November 18, 2015

Why I didn't watch the All-Stars

Overpriced tickets and mediocre cricket: fans in the US deserve better. How about proper international matches?

A win for nostalgists, but not quite one for cricket in the US © AFP

In the summer of 1989, two years after I had migrated to the US, I went to see The Who live at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. I sat in the nosebleeds. Pete Townshend - his ears damaged by years of non-stop exposure to cacophonous Marshall amplifiers - did not play electric guitar; he eschewed his famous windmills, and there was no smashing of guitars. I couldn't quite shake the feeling I was witnessing a greatly diminished version of a band I had once idolised in my college days. It wasn't quite Live at Leeds, if you know what I mean.

Many years have gone by, and now I steadfastly eschew attendance at reunion/revival events put on by superstar dinosaurs. I have little interest in watching former greats - pale shadows of their former selves - put on second-rate performances. Especially if the tickets are overpriced, and if it seems like the primary purpose behind the staging of the event is not the provision of high-class entertainment but the fattening of the pockets of cynical promoters.

As you might have guessed from this preamble, I did not attend the "All-Stars" Sachin and Shane Jamboree in New York City, and neither did I watch the telecasts of the games played in Houston and Los Angeles.

I do not mean to scorn those who attended these games. There seems to have been plenty of enthusiastic cheering for the barrage of sixes that went flying into the stands, and certainly many US-resident Indian fans came out to see The Little Master™in action again. For some, as has been reported in these pages, it was a nostalgia trip; for others a chance to spend an evening in the company of friends at a cricket game in the US - a rarity in itself. I do not begrudge the participation of former stars in these games either. Why not pick up a little extra cash and hang out with some old friends, all the while gently exercising your ageing muscles?

The ticket prices, though steep, didn't discourage many Indian supporters from turning up to see their idols in the flesh © Rob Tringali/ESPN

But if you wanted to watch high-quality cricket in the US - live, not on television - this was not for you. And if you wanted to take seriously - for even the briefest of moments - the idea that this game had anything to do with the "globalisation" of cricket, or "bringing the game to the US" then the sight of the men who took the field would have reduced your enthusiasm all too quickly. Shane Warne spun many legbreaks many a mile during his long and distinguished career, but some of his (and Sachin Tendulkar's) greatest spinning seems to have been reserved for the huckstering of this event as the kind of thing that would promote cricket in the US and spread the game worldwide. The tickets were overpriced; the men who took the field were almost uniformly incapable of playing at a level that remotely approximated their best. They were never going to advertise cricket the way it could have, or should have, been advertised.

In one of my earliest posts here on ESPNcricinfo, I wrote:

Will it ever be possible to get a fair depiction of cricket in the US media? On current evidence, the prospects are bleak. Every television advertisement that features a cricket game, whether it be a tourism clip for the Caribbean or something else, invariably features a rather staid setting, perhaps with cucumber sandwiches and parasol-holding landed ladies in the background, in which portly men in creams amble up desultorily and deliver donkey drops which are clumsily hoicked past geriatric fielders. In these settings cricket does not so much resemble a game as much it does a government-mandated exercise programme meant to replace drug prescription benefits for the rich and elderly.

I'm sorry to say that thanks to the All-Stars, this will continue to be the vision of cricket that almost all Americans will continue to entertain. In a follow-up post to the one above, I had wondered what could be done to improve such a representation of cricket in the US, and wrote:

No game can hope to make inroads into the [American] national psyche and pick up both players and audience in the face of such depictions…. I dream that American fans might be exposed to a high-quality broadcast of a one-day international final between two high-quality teams. The athleticism and power on display would be seductive.

Why not play a series between India and Pakistan in the US, along the lines of the Sahara Cup in the '90s? © AFP

We did not see any such high-quality cricket in the US from the All-Stars. We got instead a series of glorified pick-up games. Hooray for nostalgia; boo for actually taking care of cricket fans in the US. It is hard to not see the organisation of this series, complete with its bizarre ticket prices ($175 in New York City) and staging in baseball stadiums, as a cynical exercise in the exploitation of cricket fans in the US - mostly Indians, they of the "burgeoning middle-class" and "upward mobility" and apparently endless enthusiasm.

Which brings me to my pet grouse. Despite the growing presence of a large and dedicated fan base in the US, which spends ample time and money on following cricket the world over (they even travel, fattening attendance in Caribbean stands), international cricket simply refuses to pay attention to us. We get to watch live telecasts of cricket - a considerable improvement in our lot from some time ago - and that's about it. And even there, the situation is far from ideal: territorial restrictions often affect telecasts and result in blackouts; live streams are often flaky and prone to technical disruption.

Much more could be done. India and Pakistan - and perhaps England and Australia - could stage a one-day international or T20 series here; a few IPL games could possibly be played here as a preliminary to the main tournament in India (much like the NFL stages games overseas); heck, a World T20 in the US would not be such an outrageous idea. Almost 20 years ago, India and Pakistan played a series of one-day internationals in Toronto. Those games saw fans turn out in droves, a famous rivalry received a new showcase, and who knows, maybe some Canadians cottoned on to the game. That is not such a bad model to emulate.

