Still immersed in move-related work [oh, btw, these posts are prompting queries on the ‘what move, why move, where move’ lines on Facebook and Twitter, so for those who came in late or not at all: this link], so will only throw up a couple of cricket-related clips as sole post of the day:
Rahul Bhattacharya, one of my favorite cricket writers, does a think piece on how even within the framework of a quintessential team sport, the cricketer can be is all alone in the middle.
This is a fundamental point. Cricket and football are both 11-a-side games. Yet cricket is only nominally a team sport. It is cumulative rather than collaborative. Each delivery is an isolated event, a classic one-on-one duel. If anything, it can be argued, this one-on-one is more exaggerated in cricket than in an individual sport such as tennis. When a batsman and a bowler take on one another, the roles of the fielders and the non-striker are solely that of support, making a kind of ceremonial durbar in which the two participants hold forth.
In every such duel, the individuals stand for their whole team to such a degree that they are the team itself. This, CLR James has written, offers cricket its special dramatic quality. The dramatist, the novelist, aspires to make the individual symbolic of the collective; the structure is given to cricket.
Update: Soumya Bhattacharya, HT’s man in Mumbai and a one time writer for Cricinfo, in email pointed me to this link to something on similar lines, that he had done back in the day. Soumya, incidentally, is the author of probably the first fanboy book on Indian cricket [Mike Marqusee review in The Guardian]; coincidentally, I just finished reading an advance proof of his second book, due to hit the stands in the next seven days [a review, and a conversation with Soumya, follows in this space, in due time].
The other interesting article is from Christian Ryan, and it asks an existential question. The rules are constantly being framed and reframed to suit batsmen; boundaries are getting shorter, outfields are getting better and better, pitches are tailor made to facilitate hitting — and, at the same time, bat technology is creating improved weapons of combat. Ryan’s point is this: why is technology simultaneously not being harnessed to improve the quality of the ball, in order to level the playing field a bit? His question, and suggested solution:
While bats have all but sprouted wings and propeller blades, the ball has been busy too. Busy. Ignoring. The world. The cricket ball shrunk three-sixteenths of one inch, by law, in 1927. Then never again. This would be well and good if batsmen still batted with 1927 bats. They do not. Bats are fatter along the edges. What was once called the sweet “spot” is closer to a 38-inch-long sweet rectangle. Yet the ball has not, to even things up, gotten smaller or bouncier. And so the delicate balance has been upset. The game’s oldest understanding – that batting is hard – no longer rings quite true.
Not that batting is a cinch now. Knowing one mistake will put you out of the match, potentially out of the team and maybe out of a job, is still a heavy load in a batsman’s head. But when your Kookaburra Kahuna Blitz sends your nervous defensive nudge clanking into the advertising board, that lifts a bit of fear. Then when you attempt a cautious dab outside off stump and the ball sails screeching over the top of gully, any lingering tension soon dissolves. And without fear and tension, what’s left that’s worth savouring? Nostalgia, certainly, although even nostalgia – seldom as fine as it used to be – might soon acquire a bitter aftertaste. For when cricket people hark back to olden times and stirring deeds they invariably mean batting ones, usually involving heroic triumph over frightening odds. And if bat technology loads all the odds in the batsman’s corner, rendering triumph predictable and heroism surplus to requirements, what then?
The solution must by now be blinkingly obvious: make batting hard again. The sensible thing would be for the International Cricket Council to hit rewind and insist that cricket be played with the bats of 20 years ago. Alas, that would involve our august custodians weighing up the game’s greatest good against a few companies’ maximum profits and deciding that the former matters more. So forget it. Instead we must turn to a less sensible-sounding alternative: make the ball smaller.
Yes, well. To reframe WG Grace’s famous cricket quote: The spectators come to see batsman hit, not get out. Or so officialdom thinks.
Sambit Bal — another favorite — uses the Dunedin Test between Pakistan and New Zealand to suggest that there is life, yet, in the longest form of the game. The money quote:
Of course it would be obtuse not to see the signs. Test cricket demands too much commitment from a generation that is so keen on abbreviations that vowels need statutory protection. The new fan is naturally drawn to the animal appeal of Twenty20. And since the money lies there, the players are drawn to it too. The clock cannot be turned back.
But to abandon Test cricket will not only be short-sighted but suicidal. Twenty20 is only a fling; the attraction to it could be as fleeting as the format itself. Casual fans could soon find better ways of entertaining themselves. If all you are looking for is a good time, there will inevitably be better ways to spend three hours. Twenty20 competes with everything: a movie, an evening spent at the bar, even sex. The connection with Test cricket goes much deeper, and is thus likely to endure much longer.
The challenge for the administrators is to not get swept away by the flow but to keep their wits about them. Test cricket is not merely a romantic ideal worthy of preservation, it is the game’s foundation. Without it, the core of the game will wither away.
Right, am off. Back tomorrow with the game, and other posts. Meanwhile, an item for your to-do list : The Indibloggies poll.