Books November 10, 2012

Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket

The bio on the right hand side of this page has indicated for some time that I have been writing a book on 'the changing face of modern cricket'

The bio on the right hand side of this page has indicated for some time that I have been writing a book on 'the changing face of modern cricket'. That bio will be revised soon (if it's not already) for my first book on cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has just been released by HarperCollins.

The blurb for the book says:

Cricket as we know it may soon be no more. Thanks to Twenty20, technology, media, and the sheer financial power of Indian cricket, the gentleman's game is on the brink of radical changes. Nation-based cups might give way to T20 professional leagues; umpires might be replaced by technology; and professional franchises, not national boards, might call the shots. Could cricket go the way of professional football? Will Test cricket survive in an entertainment-driven field? Will television rights deals determine the nature of the game? This upheaval has been accompanied by conflict between the old guard England and Australia and the new boss, India. If the spirit of cricket is to survive these changes, it requires the balancing of economic, political and sporting imperatives. The game must find a way to remain a financially solvent global sport that caters to the changing tastes of its fans and players by creatively using new media and limited-overs cricket. In 'Brave New Pitch', Samir Chopra takes a look at cricket's tumultuous present, and considers what could and should lie ahead.

That's quite a mouthful, or two. What's the book about, really? To begin answering that, let me point to a tiny section with which I begin the book:

In July 2008, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian wicketkeeper and future captain, opted out of a Test series in Sri Lanka claiming overwork and fatigue. Dhoni had just finished playing in the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and in two one-day international tournaments--the Kitply and Asia Cups. In April 2010, during the IPL's third season, after playing a crucial match-winning innings for the Chennai Super Kings, Dhoni, by then a highly successful and well-regarded captain of the national cricket team, disarmingly and candidly remarked, 'Your franchise pays you so much money, you should at least make the semi-finals.' Dhoni's remarks sparked controversy among those who remembered his declining Test duty for the nation, but all he had done was draw attention to the truth that there were new paymasters in town, likely to skew priorities in a manner already visible to all.

As Dhoni's remarks made all too evident, thanks to the introduction of a new format, Twenty20, and a new professional league, the IPL, the political economy of cricket has changed. The introduction of Twenty20 has given cricket players an alternative career playing only the shorter formats of the game; the introduction of professional leagues has made possible a transition from cricket being a nation-based sport to a club-based sport. These two new entrants have changed cricket's wage structure and made possible a brand new labour market, one regulated and administered in interestingly different ways from those that preceded it. Indeed, the appearance of a professional league has had the salutary effect of raising questions about just how professionalised the game of cricket is, about how far the Packer revolution really went.

Players and national boards have already clashed over their seemingly differing commitments to the game; these can only be expected to increase in the future. Fans of the game are obviously interested in their resolution because it does seem as if the current nation-based forms of the game are not conducive of a growth in the professionalisation of cricket and its ability to take hold in new territories. And yes, what is to happen to Test cricket?

The two changes noted above, underwritten by massive reliance on television rights deals, are complicated by their association with the sport's dominant financial power: India. India's influence on the world of cricket is disproportionate, and often, the cause for friction. As a result, as the game lurches toward its future, it is riven by persistent conflict between its stakeholders: the various national cricket boards, the fans, the players, the media. But even though currently accusations of greed, incompetence, racism, hypocrisy and bad faith are all that seem to fill the air, cricket's future could still be a bright one, if the right kinds of balance are struck. We could be, after all--thanks to a particular combination of moneyed television deals, passionate audiences, hard-hitting batsmen infected by the T20 bug, canny bowlers, and high-quality television coverage (on the internet and off)-- heading toward a new Golden Age.

My book is a fan's attempt to examine some of the game's recent history in order to try to offer my prognosis for the game's future. Writing a book about a rapidly changing subject has not been easy; my fervent hope is that I've captured the most essential aspects of what has happened and what might lie ahead. I wrote this book as someone who might be described as a traditionalist, someone who loves nation-based Test cricket, and who cannot as yet, find a team in the IPL to cheer for. But that has not stopped me from noticing much that is wrong with extant realities and much that could be promising in cricket's sometimes visible future. Indeed, as I wrote this book, it seemed to me that examining the impact of Twenty20 and the IPL had enabled me to question many basic assumptions of my understanding of the game. I found that experience interestingly eye-opening, even as someone who has followed the game for decades. I hope you do too and look forward to discussing the book with you. (Over the next few weeks, I'll post again here about other aspects of the book that I think should be of interest to modern fans of the game.)

Brave New Pitch is now available at Amazon (for readers worldwide) and at Flipkart (for Indian readers). An e-book version should be out very soon. There is a Facebook page for Brave New Pitch now

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