My Cordon colleague Jon Hotten writes, in his recent post, "Cricket: complex, unknowable cricket":
The brilliance of the design of the game provides a framework that stretches off into the future. We, as players and spectators, are finite, but cricket itself is universal.
I think Jon must have meant something other than "universal", because otherwise the contrast made here doesn't work. I suspect he wanted to say something like "cricket is infinitely extensible" or "renewable".
Be that as it may, I want to suggest here that "we, as players and spectators" have a great deal to do with the perceived complexity of cricket. Quite simply, this is because we change over time; we do not bring, to our encounters with the game in the middle, a stable, enduring entity, but one subject constantly to a variety of physical, emotional, psychological, and of course, political variations. This perennially in flux object brings to its viewings of cricket a variety of lenses; and we do not merely perceive, we interpret and contextualise, we filter and sift. (As John Dewey, the great American pragmatist philosopher noted, "Thought is intrinsic to experience.") These interpretations and contextualisations change over time.
The 45-year-old man, the professor, the older version of the once-15-year-old schoolboy, sees a very different game of cricket from his younger counterpart. And as he continues to "grow" and change, he will continue to "see" a different game played out in front of him. He will renew cricket, make it extensible and renewable. The seemingly infinite variations possible in a 30-hour, 450-over encounter between 22 other humans, each playing cricket ever so differently from those that have preceded him, will provide ample fodder for this extensibility and renewability.
A game of cricket exists within a larger symbolic order of meaning. When a young spectator sees men in white pick up bat and ball, he understands their activities within a perceptual framework in which active fantasy and wishful longing play an active part. As he grows, matures, acquires a political and aesthetic sense, and hopefully expands his intellectual, emotional and romantic horizons he will revise this, and come to understand the game differently. He may go on to watch umpteen variations on the fourth-innings chase theme, and each one will be uniquely located within this under-construction framework.
"Anna Karenina is a classic precisely because in the face of changing readings it continues to speak to us, across time and space and idiosyncratic translations"
Consider, by way of analogy, the reading of the classics, great works of literature, which continue to be read for years and years after their writing. Read Anna Karenina as a youngster, perhaps for a high-school class in literature, well before you have ever dated, or been in a serious romantic relationship; you will experience the heartbreak - and tragedy - of the adults at the centre of its story very differently when, 15 years later, you have acquired a few scars (and perhaps a child) of your own. Of course, Tolstoy's masterwork is a classic precisely because in the face of such changing readings it continues to speak to us, across time and space and idiosyncratic translations. This is why Susan Sontag - like others before her - suggested the classics were worth reading several times over; each reading was likely to be a new one, a co-operative, joint construction of meaning by the reader and the writer.
Cricket's games do not exist in isolation. They are played within larger political and economic realities, ones that affect its spectators and its players; these too change our understanding of the game. The benefactions of empire in the past are now the property of its subjects; witness the turmoil this has caused in our recent relationship to the game. The conflict in the middle can come to be understood very differently in these circumstances. Where the youngster might have seen heroes in the past, he now may see villains.
These remarks above suggest another way in which cricket could continue to renew itself over time: it could be embedded within more cultures and societies; it could be written about, and understood by, a broader cross section of humanity than it has been thus far; the language of description for it could expand beyond its current repertoire. (I have been fortunate enough to talk about cricket in English, Hindi/Urdu, and Punjabi; trust me, the game is viewed very differently through these alternative linguistic lenses.) We might find, too, that the conversations that surround it in new climes and locales enrich our previous understandings of cricket.
Imagine a rich cricket literature in not just English but in other languages too. Who knows what new classics, new understandings of cricket, we might find there?