Samir Chopra August 13, 2009

Easy on the exoticising please

While believing this story about the modern cricketing game would certainly aid in the construction of a narrative that says 'unpredictable, divine genius' will always trump 'solid, old-fashioned, mechanical competence', it did nothing to help us
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Yesterday, on my personal blog, Eye on Cricket, I penned my 1000th post. In a comment offered in congratulation, one of my readers complained about the excessive use of cliches in sports journalism. To use a nineties Brooklynism, word.

One persistent complaint of mine is the East versus West cliche in cricket journalism. A glaring display of this came in the aftermath of Pakistan's World Twenty20 win (I'm not referring to any particular article for these sentiments were present all over the place). In this art versus science view of cricket, Pakistan's victory in the World Twenty20 was a triumph for flair over persistence (this sentiment was especially on display after the semi-final win over South Africa). While believing this story about the modern cricketing game would certainly aid in the construction of a narrative that says 'unpredictable, divine genius' will always trump 'solid, old-fashioned, mechanical competence', it did nothing to help us understand South Africa's loss to Pakistan from a cricketing perspective.

Pakistan beat South Africa in the Twenty20 semi-final because, in fact, they did certain very ordinary cricketing things better. They had the better spin bowlers on a turning track (how extremely unpredictable to pick good spinners and bowl them on a track that turns) and they had a better exponent of reverse swing in their bowling line-up (how delightfully erratic to have a reverse-swing bowler saved up for when the ball gets a little older). Pakistan's batting was not particularly different from the Twenty20 efforts of many other teams: an opener that flails away in the opening Powerplay, a hard-hitting allrounder, some canny single collection when the pace went ever so slightly off the ball.

Pakistan played better cricket and won. There was nothing mysterious, or oriental, or wholly unpredictable about their cricket. South Africa did not match up to the Pakistani spinners and to Umar Gul's dead-set accurate bowling. If Gul had been an Englishman or a South African, everyone would have been raving about how his bowling spell reflected a "canny, pragmatic, level-headed, strangulation of the opposition."

But because this young lad possesses a Pakistani passport, suddenly he becomes a poster child for the dark arts. It is not surprising then that when so much of what he does is classified as mysterious and strange, that he suddenly becomes the dusky assassin, mysteriously strangling the white explorers in his part of the world's cricketing jungles, and provoking complaints by the New Zealand cricket captain.

I'm not sure cricketing teams from 'that part of the world' are done any favours by the maintenance of this mystery about the game they play. It aids in the construction of a narrative where Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan cricketers are representatives of the Strange East, all dazzle and no substance, who do no hard work to master the skills of this difficult game, who have no tactical nous. That virtue seems to be reserved for the science side of the aisle, inhabited by dour, businesslike Englishmen, South Africans and Australians, all grit and no flair apparently, who don't play cricket as much as execute a business plan in their flannels. This description of their cricket is no less an injustice, disregarding as it does the very real dazzle that they are able to bring to their cricketing performances.

These descriptions of a supposed divide in the way cricket is played and understood and mastered by its various exponents worldwide have some truth to them, just because players from different parts of the cricket world do display some differences in their approach to, and execution of, cricketing skills. But to insist on it as a lens through which the cricketing world must be viewed is to ultimately do disservice to talented and hard-working cricketers. Their cricketing skill, rather than being viewed as the understandable result of what happens when perspiration meets inspiration, is lost in the rush to shoehorn it into a tired old storyline about the Pragmatic West versus the Mysterious East.

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

  • Bucky on October 9, 2012, 17:55 GMT

    Free info like this is an apple from the tree of knlowedge. Sinful?

  • HanaPipers on February 8, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    :)

  • Bill Bartmann_- on September 10, 2009, 4:59 GMT

    Excellent site, keep up the good work

  • Bill Bartmann on September 6, 2009, 20:34 GMT

    I'm so glad I found this site...Keep up the good work

  • Bill Bartmann on September 1, 2009, 21:59 GMT

    Great site...keep up the good work.

  • amjad on August 23, 2009, 8:16 GMT

    i agree to the idea without any doubt but as one of the readers comment reads : different cricket culture..i my self believe in cricketing cultures..its totaly different in east as compared to west..asian countries believes in talent more than experience..they will throw a 16 17 year old kid on a crciketing field with no expereince at all but immense talent while england/OZs/SAF/kiwis would prefer throwing a 30+ year old with loads n loads of experience.. both of them are quite right actually because one cases win for you where its most needed i.e experience while the other can win you big titles from nowhere i.e talent/passion.. look at australlia..its all about experience.. look at pak/india..its all about passion and talent..

