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February 22, 2012

Talking cricket with Americans: Teaching and learning

Samir Chopra
Harbhajan Singh is congratulated by Andrew Symonds for getting Suresh Raina, Mumbai Indians v Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2011, Mumbai, April 22, 2011
Unlike in most other sports, cricket's new franchise-based leagues still play second fiddle to the nation-based game  © Associated Press
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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

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Keywords: Offbeat

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Posted by Adrian Tuck on (May 21, 2012, 15:16 GMT)

I grew up in England playing cricket, became a US citizen as well and watched both cricket and baseball from well before the batters in either game wore helmets. In England, cricket has a pyramid with a large base, from village, school and club cricket, whereas in the US pro sports access to the pro leagues is via highly organized and well funded college teams. Even soccer football learned this lesson, eventually, from grid football. So if cricket is to become a pro sport in the US, the message is to organize college teams first - and they will have to recruit from high schools. About slowness in cricket, when I was a kid the Test over rate was 18-20 an hour. All it takes is for the umpires, backed by the authorities, to speed things up. No trainers on the field, no drinks, no subs and as a last resort a 5 run penalty for every over short of 18 per hour.

Posted by DNR on (March 13, 2012, 4:12 GMT)

Though I am an Indian living in the US, I completely agree with LeScotsman. The leagues mostly played by Indians, Pakistanis and SriLankans are too biased and played by middle-to-late aged men with big guts. No American would be willing to associate themselves with this group. If ICC is really interested in pushing cricket to the rest of the world it has to start generating interest in school kids.

Posted by LeScotsman on (February 25, 2012, 12:33 GMT)

Almost anyone born in the States or Canada who has tried to start playing cricket here has nowhere to play. Virtually no club lets newcomers try out, let alone develop their skills and interest. It is the great tragedy of the sport here that it remains invisible, inaccessible, and in league cricket, with the fights, politics, dreadful (and dangerous) facilities, discrimination and total lack of proper organisation, an instant headache. Sadly, the game in this part of the world is 99% expat cliques, made up of middle-to-late-aged men, divided by nationality, region on religion, who will order a Canadian or an American beginner (or a kid, women, or any other 'outsider') off to deep fine leg for three hours at a time until they stop coming. There is no problem with the game. It could be hugely popular here. But, as long as the sport rests with the current core of players and administration, things won't change.

Posted by Anonymous on (February 25, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

Americans play a game within america where only american teams participate - and they call it "World Series"... that shows it all really! :-))

Don't take them seriously!!

Posted by M.S.M.Riyaz on (February 25, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

Americans are scared of cricket "safety first"

Posted by Raj on (February 24, 2012, 23:43 GMT)

Dear Author, Here are a few points that I think are worth considering: - The TIME magazine put Messi on its cover page for all its editions except the US one, since Americans did not know about Messi or soccer !! - Most Americans love sports that only they as a country play. How can they ever understand how national sentiments take priority over club sentiments ?

Posted by Mobi on (February 24, 2012, 10:10 GMT)

Cricket is the only sport that provides us with 3 different kinds of very interesting and entertaining games.. Test cricket tells us that sport is not only about RESULT it's about composure, nerve and concentration in the game, test cricket will give you 5 entertaining days of sport even if it is a draw at the end. T20 is entertainment and fun at it's best, the most dramatic game of cricket! .. ODI cricket has the testing environment of test cricket and dramatic entertainment of T20 !... The one thing i admire about cricket is that I can follow a cricket match ball-by-ball without watching the visuals !

Posted by Kunal Talgeri on (February 24, 2012, 7:30 GMT)

Hi Samir, when is the book out in India?

[[Kunal: In July-August]]

Posted by vignesh kaushik on (February 24, 2012, 3:12 GMT)

i see a typical american reaction to cricket from SMART MAN...they r soo used to fast food culture that they dun hv the time and patience to appreciate the art of cricket. he says even golfers show more urgency.! such is the pathetic state of american taste for international sports. i think cricket is better off without the stupid americans..!

Posted by redneck on (February 23, 2012, 22:58 GMT)

i for one always found it irronic that the only other nation apart from england bradman toured extensivly in his cricket career was the USA. i think theres a pic somewhere of bradman and babe ruth shaking hands on a new york baseball field somewhere. i challenge anyone to find 2 bigger legends of any era in a meeting like that.

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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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