Eoin Morgan And The Case Against Modernity

My previous post elicited some criticism in its comments section. Golaandaz took my praise for Test-only players as an irrational bias against certain formats of the game; calling them “childish,” he said, hardly does them justice. But while my positions on the formats are clear — I like all cricket, but Test, ODI, and T20 in that order — that wasn’t what I wanted my post to be about. Hear me out:

Regular readers know that I have a particular view about what makes cricket special. My case is largely borrowed from Ashis Nandy and his book Tao of Cricket, a phenomenal read every cricket blogger should thumb through (twice). In it, Nandy says that cricket is special because it recognizes the limits of human agency. The outsize roles for the pitch, the weather, time and other contingent factors (like the existence of the “draw,” a concept beyond many American fans) sets the game apart from the others. Take this together, and you have a very good case for cricket as a game set apart from modernity. Indeed, a big reason I like Test cricket is the fact that it can be boring sometimes; these quiet stretches of nothing-ness are a tribute to an ancient rhythm we don’t see much of these days.

So, where does Eoin Morgan fit in? Again, I don’t begrudge the guy choosing money over virtue. That’s a tough call for many to make, especially youngsters like him. No, my post was merely a call for a different type of player — the anti-modern player, who solely plays Test cricket and refuses to allow the game to swallow him whole. Exciting as young players like Kohli and Raina are, I have come to increasingly respect the players in their early-mid-late 30’s, who have to face their “mortality” (i.e., their fading skills) even as other concerns (family, most prominently) begin to alter their lives. In these players, you see the larger lesson of cricket — man comes and goes. Imagine cricket in this scenario not as a scenario or a game, but as a space set aside against the backdrop of increasing commercialism, modernity, and ‘progress.’

This line of argument suffers from a number of weaknesses. Russ will accuse me of glorifying the ‘amateur era,’ which he thinks was largely a sham. (He’ll have to explain that more himself.) Others will say that I, like Nandy, merely trade in baseless nostalgia for an era and sentiment that never existed. But, for me, the IPL represents some of the worst parts of the Indian growth ‘miracle’ — a crass consumerism that emphasizes work/skill over virtue/honor. This is what happens when the market takes over — and while I know the trend is generally beneficial, I’d still prefer an athlete who resists. Is this so naive?

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16 thoughts on “Eoin Morgan And The Case Against Modernity

  1. phaty says:

    Naive, maybe. But I still support every word you say!

  2. Krish says:

    I would suggest that the IPL is a good idea, but poorly implemented. It could have been a 20-over version of ODIs, but for some reasons, the powers-to-be decided to add all sorts of nasty elements (cheerleaders, timeouts, etc.)

    One thing that the IPL has going for it versus Tests is that bloggers like you and me are obsessed with it (positively or negatively) while ignoring a whole Test series (Pak v Windies).

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Thanks for the comment, Krish. I did have one post about the Pak v. WI series (see: “Who is More Intelligent: Batsmen or Bowlers?”). Though you’re right — I should have had more.

  3. Golandaaz says:

    There are multiple layers in your argument.

    First, there is no denying that the glitz and glamor makes IPL distasteful for many including me. That is more to do with where India is on the whole rather than a reflection of the format. So lets not belittle the format or label players who want to focus on the format in any way. Just like Indian movies are loud so is their T20 cricket because of the people that run it. And India is still coming to grips with its success and for now is in the ‘let me show off’ mode. This will subside in time and the IPL will acquire some much needed class

    So if you were to compare just the formats, many of the mental qualities a player needs to succeed as a Test Player will be needed to succeed as a T20 player. The skills will be different but T20 will allow as much room for a player to “grow” as a champion or as a human being as does Test cricket.

    Differences will remain…only in terms of skill Strength v Endurance as an example

    So I will again go back to my original analogy, I look at T20 cricket as a 100 meter dash and Test cricket as marathon. Both require tremendous personal commitment for anyone to be a champion.

    My assertion is that in a few decades each format will require players to specialize and choose early on.

    • Krish says:

      @Golandaaz, your analogy fails for the reason that a 100 meter dash is an individual sport.

      A better example would be a soccer match being played for 10 minutes. And this is not hypothetical because we have an overtime half played for 15 mins. What happens? Well, skill is less important here than luck.

      Same way, T20 is high risk, high reward. And what teams have found is that 150 seems to be the par-score. Going above that requires better batting conditions and a lot of luck.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Golandaaz, you’re focusing a bit too much on the format argument, which is a narrow part of my point.

      But let me just address your running analogy: it fails because you rarely — if ever — see a sprinter participate in a marathon. In fact, they’re usually treated as separate fields with separate players and separate techniques. (I’ve heard it said that a good sprinter even has a different muscle structure than marathon-ers).

      OK, you will say, but that’s not your point. You say marathons and sprints are different formats, but both equally enjoyable, and equally taxing on the athletes. Why choose between them? But, again, I think that’s not true — I think most people care more about the sprinting category, just as most people care more about singles tennis than doubles (even though, I’d say, the latter is equally demanding).

      I’d also dispute that T20s require as many ‘mental qualities’ as a Test match. If you compare the length of innings, for instance, there’s probably a marked difference — and playing just 20-30 balls on average is very different from negotiating sessions, or even days. Changes in conditions are also negligible, which isn’t the case in Test cricket (new balls, pitch wear and tear, weather).