  • Haris Chowdhry on August 17, 2009, 21:42 GMT

    "perspiration meets inspiration"....beautiful. i like the philosophical touch to your article. I totally agree with your analysis.

  • Abdul on August 17, 2009, 20:41 GMT

    I understand where you are coming from Samir but I still thing there is something exotic, unplanned and new that the South Asian nations bring.

    You used the example of the last T20 World Cup, but you really see a Mendis coming from England or Australia? See an Aamir, 17 year old kid given the opening over of a World Cup final from Australia?

    It's just differing cricketing cultures and long may it continue, each country brings something different to the table and each can be seen as important in it's own right, like the heritage and display that England brings, ruthless professionalism of Australia etc..

    Each side within that is capable of putting that to the side and play sensible basic cricket which will win you most matches but still nevertheless mix that with an individual style that suits them.

  • Shahwaiz on August 17, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    Although I agree with Samir in principle that exoticising teams should be avoided, I believe that the Pakistan team is labeled as "umpredictable" not because they are from "the East" but because of the way they have played in the past. Yes they did show up with a team better suited to the conditions than did South Africa, but Pakistani teams have been doing that for decades. The reason Pakistan's performance was classified as so unpredictable and full of flair is because even if Pakistan shows up with a better team there is no guarantee that will be reflected in their performance. Although the same can be said for many teams it is more true for Pakistan and their record in the tournament (They lost more matches than South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies put together)is a testament to that. The reason Pakistan were labeled as the more unpredictable, unconventional and unorthodox team is simply because that is how they truly perform: seemingly unbound by the dictates of logic.

  • Blake on August 16, 2009, 1:30 GMT

    "Mystery"/unorthodox players from oz and saf. John Gleeson; carrom bowler Jack Iverson; carrom bowler Max Walker; Tanvir style bowler Mike Procter; Tanvir style bowler Shane Warne; shane warne Lillee and Thompson had the brutality of Ambrose, Donald, Gilchrist the destructive powers of Richards. Phil Hughes has a style all his own, just as Jayasuriya does. Many countries produce unorthodox cricketers, but I do agree many in the west have unorthodoxy stifled or coached out of them as youngsters.

  • Bucky on October 9, 2012, 17:55 GMT

    Free info like this is an apple from the tree of knlowedge. Sinful?

  • HanaPipers on February 8, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    :)

  • Bill Bartmann_- on September 10, 2009, 4:59 GMT

    Excellent site, keep up the good work

  • Bill Bartmann on September 6, 2009, 20:34 GMT

    I'm so glad I found this site...Keep up the good work

  • Bill Bartmann on September 1, 2009, 21:59 GMT

    Great site...keep up the good work.

  • amjad on August 23, 2009, 8:16 GMT

    i agree to the idea without any doubt but as one of the readers comment reads : different cricket culture..i my self believe in cricketing cultures..its totaly different in east as compared to west..asian countries believes in talent more than experience..they will throw a 16 17 year old kid on a crciketing field with no expereince at all but immense talent while england/OZs/SAF/kiwis would prefer throwing a 30+ year old with loads n loads of experience.. both of them are quite right actually because one cases win for you where its most needed i.e experience while the other can win you big titles from nowhere i.e talent/passion.. look at australlia..its all about experience.. look at pak/india..its all about passion and talent..

  • Haris Chowdhry on August 17, 2009, 21:42 GMT

    "perspiration meets inspiration"....beautiful. i like the philosophical touch to your article. I totally agree with your analysis.

  • Abdul on August 17, 2009, 20:41 GMT

    I understand where you are coming from Samir but I still thing there is something exotic, unplanned and new that the South Asian nations bring.

    You used the example of the last T20 World Cup, but you really see a Mendis coming from England or Australia? See an Aamir, 17 year old kid given the opening over of a World Cup final from Australia?

    It's just differing cricketing cultures and long may it continue, each country brings something different to the table and each can be seen as important in it's own right, like the heritage and display that England brings, ruthless professionalism of Australia etc..

    Each side within that is capable of putting that to the side and play sensible basic cricket which will win you most matches but still nevertheless mix that with an individual style that suits them.

  • Shahwaiz on August 17, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    Although I agree with Samir in principle that exoticising teams should be avoided, I believe that the Pakistan team is labeled as "umpredictable" not because they are from "the East" but because of the way they have played in the past. Yes they did show up with a team better suited to the conditions than did South Africa, but Pakistani teams have been doing that for decades. The reason Pakistan's performance was classified as so unpredictable and full of flair is because even if Pakistan shows up with a better team there is no guarantee that will be reflected in their performance. Although the same can be said for many teams it is more true for Pakistan and their record in the tournament (They lost more matches than South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies put together)is a testament to that. The reason Pakistan were labeled as the more unpredictable, unconventional and unorthodox team is simply because that is how they truly perform: seemingly unbound by the dictates of logic.

  • Blake on August 16, 2009, 1:30 GMT

    "Mystery"/unorthodox players from oz and saf. John Gleeson; carrom bowler Jack Iverson; carrom bowler Max Walker; Tanvir style bowler Mike Procter; Tanvir style bowler Shane Warne; shane warne Lillee and Thompson had the brutality of Ambrose, Donald, Gilchrist the destructive powers of Richards. Phil Hughes has a style all his own, just as Jayasuriya does. Many countries produce unorthodox cricketers, but I do agree many in the west have unorthodoxy stifled or coached out of them as youngsters.

  • omar hussain on August 15, 2009, 17:47 GMT

    This is an excellent and well needed article exposing the hypocrisy that has always been under the surface.The truth is that there is nothing mystical about cricketers from Asia;they are as human as their compartiots on the other side of the world and being human they can also master cricket as well as anything.It is surprising that the unbelievable ascendency in IT that is prevailent in India is not classified as 'mystic' or 'exotic'!The 'white supremacy' and the prejudices that went with it always surface when the white race get beaten by countries they enslaved once.Listening to the the recent commentaries on the Ashes series it is sickening how high the English hold their cricketers although they are an ordinary side of little merit.If it was Sri Lanka or India on the receiving end i doubt whether their will be any sympathy.Oddly there were no highlights at CRICINFO of the English collapse on the 2nd. evening at Headingly! So much for fairness!

  • Aaron on August 15, 2009, 1:04 GMT

    I think this 'mystery' aspect to sides like Pakistan is something that can be used to pyche out the opposition. Our New Zealand team is so freaked by Paksitan's magical ability to get out of any situation that we probably would still feel nervous in a situation where Paksitan needed 36 runs off the last over of a ODI. In fact I'd say we pyche ourselves out.

    Sorcerer, love the 'sustained mediocrity' phrase. New Zealand may be mediocre but at least we're consistantly mediocre!

  • MRP on August 14, 2009, 18:20 GMT

    Excellent article Samir. Not often I agree with you, but this is sport on. To exemplify and underscore your contention: Western players like Warne, KP, Flintoff, Lara, Gayle, Gilchrist, Jonty Rhodes, are a few examples of players from the West that have just as much razzmatazz about them as any "flashy show boating player from the subcontinent." Likewise, Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Mohd. Yousuf, Kumble, Gambhir, Zaheer Abbas, Miandad, sangakarra, A. DeSilva are just some players from the East that possess, some in different quantitties than others, grit, traditional orhtodoxy, and brute force of stoic determination that has seldom been matched by any a player from the West. So to sum it up, you've done a damn good job with this article in making a very good point and anaylsis.

  • Sorcerer on August 14, 2009, 17:30 GMT

    Well, how can one overlook the stunning turnaround that Pak team demonstrated swiching from a hapless bunch to a formidable juggernaut by the end of the tournament?

    Kiwis have been Pak's bunnies in World Cups (including two losses in each of the '92 and '99 editions) and their shameless allusions upon losing have become too predictable now. Heck, they have even hired someone whose doosra-bowling legitimacy (although that particular bowler was repeatedly shown to be one who should be beyond doubt) they cast aspersions on as their spin bowling coach now!

    It's a fact that the two lasting major bowling innovations in modern day cricket have emanated from and mastered by Pakistan bowlers - reverse swing and doosra. Mystery is definitely embedded in their game as much as clinical execution in Aussie approach or reverting to sustained mediocrity in the case of English and Kiwis.

  • Abhi on August 14, 2009, 9:26 GMT

    Thanks Samir.

    Not sure I agree on your example. Pakistan were unpredictable. Not because we know Afridi can bat, and because Gul could reverse swing, but whether they could be bothered to on that particular day. This "who will turn up" is a big factor in modern day Pak and WI cricket.

    The reason the East is exoticised is because -

    1. Where was the last 16 year old world class test debutant from? 2. Who produces a factory line of promising teenage fast bowlers. 3. Which countries tend to consistently produce world class spinners

    Let me ask you one question which will explain: - Name three >30 yr old debutants for Ind, Pak, and SL. Now name three >30 yr old debutants from Aus alone!

