June 12, 2010

Cricket and Football

Football, the occasional mistress

Sambit Bal
Lionel Messi does what he does best, Germany v Argentina, International Friendly, Munich, March 3, 2010
Torn between Lionel Messi and a thrilling fifth day of Test?  © Bongarts
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Cricket is an enduring romance for me, but once every four years, when the World Cup comes around, I submit to the illicit pleasures of football.

Club football has rarely held any appeal for me; I might occasionally catch a game with the kids and be touched by a burst of individual brilliance, but I can't get myself to feel anything for a club, just as I can't, despite trying, feel any kinship towards the IPL teams. Mumbai is my home, but I couldn't bring myself to feel a trace of pain when Mumbai Indians were losing to Chennai Super Kings in the IPL final. I root for them in the Ranji Trophy, but must I care for a team brought together by Mukesh Ambani's money?

Of course, being a sports fan is about appreciating the skills of the players and the thrill of a contest. But even more than that, it's about being able or unable to relate to something. I relate to Roger Federer, as I did to John McEnroe. I relate to Lionel Messi, too, but through him I find it impossible to relate to Barcelona the way I would with Argentina.

Sitting thousands of miles away, feeling a bit errant about ditching Test cricket, which was on television as the same time, I felt far more deeply for the South African football team, a side I had never watched before, than I have ever done for an IPL team.

I switched to the game while another South African team were battling away in my chosen sport. Jacques Kallis had been dismissed in Port of Spain, the ball was gripping and turning, and Ashwell Prince had just danced down the pitch to play an airy drive. And though I kept coming back to the Test, I couldn't keep my eyes off the South African men in the yellow jerseys for too long. Even at the risk of disloyalty, it was the better story. Rank underdogs -- they are only at the World Cup because they are the hosts -- but lifted by the will of the nation, they filled the opening match with spirit and emotion. Katlego Mphela, after pulling away from the defender and dodging the goalkeeper in a sensational burst, hit the woodwork in the 90th minute. I have my favourite teams at the World Cup; now I just have to support one more.

I have digressed massively. This piece was prompted by an instant riposte on email from Jayaditya Gupta, Cricinfo's own man at the football World Cup to a blog post titled "10 reasons why cricket is better than football".

Now, Joy, as he is better known, enjoys running Cricinfo these days -- if it is otherwise, he has done a good job of hiding it -- but in his heart he must feel like an infidel often because football has always been his game. We had the good sense to lend him to our sister site Soccernet for a month, and I can feel his sense of liberation in South Africa (you can read his latest piece here). Our spirit of generosity extends to even allowing him to diss cricket while he is away. He knows which South African wines to bring back from Cape Town.

But even I will grant him this: a good 90 minutes of football would beat the three-hour game of cricket hands down. No argument there. For individual skills, speed, thrills and adrenaline rush, the Twenty20 game is no match. But I doubt any field sport can match the intellectual dimensions and the epic grandeur of Test cricket. It's an unfair and futile comparison, too, because no sport has been, or can be, granted the scale and canvas of Test cricket. Consequently no game can grow and linger in the senses like a winding, turning, well-contested Test match does. In these times Test cricket remains a luxury we are fortunate and privileged to be able to afford. And it is played at such a gentle pace that if you are smart you can catch a lot of football while watching it. I counted: between two deliveries from Ravi Rampaul in Port of Spain, the ball had been passed around 16 times in Soccer City.

My loyalty will really be tested if Messi - I love him the most, because apart from his obvious gifts with the ball, his smile on the field conveys an enjoyment of his sport that is unsullied by the trappings of stardom - is on field while a Test match enters a gripping phase on the fifth day.

I hope I will be true to my heart.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by redneck on (June 16, 2010, 6:44 GMT)

as an aussie i like supporting a team that can bring success with it! and after 4-0 abomination its cricket all the way, id take our own football code (afl) over those boring nil all draws too! i watched portugal v ivery cost in hope of a drogba v rinaldo shoot out, what a bitter disapointment that was!

