Is Cricket Being Overrun By Science?

When political scientists compare governance in America and Europe, they often note the latter continent’s fondness for technocratic government. Bureaucrats, experts, social scientists, people with higher ed. degrees — they tend to have a lot more power in setting regulations in the Old Country than in America. Alexis de Tocqueville posited that this phenomenon had its roots chiefly in Americans’ fetish for equality; “expertise” was distrusted as a marker of aristocracy (and, in the modern context, is largely viewed as a means to pull ‘hoaxes’ on the general public; e.g., global warming conspiracy theories).

If you had asked me where cricket fell on this admittedly clumsy and simplified spectrum — American, or European — I would have said ‘American’ about 25 years ago. Now, though, you can point to a number of areas where experts have taken over: the Duckworth-Lewis system; the strange assumptions of Hawkeye and the DRS system,  whether or not every bowler ever has broken the rules about straightening arms during a delivery. The idea that experts may have run amok — to use conservative political lingo — came home to me when I read this line in Cricinfo‘s story on Saeed Ajmal’s controversial action:

The ICC is reluctant to discuss bowling actions in detail because officials fear the subject is too complicated to explain.

So it comes to this: a fundamental rule guiding cricket — how to bowl a ball — may be so difficult to adjudicate that only scientists ensconced in a university in Australia can have the final say. There are two ways to react: the first, like many conservatives, is to say all this “science,” however nobly intended, ultimately aims to concentrate power in the hands of the few, dictate choices that otherwise should be decided democratically, and obscures ambiguities and nuances in favor of propaganda. The second is to take the European approach: look, how to figure out what is “fair” when rain disrupts a match is really hard, so we might as well ask some freaking smart people to come up with a system and follow it.

This dilemma speaks to one of the more irksome elements of modernity: as life becomes more complicated and enmeshed, administrative and bureaucratic entities have to arise to allow everyday life to function. Cricket was a pre-modern game in many respects, but television (and the major financial resources at stake) have changed it, so much so that fans (and, more to the point, broadcasters) will not accept “match disrupted by rain” or an umpire’s error as the dictates of fate. At its heart, the conservative reaction is: why not accept that human knowledge is limited and lower your ambitions for a perfect society? The liberal counterpoint: Isn’t it clear we’re making more progress over the years? Isn’t it clear that the modern society can’t be run by the same rules that guided farmers and artisans in the 15th century? Don’t you prefer a 32-over game to nothing?

But even though I’m more of a liberal in real life, I like my cricket conservative. I don’t have any particular animosity to DRS, or Duckworth-Lewis, or even the 15-degree rule — I accept that the science behind them is generally rigorous (even if Hawkeye still freaks me out a little bit). But I worry these technocratic rules 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 love.


5 thoughts on “Is Cricket Being Overrun By Science?

  1. oponcr says:

    this comment has been playing on my mind for a few days now. Of course I am far too cynical than you and I interpret it as…”We have really allowed cheaters to bowl because powerful asian boards want it to be so and now it is far too tough for us to keep up with the lies and made up rules so leave us alone. You the paying public are too bumb for this anyways”

    In general I think cricket lost something the day the runout was outsourced to the 3rd umpire. And now it has gone too far down the path where it is on a crusade almost to define various aspects as eternal truths, and looking for technology that can test the truth when it was always meant to have a human element to it. Be it the LBW or rain.

    In my time, in less serious cricket, when a bowler chucked, he was allowed to bowl but we were free to call him a chucker.

  2. […] modern changes to the game that DuckingBeamers describes are different: I don’t have any particular animosity to DRS, or Duckworth-Lewis, or […]

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