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September 19, 2010

Samir Chopra

Play to watch: The player as an informed spectator

Samir Chopra
Fans can appreciate the game better by playing it  © AFP
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The recently concluded US Open confirmed for me what I'd been suspecting for a few weeks leading into it: I'd really started to like watching tennis. All over again. The graph of my tennis fanhood had probably peaked in the mid-1980s, and then steadily declined. Despite the brilliance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, my interest in tennis never attained the heights it had reached when I was enthralled by the McEnroe-Borg rivalry. But this year, and the last, I'd noticed a renewed interest, and also managed to pinpoint a simple reason for it: I'd started to play tennis on a regular basis.

What does all of this have to do with cricket? My answer has two components. First, I'll note that sadly, cricket's hold on me seems to have declined, especially this year. Whether it is because I simply do not have the energy any more to deal with low-quality telecasts, the unfriendly time-zones, the lack of results in high-scoring subcontinental games, the proliferation of an unappealing format, the endless, nasty, nationalist bickering, the match-fixing or whatever else, cricket this year has played second fiddle to football, tennis and now, in the fall, baseball.

Secondly, I'll take note of two articles I'd previously penned here. In one, I wrote of how I didn't like playing cricket in the US because of the lack of cricketing context; and then another, in which, based on my experiences of watching cricket in Australia, it had seemed to me that a cricket-playing spectator was likely to have a more informed response to the game in front of him.

My experience with watching tennis this year has now convinced me that if I'm to rekindle my interest in cricket as a spectator sport, it will be by making cricket a personal endeavour again, by playing the game myself. International cricket holds many disappointments for me (as I write this, yet another accusation of conspiracy is starting to make the rounds), but perhaps the personal game itself will retain its attractions.

For I discovered, after several weeks of playing tennis regularly, that my tennis-watching senses had become sharpened: even an encounter between minor-league players seemed attractive, for I had more to pay attention to, more to note, more to observe and critique. The game's edges became sharper; my response to the player's skills was more measured, appreciative, and nuanced.

With cricket, it seems to me that I'd done the reverse. As long as I've lived in the US, I've not played cricket. This, of course, was not the case when I lived in India or in Australia. Of course, there is the lack of a cricketing context in the US, but I'd compounded it by not playing. Not coincidentally, the last time I can really remember being enthralled by cricket since I've returned from Australia has been on my various visits to India and Australia. The US will never provide that sort of background to my cricket-watching, but I can do my bit by simply picking up bat and ball.

And I can do so in the most American of ways. A young New York local, who I've become friendly with in the past few months, coaches a group of Bangladeshi schoolboys in a New York school league (how about that for a role reversal?), and has invited me to join them for a game or two. Next year, I plan to take up that invitation. What the international game won't do, perhaps this lower-level game will.

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

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Posted by Tsami on (September 21, 2010, 23:47 GMT)

America is no place for Cricket. The Americans, the Arabs the Chinese and the Russians the Hispanics have one thing in common they don't play cricket. Did they have a common ancestor? Or what's wrong with them? Just wondering.

Posted by saurabh on (September 20, 2010, 10:19 GMT)

Samir, there may be lack of cricketing context in USA but there are plenty of cricket clubs in US and lot of competitions take place.

So pick up the bat and the ball and play some cricket.

Personally I had a great time playing cricket in USA when I was there for some 3+ Years including winning the T20 trophy as well in Colorado in 2008

Posted by The Coder on (September 20, 2010, 5:11 GMT)

Oh come on Samir, you dont mean to say that(the lack of results in high-scoring subcontinental games) do you? Just one look at the stats and you'll be wrong. In last 10 Tests In India : 7 results and 3 draws In Srilanka : 8 results and 2 draws

15/20 games is fair to me whatever else you may say. I thought blogs were meant to say original opinion!! Well, my bad!

Posted by Phil S on (September 20, 2010, 2:16 GMT)

It would appear from recent events that cricket is not for watching or for playing. It is for betting on.

Posted by Gizza on (September 20, 2010, 1:43 GMT)

Samir you are right and so is Kunal Talgeri. You played cricket in India too which is good. But as an Aussie of Indian origin I have seen a complete difference in cricket culture between the two countries. Indians think cricket is entertainment and watch it. Australians believe cricket is a sport/game and play it.

This is why the 1 billion poplation argument is overrated because playing club cricket in India is still quite rare. Even gulli cricket as a % of population is played a lot less than backyard/park/beach cricket in Australia.

This is also why the doom sayers saying cricket is dying are completely wrong. Cricket is actually weak in India (not sure about other subcontinental countries). But Cricket the game is still strong in Aus, Eng (growing participation since 05), SA, NZ and WI. To me kids in the park and street playing is a stronger sign of cricket health than crowd figures or TV views. So saying that T20/IPL is saving cricket is very very silly.

Posted by Kunal Talgeri on (September 19, 2010, 22:48 GMT)

I sometimes wonder if a vast majority of us fans in the sub-continent and our uncles watch cricket so religiously BECAUSE we cannot play the game ourselves. You will be appalled at how playgrounds in Indian cities are fast on the endangered-list. Also, tennis-ball cricket just isn't the same as the ol' leather one. Playing cricket is a dream for most Indians once they enter and/or finish college. :-( One (and, often, the only) way to stay involved in the sport is to watch and participate. If what I'm wondering is indeed true, isn't it a tragic irony in the humdrum of life here? :-)

Posted by AN on (September 19, 2010, 18:42 GMT)

Samir: I feel for you. Now with that contrived and formulaic T20, matters have worsened. I had more or less reached the same point some time ago but players like Sehwag, Gilchrist and McGrath kept me going because they played an attacking game in Tests and brought joy. Sehwag continues to entertain and has shown that the plodding along by others at 40-50 strike rates on good wickets is unacceptable. He is the reason why more results are generated. Amir was one I hoped would bring more positive action from a bowlers perspective but now that is up in the air. I have also shifted to watching tennis quite a bit except when Sehwag is batting. Unfortunately, I cant play any game due to physical limitations these days...

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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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