Posted by The Skiver on (June 15, 2010, 8:04 GMT)

It is a sad day when Cricinfo is being edited by someone who prefers another sport to cricket

Posted by Mick on (June 15, 2010, 5:15 GMT)

After Germany hammered us 4-0, I can safely say cricket all the way!!! It's much easier to like a sport your country is good at ;)

Posted by Rajat on (June 14, 2010, 14:48 GMT)

Exactly my sentiments, Sambit. It's uncanny how close you have gotten to the heart of the matter. Superb!

Posted by LankyDes on (June 14, 2010, 11:49 GMT)

I agree with Ali. Football was my first love but even friends of mine who are season ticket holdders at English Premiership clubs tell me that the majority of games are boring.Having said that, it is not the game I detest; it is the complete over hype and the character of so many of the main players. There is one good think about this World Cup. At least it is not keeping proper cricket off the sports pages in England because it is all 20 20 rubbish at present.

Posted by Asif Sarfraz on (June 13, 2010, 12:10 GMT)

It's because cricket is the national sport on India... Football rules! Cricket is still trying to reinvent itself over all these years! Since the money element has come into the game everyone is at war with each other!

Posted by RC on (June 13, 2010, 9:33 GMT)

The only thing in which football is better is the diversity of teams. I agree wholly with Ali's comment. And the captain doesn't have any role to play in football. He is just a figurehead. Tactics in football are nowhere close to those of cricket. But at least football requires more tactics than basketball- the most brainless of all sports.

Posted by asis rout on (June 13, 2010, 7:02 GMT)

yes no sports can emulate the universal charm of football.But i would like to see an Indian team in WC football rather than celebrating the feats of foreign players though it looks far fetched.India with its rising economy wants to be in the limelight.but my problem is why some indian editors start proffesing their love when the world cup comes around.they were nowhere to be seen in all the four years.as far the article goes Sambit stopped short of making cricket the scapegoat for the non evolution of football in India which i think its not fair.Sambit their is no point being apologistic if you have genuine love for the game.nothing wrong in rooting for the game and promoting the website of a US sports network calling Football as 'Soccer'as it is mostly known in other parts of the world.but iam not doing 'WAKA WAKA' this month as my family members would not forfeit the control of the remote for a game which is still alien in terms of public participation.

Posted by Timothy Abraham on (June 13, 2010, 0:31 GMT)

An interesting piece Sambit..I am cricket mad but football will, and always will be, my first love. Football passion stirs something very special within the soul in the United Kingdom. It touches, and is accessible, to the masses in a way cricket will never be to...There is a sense that when your team loses it not only matters, it REALLY matters. When the England cricket team lose the Ashes people are down but even a day or so later life goes on. With football the highs always seem higher and lows much lower.

The Football World Cup is also a very different animal from its cricket counterpart. The sheer breadth of teams and the chances of an upset are what appeals. It really feels like a global event.

Outside of the major Test-playing nations and a handful of associates I can't help but feel a certain 'X-factor' is missing from cricket's World Cup (whether ODI or Twenty20) which can elevate to the next level. Time, perhaps, the ICC matches FIFA's development funding around the world?

Posted by Umair_umair on (June 12, 2010, 18:25 GMT)

Hi Sambit, Nice Piece. But I would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to another thing. Its about the coverage of matches and tournaments. It seems vey dull and boring. Earlier we used to have a an ODI, a Day of test match or t20 followed by a lot of articles from different angles, facts and interesting things about players, teams. Take the Example of this year’s t20 Worldcup Coverage. I did not at all find Cricinfo enthusiastic about the tournament. Just simple live scorecards with previews, reviews and bulletins. Just compare coverage of 2010 t20 the one in 2009 and you will feel the difference. With live chats (during innings breaks) and a number of articles, I think Cricinfo involved its readers well in t20 worldcup 2009. It seems, Cricinfo now just covers the matches forcefully. I am sorry to say that everyone at Cricinfo writes that IPL is overhyped but Cricinfo itself seemed enthusiastic about IPL more than t20 worldCup.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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