thats exactly what happened last year putting to rest all doubts over whetehr city-based francisees would work.

Posted by Mohan on (April 19, 2009, 17:41 GMT)

Marcus, if you have seen the kind of crowds for Test cricket anywhere outside England and Australia, then there is no question of being unfair to the crowds. Because they are just non-existent. Also, it may be argued that watching a couple of their compatriots doing well and being successful is more likely to encourage kids to take up cricket in those countries than seeing their team getting thrashed everytime they step on to the field. As for NZ and SL running India close, sure. But then India is only required to produce one team as of now and the system has geared itself to do exactly that. But if you think from first principles, almost every state in India is bigger and more populous than Sri Lanka. They don't lack in terms of passion for cricket, per capita income, genetic make-up, facilities, etc. either. So if SL can produce a decent Test team, why not every Indian state? Only reason they haven't so far is that they are not required to.

Posted by Vikram on (April 18, 2009, 20:50 GMT)

@Chinmay - I remember that game against Mark Taylor's squad. I saw most of it. Wonderful attacking innings from Sachin that laid the foundations of Warne's torment on that tour. Even in 2001, Steve Waugh's all-conquering, record-breaking team was put to the sword and Steve Waugh himself had to bat the entire last session with Damien Fleming to save the game. What a lesson in stone-walling that was! Contrast that to the very next game Australia played - the series opener at Wankhede.

Posted by Venkat on (April 18, 2009, 20:30 GMT)

I think you are spot on. I have lived in Chennai all my life but the Super kings never evoked any real emotion in me. When India lost in Cape town test in Jan 07 I just couldn't sleep well for a week. It was exactly the same feeling after the recent test defeat to Sri Lanka. Test cricket still evokes the deepest emotional connect in me.But I ll still watch the IPL to see how the great player play with and against each other. It is so much fun to see Smith and Warne on the same side celebrating a fall of wicket. But beyond that I actually dont care

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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