    I am much more concerned about the cliches in commentary where constant reminders of the similarities between a cricket ball and a tracer bullet, and the size of players' hearts are making this once art form into a mind numbing, and asinine drone.

  • DS_374 on August 14, 2009, 7:28 GMT

    I am not sure I agree with you, Samir. South Asian cricket might be catching up now, but the fact is the cricketing stuctures in Aus, S.Af are still better and make a difference. One win over S.Af in unpredictable Twenty20 cricket proves very little. Pak's wins over S.Af and SL proved only that winning streaks can only go on for so long Twenty20.

  • Mishra on August 14, 2009, 7:14 GMT

    Very true Samir - I agree totally. There are very exotic individuals in the West (Symonds, Vettori, Pietersen) versus some persistent/stoic players from the East (Dravid, Jayawardene, Inzi). And funny how these cliches get changed around when different countries face each other as well - not just East v West. Somehow when Australia plays South Africa, Australia is regarded as the flair team and South Africa the robots. When Australia plays England, plucky England are always pitched in against the Australian machine. Ridiculous really, and frankly racist.

  • Alok on August 14, 2009, 5:51 GMT

    I think this trend was started by the grand-daddy of cricket writing, Neville Cardus himself, especially in the passages where he describes Ranji's leg side play as being something mystical and Oriental that no English batsman could have ever thought of or executed.

    The truth, of course, was that Ranji developed his leg-side play over long hours of practice at the nets in Cambridge.. in a most English fashion.

  • Pranav on August 14, 2009, 5:42 GMT

    Excellent, excellent article. I never quite looked at it that way, and now that you point it out, it completely makes sense. We do see that sort of lens in journalistic writing. For the rest of you that have posted comments, he's not trying to say that there aren't differences between styles and cultures east vs. west, he's just talking about a certain lens/filter that's applied when writing about the respective teams - read the article again and try to understand his POV

  • Chris on August 14, 2009, 4:03 GMT

    It's a funny stereotype really.

    It's not like the "western sides" haven't produced mysterious wizards of the game, either. Shane Warne is the obvious example that springs to mind. He was unconventional, perhaps not in action but in the way he executed his plans. If he'd been from Asia, we'd be calling him a "mystery spinner".

    Another great example is the New Zealand slow bowling contingent, who completely changed the way that limited-over cricket was approached. What they did could really never be thought of as conventional or businesslike. Alternatively, players like Kumar Sangakkarra and Mahela Jayawardene are immensely talented players who have an extremely orthodox style (it's not a bad thing!).

    It's a fallacy of a stereotype that cuts both ways.

  • Gizza on August 14, 2009, 2:51 GMT

    Well to be honest Samir the different cultures of the East and West do have a strong influence on the style the respective cricket teams play. Look at Sri Lanka. They have Murali, Mendis and Malinga. Pakistan is also a team with more orthodoxy with the likes of Sohail Tanvir. These players would never get a chance to play for English, Australia or NZ. England love their old-fashioned traditions and history which is why they do better in Tests than in the limited overs formats. South Africa have always been a mechanical and robotic side, though post-Apartheid coloured and black players like Duminy and Ntini have brought variety and flair. West Indies in their prime was built on excitement, fun and raw power. Has their been anybody with the swagger of Richards, the dazzling strokes of Lara and the brutality of Ambrose from England? India isn't as unorthodox but within the team you can see a difference between metro players like Sachin and Dravid and rural players like Sehwag and Dhoni.

  • Ali Dada on August 13, 2009, 20:18 GMT

    not to worry Samir, in Pakistan, the press is other way around ... Pakistan cricket team being business/machine like and all.

  • Ajoy Kumar on August 13, 2009, 20:08 GMT

    I am not sure, if i would agree completely with your assessment Samir. Mystical Eastern teams, which competition always had one random variable in their performance. Whereas Pragmatic west tends have more constants in their system

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  • Ajoy Kumar on August 13, 2009, 20:08 GMT

    I am not sure, if i would agree completely with your assessment Samir. Mystical Eastern teams, which competition always had one random variable in their performance. Whereas Pragmatic west tends have more constants in their system

  • Ali Dada on August 13, 2009, 20:18 GMT

    not to worry Samir, in Pakistan, the press is other way around ... Pakistan cricket team being business/machine like and all.