Modern cricket fans are often puzzled why a game with such a rich history, passionate following, and great literature, is administered and run worldwide with such a singular lack of imagination and vision. The All-Stars games prove that we will continue to wonder.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ratnakar on November 26, 2015, 6:11 GMT

    I watched all star cricket. It was a great fun to watch all the legendary cricketers playing together. Though it was not upto International standards but sheer excitement made me watch this piece of madness. I loved it.

  • Jay on November 25, 2015, 14:06 GMT

    Here's a philosophic inquiry for Prof. Chopra to pursue: Was Rudyard Kipling right in reciting "Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"? Let's put this perennial question in the historical context of baseball & cricket. Recall when Babe Ruth met Don Bradman at Yankee Stadium during his 1932 "honeymoon" tour of USA-Canada, the Babe unabashedly told off The Don: "You mean to tell me you don't have to run when you hit the ball?"! So much for promoting cricket in USA. Fast forward to 2015. Sachin Tendulkar meets Derek Jeter in NYC. Again. They met in 2014 at the end of Jeter's retirement tour. So what was (Bombay-born!) Kipling thinking? Just ask Sachin. He states: "It was a pleasure to meet Derek Jeter again...Bringing Cricket to NYC!...Next time maybe we can get a baseball game together in India"! A meeting of minds. Now Samir is a Yankees fan & a Jeter admirer to boot. A whole course-load to keep Prof. Chopra philosophically engaged: The twain shall meet??

  • sandeep on November 23, 2015, 15:30 GMT

    Sameer@ you hit the nail right on the heade. absolutely bizarre cricket. Could not bear to watch 10 minutes of it. Mr Ian Chappel mentioned it before the event that it would be an absolute waste. How right he was

  • Roshan on November 23, 2015, 10:30 GMT

    And besides, what is this obsession with trying to get America in to cricket? I don't think Americans will appreciate the subtleties and intricacies of the game. They're still refusing to commit to football. They have three mainstream team sports which they like to watch (four if ice hockey is included), just like there are three mainstream team sports in England. No other country has more than this. If you want to really globalise cricket, spread it's popularity in places which are open to new sports. Africa can embrace cricket like they are embracing football. The story of the Maasai cricketers shows that, and it's one of the things we can use to popularise the game. Europe and South America, the heartlands of football, could become fans of cricket if given a chance. Certainly the rest of Asia could. Imagine what China could do for the game. Plus there are Associate nations and teams like the West Indies which need progression. A Test Championship or a two-division system is needed.

  • Roshan on November 23, 2015, 10:15 GMT

    He's failed to mention the most important aspect - the only ones to turn up to the games were Americans of subcontinental origin or recently emigrated Indians or Pakistanis. That lot would have already been watching cricket. As he said, this was a win for nostalgia. Not for the globalisation of cricket. It was all basically a money-making scheme which involved some old legends having the cricket equivalent of a glorified "kickabout in a park". How much media coverage did this get in America? Did any people who weren't interested in cricket before at least become aware of it's presence and existence? I don't think that many will have, so this was a complete failure of what it was trying to do. No new people have been introduced to the sport.

  • Simon on November 23, 2015, 2:59 GMT

    Good idea ARAD, the double header with current teams, either National, or a best of from the top four franchises from the defunct Champions League would give Americans a better feel for the contemporary game with the batting reaction time against the moving 150kph ball. This series was a nostalgic start and commendable from the organisers, but if Warne & Tendulkar are fair dinkum about the game promotion then they need to progress the experiment quickly, because Americans don't have an attention span!

  • D N on November 22, 2015, 10:46 GMT

    I did not watch it too ! But I had no tickets to the match and tickets to USA from Bangalore were expensive. Thus, I did not go. Why should a few friendly matches be scorned upon is beyond me. It was great to see Kallis take catches and great to see McGrath smashed all over the park. Wonderful memories were re-lived. Get a life son

  • Chris on November 21, 2015, 19:08 GMT

    GREAT article. Couldn't have put it better. Well said.

  • Brian on November 20, 2015, 17:30 GMT

    Look, you're entitled to your opinion. In my opinion, ANY cricket in the U.S. is better than NO cricket in the U.S.

  • Navin on November 20, 2015, 17:13 GMT

    Soccer with all its popularity still hasn't made it big although all school kids now play soccer in US. It takes a cultural shift for any sport to be adopted along with what is now popular(Football, Base ball, Basket Ball, ICE Hockey). What Sachin and Warne did is commendable. Lot of fans got to see their stars. If they continue along this line and bring competitive cricket it will be received well in US by all fans. As far as Cricket being played along with base ball among the kids at school, it is highly unlikely. Its a good start and I am sure it will continue even if its only exhibition matches. If you didn't watch the match, Samir its your loss, there were many who tuned in to ESPN to watch from the comfort of their home as well as great many who actually went to the ball fields.