      As for T20’s flashiness: there’s an inherent showiness to the T20 format, separate from the add-ons of cheerleaders and commercialism. That has to do with the reliance on boundaries and sixes to score runs, not anything else.

      But, again, this isn’t to say I agree with those who condescend to T20s. They have their place, and I don’t mind watching one now and then. (That’s a far cry, obviously, from watching 60 in a month, or however many in the IPL). I’m making a different argument about the value and worth of cricket. And if your prediction about specialization comes through, I’ll be more intrigued and fascinated by the Test specialists than anyone else. (For the reasons outlined in my post.)

      • Golandaaz says:

        I don’t associate mental toughness with length. Mental toughness is as valid in T20 cricket as in Tests. Its just that in Tests its built around endurance and in T20 its built around speed.

        In my books needing to pull off a Collingwood or a Gambhir in batting out 6-7 sessions to save a Test is mentally equivalent to a Hussey or a Pollard pulling off 30 runs in 2 overs to win a high profile T20 game. Perhaps this is the point on which we disagree on. And I know there are far too few T20 games that have the same “prestige” as tests. But that will change over time.

        The sprint v marathon analogy is relevant because its inherently the same skill but the length of the format imposes different requirements on the athletes and i do believe cricketers of the future will not play multiple formats.

        At this point I would say to @Krish that I don’t think suddenly shortening a format somehow introduces the “luck” factor. No one would say that sprints are more luck based than marathons. And here does it matter that running is an individual sport? Does anyone thing 4×100 relay is more luck dependent than a 4×400. No i don’t think so. The popular theory from cricketers including Dhoni and Badri that T20 is more luck is something I do not agree with. Its flawed. Preparation, specialization and breaking down the game in innovative ways eliminates luck…

        On the point of what people care. Of course people will care for whatever format they identify with. But like politicians make the mistake of clubbing people into tax brackets, as if to suggest that you are married to one for life, lets not make the same mistake. More often than not people start poor and retire rich and along the way traverse all tax brackets. It will be the same with cricket. T20 is the hook and after a while they will move on to appreciating other formats.

        Tests need T20 more than the other way round to find new fans. And the IPL is doing a huge service to Test Cricket

  4. Golandaaz says:

    I meant prediction instead of assertion

  5. Nash says:

    I completely agree with your views on test cricket, and why it is the best game in the world, as do I share your admiration for test specialists.

    But you have been rather harsh on Morgan in your last post. He wasn’t insulting your intelligence. He was responding to a question he didn’t want to respond to in the best way possible, by pointing out the positives he may have gained in the IPL. Maybe pulling out the pounds sterling and saying goo goo ga ga is something he reserves for his buddies at the pub, when he is not being interviewed by the national media. He owes us, the public, no honesty when it comes to the decisions he makes about his career. If he isn’t good enough he won’t be picked.

    I disagree with Golandaaz about mental toughness. As a batsman, T20 cricket requires you to be god at hitting boundaries. At almost all times, this is what you should ideally be doing, or trying to do. If you get out, thats ok because you were trying to hit a boundary. And you need to sustain this for a short length of time. In a game like cricket, mental toughness has everything to do with time. When strike rates remain the same, batting longer requires more mental toughness than batting for shorter periods.

    Strikes rates normally depend on the player (Sehwag scores quickly even in tests) and the match situation. In a T20 situation, you are expected to hit boundaries, so you try to hit them, and if you get out then so be it. There is little or no mental toughness involved. Batsmen with good T20 records are good boundary hitters. This says nothing for their mental toughness. On the other hand, it might be completely different when it comes to bowlers.

  6. Russ says:

    DB, actually I was going to say you were unfair on Morgan. There is lots of evidence to show players (in all sports, and at all levels) learn best from playing with other players, seeing how they train, prepare and think about the game. Whether the IPL is the right place for Morgan at this point in his career to do that is debatable, but probably unanswerable. It is up to him though.

    I don’t think the amateur era is a sham, merely that what we think of as “real cricket” (test cricket) was a historically contingent development. The IPL more closely resembles English (particularly Northern) league cricket, the existence and importance of which is largely understated in cricket histories. Far from being a recent development, a money-oriented domestic league might just as easily be seen as an inevitable development, delayed by aristocratic amateur control of the sport for most of the past 120 years.

    Which is not to say I think test cricket is finished, but it will need to evolve, and the longer it stays elitist, poorly organised and in conflict with T20, the worse the final settlement.

  7. […] of evidence in their fight against the format. Indeed, Trott’s style of play is in line with my paean to anti-modernity: slow, determined, humble, solid. So if I have to watch him and grit my teeth, so be it. […]

  8. […] had a short exchange with Golandaaz on Ducking Beamers about T20 versus Tests. He suggested that Twenty20 versus Tests was like sprints versus marathons. […]

  9. […] culture. That’s true, but I’ll go further and argue what I have in a previous post: watching cricket (and especially Test cricket) is also a protest against modernity, a stance against Kim Kardashian, VH1 shows, hyper-politics and corporate ladders (to use […]

  10. […] “Eoin Morgan and the Case Against Modernity“ […]

  11. […] raise a barrier between fans and the game, and I yearn  for a simpler discourse that respects fate and fortune over human agency — if only because I think fans should understand the game they profess to […]

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