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January 13, 2010

Samir Chopra

Gods no more

Samir Chopra

As a sub-teenager, cricket players were, quite literally, giants © Cricinfo Ltd.

Cricket fans, like pitches, change with time. Where a devotee of the game might once have spent his youth waking up early for radio commentary from distant lands, he could move on to spending those morning hours playing with his little children; where an ardent lover of the numerical aspects of the game might have spent hours calculating the fluctuations in his hero's batting averages, the only number with decimal points he might care about in his thirties is likely to be the mortgage rate on his city apartment.

In my case, the most significant change was the realisation a few years ago that I was older than anyone who currently played Test cricket. That slowly developing shift in my perspectives on the game's players has been enlightening in more ways than one. This change has occurred at the same time that I have had increasing access to the players via the media: their spoken words, their writings, their antics in the many-splendoured television coverage that is now ubiquitous.

As a sub-teenager, cricket players were, quite literally, giants. They looked bigger, they did adult things. They looked like my uncles (and these were just the Indian players). When it came to cricket players from other countries, the distance was even greater. They looked different; they were names in books, faces in photographs, flickers on television screens. They weren't real, really.

When I finished high school and started university, I realised with a start some of the young men I was friendly with were potential international stars. [Syed] Saba Karim was a college mate, and he played for India (years later at Kingston, I called out to him from the boundary line and he stopped and chatted briefly; he invited me back to the hotel for a chat with the rest of the team, but alas, I had a flight to catch the same night). It was the first time I realised the pitches out in the middle of a large cricket field were not on distant planets. They were just a few dozen yards from the boundary ropes.

At the same time, I saw more, read more and heard more, about the players. Their aura, once carefully constructed by my temporal, psychic, and physical distance from them, crumbled rather easily. When I had run across Kapil Dev outside a Delhi restaurant in my final year of high school, he had seemed a giant; when I met Chaminda Vaas at Melbourne's airport in 2003, I realized with a slight start that I was speaking to a young man who, had he been in high school with me, would have had to give up his school bus seat had I demanded it.

But it was their ever-increasing presence in the media that did the most to make me realise that cricket players were rather more easily worshipped when I had less access to them. They had cricketing talent, but that didn't necessarily translate into superior moral qualities or intelligence. Any projection of these attributes on them (and the resultant disappointment when they failed to uphold my standards) was more a reflection of a felt need on my part, than any failure on theirs.

I had grown, and the players hadn't. They formed an abstract grouping; one whose positions were occupied by a revolving cast that came and went, going about entertaining and performing. My perspectives on them, modified irrevocably by the passage of time, could proceed in no other direction than that of the markedly less hagiographic.

Nothing reminds me of this shift over the years better than when I go to see an international game at the grounds (as I did at the MCG and SCG these past couple of weeks). It's a game, and some men play it really well. And we like watching them go about their work. The rest of the romance is our doing, more easily sustained by younger, less jaded versions of ourselves.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Prasanth on (January 13, 2010, 18:18 GMT)

Players loosing their Aura – through constant exposure through media, realization of their mortality by our growing awareness, or just plain increase in our access to them- does tend to de-romanticize the game of cricket. Any game for that matter, but I thought much less in cricket where the variables to the outcome are far more than talent (. It's a game, and some men play it really well. And we like watching them go about their work.)

It shouldn’t be like reading a beatific work of poetry describing the beauty of flowers, and all you see is an assemblage of words that forms the digital make up of them. Once we look past the physical aspects of the game and see the drama behind it, we should be able to hold on to the romance.

When Brett Lee steams in to bowl a scorcher that just swings away at the last moment at 150 KPH and Tendulkar changes the angle of the bat at the last possible moment to let it go, we witness the greatest talents of the game at work. But the feeling that it giv

Posted by Bipul Keshri on (January 13, 2010, 15:56 GMT)

Well said Samir. I can relate to that :)

Posted by Colin Linley on (January 13, 2010, 15:28 GMT)

How true are your reflections Samir. Like you I had that hero worship glint in my eyes as a youngster. However great the achievements by the star cricketers might be, they are only human and have such short careers in the cricket arena. Still it sure fired me up as a youngster to see, hear or seek an autograph from a star cricketer and I revered the ground on which these famous cricketers strode upon (in my case the West Indias), and may it always continue with today's youngsters......

Posted by Brendan Layton on (January 13, 2010, 12:01 GMT)

A very well written article Samir. Glad to see you've picked up the writing again!

It is an odd feeling when national players start coming in younger than you. I'm only a young man, but Phillip Hughes is three years younger than I! A truly bizarre feeling.

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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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