  • Gizza on August 14, 2009, 2:51 GMT

    Well to be honest Samir the different cultures of the East and West do have a strong influence on the style the respective cricket teams play. Look at Sri Lanka. They have Murali, Mendis and Malinga. Pakistan is also a team with more orthodoxy with the likes of Sohail Tanvir. These players would never get a chance to play for English, Australia or NZ. England love their old-fashioned traditions and history which is why they do better in Tests than in the limited overs formats. South Africa have always been a mechanical and robotic side, though post-Apartheid coloured and black players like Duminy and Ntini have brought variety and flair. West Indies in their prime was built on excitement, fun and raw power. Has their been anybody with the swagger of Richards, the dazzling strokes of Lara and the brutality of Ambrose from England? India isn't as unorthodox but within the team you can see a difference between metro players like Sachin and Dravid and rural players like Sehwag and Dhoni.

  • Chris on August 14, 2009, 4:03 GMT

    It's a funny stereotype really.

    It's not like the "western sides" haven't produced mysterious wizards of the game, either. Shane Warne is the obvious example that springs to mind. He was unconventional, perhaps not in action but in the way he executed his plans. If he'd been from Asia, we'd be calling him a "mystery spinner".

    Another great example is the New Zealand slow bowling contingent, who completely changed the way that limited-over cricket was approached. What they did could really never be thought of as conventional or businesslike. Alternatively, players like Kumar Sangakkarra and Mahela Jayawardene are immensely talented players who have an extremely orthodox style (it's not a bad thing!).

    It's a fallacy of a stereotype that cuts both ways.

  • Pranav on August 14, 2009, 5:42 GMT

    Excellent, excellent article. I never quite looked at it that way, and now that you point it out, it completely makes sense. We do see that sort of lens in journalistic writing. For the rest of you that have posted comments, he's not trying to say that there aren't differences between styles and cultures east vs. west, he's just talking about a certain lens/filter that's applied when writing about the respective teams - read the article again and try to understand his POV

  • Alok on August 14, 2009, 5:51 GMT

    I think this trend was started by the grand-daddy of cricket writing, Neville Cardus himself, especially in the passages where he describes Ranji's leg side play as being something mystical and Oriental that no English batsman could have ever thought of or executed.

    The truth, of course, was that Ranji developed his leg-side play over long hours of practice at the nets in Cambridge.. in a most English fashion.

  • Mishra on August 14, 2009, 7:14 GMT

    Very true Samir - I agree totally. There are very exotic individuals in the West (Symonds, Vettori, Pietersen) versus some persistent/stoic players from the East (Dravid, Jayawardene, Inzi). And funny how these cliches get changed around when different countries face each other as well - not just East v West. Somehow when Australia plays South Africa, Australia is regarded as the flair team and South Africa the robots. When Australia plays England, plucky England are always pitched in against the Australian machine. Ridiculous really, and frankly racist.

  • DS_374 on August 14, 2009, 7:28 GMT

    I am not sure I agree with you, Samir. South Asian cricket might be catching up now, but the fact is the cricketing stuctures in Aus, S.Af are still better and make a difference. One win over S.Af in unpredictable Twenty20 cricket proves very little. Pak's wins over S.Af and SL proved only that winning streaks can only go on for so long Twenty20.

  • Abhi on August 14, 2009, 9:26 GMT

    Thanks Samir.

    Not sure I agree on your example. Pakistan were unpredictable. Not because we know Afridi can bat, and because Gul could reverse swing, but whether they could be bothered to on that particular day. This "who will turn up" is a big factor in modern day Pak and WI cricket.

    The reason the East is exoticised is because -

    1. Where was the last 16 year old world class test debutant from? 2. Who produces a factory line of promising teenage fast bowlers. 3. Which countries tend to consistently produce world class spinners

    Let me ask you one question which will explain: - Name three >30 yr old debutants for Ind, Pak, and SL. Now name three >30 yr old debutants from Aus alone!

    I am much more concerned about the cliches in commentary where constant reminders of the similarities between a cricket ball and a tracer bullet, and the size of players' hearts are making this once art form into a mind numbing, and asinine drone.

  • Sorcerer on August 14, 2009, 17:30 GMT

    Well, how can one overlook the stunning turnaround that Pak team demonstrated swiching from a hapless bunch to a formidable juggernaut by the end of the tournament?

    Kiwis have been Pak's bunnies in World Cups (including two losses in each of the '92 and '99 editions) and their shameless allusions upon losing have become too predictable now. Heck, they have even hired someone whose doosra-bowling legitimacy (although that particular bowler was repeatedly shown to be one who should be beyond doubt) they cast aspersions on as their spin bowling coach now!

    It's a fact that the two lasting major bowling innovations in modern day cricket have emanated from and mastered by Pakistan bowlers - reverse swing and doosra. Mystery is definitely embedded in their game as much as clinical execution in Aussie approach or reverting to sustained mediocrity in the case of English and Kiwis.