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The league of lost gentlemen

Why too much noise is sometimes made about cricket's degradation

Tishani Doshi
A picturesque view of the Bradman Oval, Australia v England, only Test, Bowral, February 15, 2008

Do we need to go back to the days of gentlemanly, village-green cricket?  •  Getty Images

I'm on the move again, on the crack-of-dawn train from Madras to Bangalore. The reason for this trip across the border? I'm going to catch up with an old friend. We're going to watch the Challengers v Super Kings game in one of Bangalore's trendy bars. It's a long way to go for dinner, but I thought it would be interesting to watch the match in rival territory.
Not that I don't get enough interesting cricket conversation. Last night I went over to my neighbours' house with my father. Knowing of my particular IPL predicament, R and K had very sweetly positioned the TV for me in the sitting room. R and K are a lovely couple. K is from Kerala and R is from Lancashire. They fell in love in England in the 1950s, moved to Madras, and have been here ever since. I don't think either of them has watched a cricket match since the 1950s, though; their reactions to the IPL were quite telling.
Uncle K isn't much of a cricket fan to start with. He's amazed that this game can "entertain so many fools". He was more interested in the commercials I was furiously muting. "Vodafone is an English company, isn't it? They're the ones who have bought Hutch, no?" "These two make a nice couple - Madhavan and what's her name, Vidya Balan… she has a nice face…."
Aunty R, on the other hand, was aghast. By everything. The cheerleaders, the uniforms, the necklaces, the hairstyles, Mandira Bedi, everything. "Why aren't they wearing white?" she wanted to know. "What is this Coca Cola? Why are they playing at night? Oh dear, look at these poor women, what are they doing?"
What happened next was a massive launch back to the good old days when men played cricket on a Sunday afternoon in the village field, when they all wore white, and were, most importantly, gentlemen. My father, a cricket tragic in his day, told us of his prowess as a fast bowler and how he used to open the attack for his college. He got all misty-eyed talking about how he and my mother used to get togged up to go watch Test matches at Chepauk. While all this harking back was happening, I abandoned the match at hand (which was shaping up to be a close one), because I know that once you get people stuck on the nostalgia track, it's very hard to steer them away.
It got me thinking about cricket's evolution. I understand that if you're a purist it's very difficult to deal with change. These three sitting in the room with me were prime examples. They could talk about the city of Madras when it was still a shady oasis with a few motor cars puttering along the roads with the same gusto as they could talk about the degeneration of all sport, not just cricket. The problem, I was trying to say, is that things change. You can call it evolution or bastardisation, but things cannot remain the same.
The other problem with this whole "gentleman" tag is that while it may be true that the current code of conduct allows for behaviour that is less than golden, it's not like things were always super clean before. What was Bodyline all about anyway? What about that whole Vaseline controversy? The biggest fallacy in this whole argument is to believe that just because you're a person of a "higher" class you're automatically going to have a value system that is superior to everyone else's.
I for one am glad that cricket has been democratised. Playing a sport isn't about which level of society you're from or how well you can handle the adulation. It's about talent and determination and a little bit of luck. And if a billion fools are entertained by it, then so be it. And as long as there are still batsmen who are willing to walk before they're given out, and fielders who only appeal for genuine wickets, I'm not going to worry about all those lost gentlemen.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai