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August 13, 2009

Samir Chopra

Easy on the exoticising please

Samir Chopra



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

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Posted by Bucky on (October 9, 2012, 17:55 GMT)

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

Posted by HanaPipers on (February 8, 2012, 20:02 GMT)

:)

Posted by Bill Bartmann_- on (September 10, 2009, 4:59 GMT)

Excellent site, keep up the good work

Posted by Bill Bartmann on (September 6, 2009, 20:34 GMT)

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

Posted by Bill Bartmann on (September 1, 2009, 21:59 GMT)

Great site...keep up the good work.

Posted by 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..

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

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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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