February 22, 2012

Talking cricket with Americans: Teaching and learning

A few days ago, I sent the final manuscript for my book on the changing face of modern cricket to the publishers

A few days ago, I sent the final manuscript for my book on the changing face of modern cricket to the publishers. As I wrote the acknowledgements page, I thought about how many cricketing conversations in the past few years have helped shape my understanding of the game's recent dynamics. Among those conversations lurks an important subset: because I live in the US, many of them have been with Americans. This might seem strange: aren't Americans folks who are supposedly ignorant about cricket?

But those same Americans are very familiar with other sports, and more to the point, they are very familiar with sports played in professional leagues, organized by franchises. (The more cosmopolitan among them don't restrict their interest to the Big Three of basketball, football and baseball; they also pay keen attention to Europe's moneyed soccer leagues.) The historically-inclined among them are also knowledgeable about the changing role of players as professionals and of the evolution of the NBA, the MLB and the NFL through the twentieth century, from a cluster of competing leagues into consolidated mega-leagues, run by owners' councils, dealing with players organized into unions.

And as a significant part of my book is about the possible evolution of cricket from its exclusively nation-based structure to one that accommodates franchises as well, it was only natural that I would find these conversations useful in thinking about the many, varied, dimensions and ramifications of that change.

Talking about cricket with those that are not enmeshed in the game often forced me to examine anew the way cricket conducts itself, because, in explaining to them how cricket is currently run, I was forced to notice some of its idiosyncrasies: some desirable (like the Test, a sporting event singular in the extreme), and some not-so-desirable (its ramshackle, antiquated understanding of player-labour relations). Talking about cricket with American sports fans forced me to confront just how traditional cricket is: it's central form of organization still remains, in the 21st century, the staging of nation-based games. Its new franchise-based leagues, even though they are often accused of hijacking international cricket, for the time being are still playing second fiddle to it in more ways than one.

But I think most fundamentally, talking about cricket in a context where one's interlocutors are not as familiar with the game's charms, made me revisit my own attraction to the game, and to examine a little more closely, my personal relationship to the game. I was often made to recount partial histories of my following, to attempt analyses of why it exerted such a hold over me. And as my American friends reacted to these descriptions, they provided new perspectives and understandings of the game.

I teach and write for a living, and have often found that teaching even supposedly-familiar material to neophytes forces me to reckon with hitherto-unexplored depths in that material; my students become my teachers in these encounters. So it has often been with these conversations with American sports fans: I might have set out to edify, but I have returned a considerably edified person myself.

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