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February - March 2008

India Sport Scene

Cricket and its 'Avatars' (Incarnations)

by Dr. C P Dalvi

Cricket was born in England and was invented for the aristocrats the so-called gentlemen. They had abundant free time on their hands to play the game leisurely for days together. That is how the three day, four day games and the five day Tests evolved. These gentlemen had income from their inherited wealth and did not have to work for a living. They hired talented professionals to play for their teams and these professional were called players. The players however were looked down upon. Even pavilion had separate entrances and toilets for Players as distinct from Gentlemen. India aped the English and Indian Royalty was the indigenous "gentlemen’. They too employed talented professionals to play for their teams. In England the captain had always to be a gentleman irrespective of his merit. Same was true with India. The Maharajkumar of Vijaynagram was appointed captain to lead India against England in the first ever Test series played in England between the two countries. He played so badly in the matches before the Tests, that he asked Col. C.K. Nayudu to take over the captaincy and excluded himself from the playing eleven to avoid ignominy. He was in true sense a non-playing captain.

Over the years, democratization occurred. Separate entrances for pavilion and toilets were abolished. In England however, ‘Gentlemen" continued to be preferred for the captain’s job irrespective of their ability for many years. Sir Leonard Hutton was the first ‘player’ to be appointed as the Captain.

For the purists, there are several nuances in batting, bowling, fielding and wicket keeping. To that add the glorious uncertainty of the game and this combination makes this game for them an intoxicating elixir. For those who are ignorant of the finer points of the game and who are drawn to the game only for its spectacle of fours, sixes and wickets, one could quote C.L.R. James,the ultimate purist, who said poetically "what do they know of cricket who only cricket know". Thus traditional Test Cricket is really for the classes and has very limited interest for the masses.

In the face of increasing popularity of football, interest in traditional cricket started decreasing and the paying spectators started looking elsewhere for their sporting entertainment. Lack of sufficient finance made it difficult to sustain the game. Necessity is the mother of invention; and that is how one day cricket was invented. The key of this ‘AVATAR’ (incarnation) of cricket was a combination of features to attract the masses. It is short in duration, is fast paced, has a guaranteed result, improved fielding and galore of fours, sixes, and wickets. Restricted field requirements in the first twenty overs allow batsmen to make merry at the cost of best bowlers giving the paying public a sadistic pleasure. The spectators returned in droves even when the purists criticized this form of cricket in no uncertain terms. The commercial concerns won the day and the poverty stricken I.C.C. and other cricket bodies became rich overnight, laughing all the way to their banks. Although all cricketers unanimously believe that only Test cricket is the real cricket, they are not shy of making some ‘moolah’ from this incarnation of the game.

Staging world cup for Test cricket is obviously not a practical proposition due to the long duration of the game. However, it was possible to stage a world cup for one day internationals. The first such was staged in England in 1975. It was a huge financial success. Thereafter, it is being staged every four years in different part of the world and has made cricket boards as well as players rich. Every successive World Cup proved to be mega financial success and winning it became the ultimate goal of all cricket playing nations.

Popularity of one day cricket was not based on the finer points of the game; but on the spectacle it provided to the masses. Changes were made in the rules, from time to time, to keep the attraction for this form of game intact. In spite of such efforts, except for India and to some extent the subcontinent, interest for this form of cricket started showing some degree of waning. It could be attributed to the small attention time span of the masses. Before this could become worrisome, the imaginative English invented the T-20. It is a shorter version of one day cricket and the match gets over within three hours. It is naturally much faster paced and because of the unwritten rule that each ball is to be hit, nay blasted, there are more fours, sixes and wickets. Modern bats make the spectacle still greater as even an upper edge sails over the ropes for a six.

Last but not the least, one wonders whether there will be a day in near future, when the masses may get bored with the T-20 too and the I.C.C. may come out with a new ‘Avatar" – the 5-5 where each team will play only five overs and a bowler will be able to bowl only one over.

A stray thought called ‘SORRY’

Sorry is a wonderful word in English. Slap someone and say sorry and expect the victim to forgive. Simon Taufel, the best I.C.C. umpire, gave Sachin Tendulkar wrongly out when in nineties against England in a Test Match in England (2007) and deprived him of a well earned ton. Later in the day he said sorry for his blunder. Similarly, umpire Rudy Koertzen gave Kumar Sanghakara wrongly out on 192 while playing in a Test against Australia (2007) and later said sorry for his blunder. How does saying sorry later either helps the player, his side or his fans? How can anyone in his senses digest such gross injustice? Why does not the I.C.C. wake up and allow the batsman to appeal to the T.V. Umpire? It is a question of the batsman’s wicket and he is doomed. In tennis at the Grand Slam a few appeals are allowed to the players when it is a question of only a point. I.C.Cs first concern should be interest and wellbeing of the players and not the’moolah’ generated through their efforts.

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