No tension cricket
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