Leave Americans to baseball
Not much remains to be said about the proposed misadventure in USA between India and the West Indies, and even the more outlandish Afro-Asia Cup. By now, we should be inured to the priorities of our cricket boards and the reality of one-day cricket. The ICC has once again bestowed these games with the sanctity of official recognition. To be fair, what choice did it have? The ICC is demonized as if it had a will outside the purview of its members, and we pretty much know who rules world cricket. So the show will roll on. Grin it and bear it, or simply switch off your TV sets.
Of course, these tournaments will give credence to the stories of deal-making that took place during the World Cup bidding process. West Indies, not the most sought after cricket team in the world at the moment, would no doubt be chuffed at the prospect of some extra cash coming their way, as would Zimbabwe and Kenya who will participate in the apparition called the Afro-Asia Cup, a concept so artificial that the last edition was played on a cricket ground which had barren patches painted green to create the illusion of grass. The idea ought to have been abandoned after the spectacular failure of the ICC Super Series which was a stinging reminder that international cricket had little appeal, to both spectators and players, outside the bilateral arena. But why let such considerations come in the way when sponsors are willing?
But while I am resigned to the financial and political considerations, what riles me is the attempt to cloak these matches with legitimacy. Both the ICC and the West Indies Cricket Board have made pious-sounding statements about matches in the USA and Canada helping the spread of the game, and it is simply a false promise.
A few years ago, when Jagmohan Dalmiya was taking cricket far and wide, I had felt a genuine surge of excitement. It was novel watching cricket matches in Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada. Some grounds were oddly shaped, the matches were thinly attended, and there were hardly any locals. But I supported the expansionist zeal, and hoped that cricket would catch on. I was naïve, and wrong.
Cricket was a regular fixture in the UAE for more than a decade, yet how many indigenous cricketers has the country produced? Does the USA have a single player outside the expatriate communities?
Chastened and wiser, I can now see the futility of the ambitions, genuine or otherwise, to grow cricket outside its natural habitat and I am prepared to venture that cricket will never catch on. It is just not that kind of a game. Instead of pointlessly envying and aspiring to emulate the growth of football, cricket must spend all its energies trying to preserve and strengthen what exists.
Cricket is not an easy game to start liking. It is a complex and baffling game. It demands utter devotion, infinite patience, certain intellectual engagement, and that utterly scarce commodity: time, lots of it. Also, the cricket lover, particularly those attracted to the alluring charms of Test cricket, must be prepared to enjoy the journey for the sake of it, without obsessing about the destination. Try convincing your American friend that a drawn Test is not a waste of five days.
It's a pity if we cannot learn from our experiences. Cricket was a regular fixture in the UAE for more than a decade, yet how many indigenous cricketers has the country produced? Does the USA have a single player outside the expatriate communities? Has the game taken roots in Singapore? Cricinfo Magazine carried a detailed feature about the attempt to grow the game in China in its May issue, but why do I think that the Chinese will find much harder to embrace cricket than capitalism?
Cricket does not need to be anxious or apologetic about its insularity, or elitism, if you must call it that. It has survived and prospered in the countries where it found root in colonial times, and to try to grow it beyond the Commonwealth might require a distortion of form. More worrying is the state of the game in Zimbabwe, where it has been ravaged by politics, in West Indies, where it suffers from administrative lapses, and in Kenya, which has fallen off the map due to sheer neglect.
Let's leave Americans to baseball.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine