I Have Seen Every Cricket Game

My previous post didn’t adequately express my point/issue, which is: how much of cricket is original? I’ve followed cricket consistently now for more than a decade, and like most avid fans of any modern sport, I think I’ve seen it all — ties, “down to the wire” games, breathtaking innings, match-fixing scandals, on-field eruptions, awesome spells, etc. If I’ve seen it all, why do I keep watching? This problem — call it the paradox of modern spectatorship — came to mind when the IPL broadcasters read a tweet from Amitabh Bachchan that noted that a majority of IPL 5 games had finished only in the last over. So then: if you have watched so many sixes, so many close games, doesn’t diminishing returns kick in at some point?

But approach the problem even more generally: the goal for any technically minded batsman is to replicate a shot that follows the textbook’s instructions. Head still, foot to the pitch of the ball, etc — but why do we take such joy from seeing these shots? If you’ve seen one great textbook cover drive, haven’t you seen them all? This problem may be another symptom of modernity; perhaps because of television and increased frequency, we are seeing more cricket than we should. Perhaps it’s also the fact that modern cricket emphasizes individual performance (measured rigorously by strike rates, averages, etc.), whereas in the olden days (an obvious, mythical construct, I concede), cricket was about the passage of time — a chance for a few select fans to head to a stadium, enjoy bright sunshine, and see nothing happen.

And yet, as I said in an earlier post, watching cricket highlights episodes is a chore for me. I have seen every cricket game, and yet I need to watch the next live one. And as soon as it’s over, I crave the next. But why? In college, I was introduced to the school of structuralism, a broad category of literary theory that tries to map out the ‘structures’ of stories — high, low, conflict, conflict resolution, slow, fast. I always wondered: if you know that every story has a particular recipe, why bother reading anymore? Where’s the joy in reading something you know to be merely following in the footsteps of another story?

In other words: am I only watching cricket because I’m addicted? Have we already seen every cricket game?



22 thoughts on “I Have Seen Every Cricket Game

  1. I watch for the narratives. And the narratives are *always* unique. No two are the same.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Structuralism will blow your mind, Devanshu.

      • I’m familiar with it. I fancied myself as a fiction-writer, and then a screenwriter, once upon a time and I lived and breathed these things. But– I still wasn’t convinced. Every scene, every shot, every character and every line in Kill Bill is deliberately derivative, but Kill Bill is one of the most unique movies ever made. As Ebert: “A movie isn’t about what it’s about; it’s about how it’s about it”. Everything can be boiled down to “structure” only if you have ADD. Lion King is Hamlet, and Titanic is Romeo & Juliet only if you read the three line synopsis. The experience is extraordinarily different.

        Also– just because you’ve seen something before, doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable again. How many movies have you seen repeatedly? Books? What about recounting old stories with old friends, and all other forms of nostalgia.

      • duckingbeamers says:

        Yes, all good points. In this scenario, though, cricket becomes more of a ritual — something we all do together as a shared experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I guess that’s what it is — like going to mass every Sunday, really.

  2. tulipnandu says:

    Reblogged this on tulipnandu and commented:
    One of the best articles on cricket and how it still lives in heart of every cricket lover.

  3. Krish says:

    Mostly agree. Too much of anything can be boring. So many close matches and the fact that there is not more than 1-2 wins separating all but one team makes the IPL more boring than entertaining. Also that is the reason why we don’t seek out matches like Germany v Spain in cricket whereas the same for soccer would be a big draw.

    I would suggest a few possibilities. One is of course addiction and force of habit. You are used to something and cannot stop doing it. I check Twitter and Facebook often despite the sometimes very low signal-to-noise ratio. The other is unpredictability. Even though you may recall the same thing happening in another match, you don’t know that before it happens. Yes, Australia always wins, but doesn’t mean that you didn’t follow the 1st Windies Test to the end. Hope, optimism, silliness – call it whatever you may.

    Here is another thought. I recently watched “Hum Tum”, which is basically an Indian remake of “When Harry Met Sally” and it is not even in the same league, but was still entertaining in its own way. Not even boring, even though I knew what was going to happen. For that matter, I can watch “When Harry Met Sally” (and many other movies) several times again, even though I know the plot and much of the dialogue. I could read “The Catcher in the Rye”, listen to someone like Adele, see the Maine lighthouses a hundred times before getting tired.

    Sometimes the familiar is more comforting than the new.

  4. Nice article. You link the idea of structuralism and watching any sport in an interesting way, that I really had to consider your view. But surely you learnt of post-structuralist arguments after the structuralist ones? Because, if we’re linking this to watching cricket then our own individual interpretations are more important.

    So for post-structuralists one cricket match will be interpreted differently by two different people. This, in my opinion, is what makes any game of sport worth watching. If for example, from a structuralist point of view, our opinion will not change what generally occurs in the matches and are not important, then the world of sports writing would be made redundant.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Very interesting — I was aware of post-structuralism, but couldn’t really fit in with cricket. But the idea that the fan gets to construct his own experience and interpretation of the game — that makes sense. Rather than view cricket as a narrative handed down by whomever — broadcasters, players, media, etc. — the fan gets to control what he sees and thinks.

      Of course, it doesn’t completely fit because watching sport isn’t really completely an individual exercise, right?

  5. Yeah, I think it would be difficult to find an argument that completely fits with this discussion about cricket and watching sport. But I think it’s interesting to put the structuralist and post-structuralist views together because some might say that it is an individual exercise but like you’ve said this is not always the case.

  6. Russ says:

    Great topic DB and great comments. A few random thoughts.

    – Structural theory fell out of favour before anyone had constructed an adequate theory for why certain patterns of literary forms recur (Booker attempted it, but his framework is questionable). If we were to accept that literary forms repeat because they fulfill a psychological need for particular emotional responses though, it doesn’t matter if all literature is derivative of some basic themes, nor cricket of (broadly similar) themes. What matters is that you get that particular response – albeit with diminishing returns.

    – Mathematically, the number of possible scenarios for a game to play out is impossibly large. Chess is played out across similar patterns, but remains interesting because players in weak positions know this and react against the pattern, forming new scenarios. Because cricket is a game, the exploration of different tactical responses to familiar situations retains ts interest. (Conversely the functional captaincy often seen in ODI and (to a lesser extent) T20 makes them boring and repetitive.

    – I had a quite complex cricket scoring game based around a random number generator when I was a teenager. Our brain’s tendency to see patterns means that even watching a random game, a narrative can be generated. Where it failed was at the psychological level and tactical level – a collapse wouldn’t turn into a panicked catastrophic collapse because it was just random; a batsman needing 6 runs off one ball might still work a single; a bowler couldn’t torment a particular batsman, or vice-versa.

    – Even given a common but almost completely random scenario – say 4 required off one ball – cricket is interesting for the same reason gambling is interesting – give or take money for emotional connection. You bet against your emotional response. Corollary: emotional connection is context driven. 100 consecutive 1-ball games would be less interesting than a tournament of them.

    • Gareth says:


      “Because cricket is a game, the exploration of different tactical responses to familiar situations retains ts interest. (Conversely the functional captaincy often seen in ODI and (to a lesser extent) T20 makes them boring and repetitive.”

      This for me is true. I long for test cricket because of the variety of situations it throws up, and the responses to them.

      As a New Zealand cricket fan, one of the most exciting and entertaining things is when Chris Martin bats. We all know what is likely to happen, but it’s still strangely enthralling. At the recent test vs South Africa in Dunedin, I actually had a situation where a friend at work rang me, asking if Martin had batted yet – because he’d leave work early if there was a chance to see Martin but would come after work if Martin was out. Every single ball is watched with baited breath – perhaps it’s the release of tension when a dot ball is achieved… something that should have happened (wicket), didn’t. 🙂


  7. chrisps says:

    I don’t have answers to the questions you put in this great article, but an observation: it seems peculiar to cricket (or more prevalent there) that followers are anxious about how much of the game they consume and why it is a compulsion for them. We talk, write about why we like the game more than people with other obsessions, don’t we (baseball may provide competition)? I don’t tire of hearing or reading about it.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Nice point. I think the reason we feel we have to justify our liking cricket is that it such a difficult game to truly appreciate.

  8. Samir Chopra says:

    Games of cricket are constructed by the viewer and players together, each embedded in a particular world of his own. Given the endless variations on that combination I don’t see how cricket games could fail to be unique.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      I appreciate the comment, but I don’t really care much for post-structuralism. I much prefer to view my cricket fandom as a ritual (as I say above in response to Devanshu). It’s like going to mass — you’ve heard the readings before, you know when and where to speak, and you know what’s to follow. But the mystery of the ritual remains effervescent.

      • Samir Chopra says:

        But even if it is going to mass, there are so many texts, so many ways of delivery? You mean to tell me all cover-drives for four are the same? All wins by one run are the ‘same’? Every wicket that falls off the first ball of an over in an England v. Australia game, whether played at Lord’s or the SCG? And you are changing too – do you really, really think that you are the same person as the one that saw his first game many years ago? Back then, you didn’t even know what post-structuralism was.

        My response really doesn’t have anything to do with post-structuralism.

      • Samir Chopra says:

        And, do you mean “evanescent”?

        Furthermore, it might be worth thinking about why the ritual retains the “mystery” you ascribe to it – might it be that each time, you bring something different to it, and thus, are able to ascribe different meanings, interpretations and understandings of it each time? Just calling it an unanalyzable mystery doesn’t seem very satisfying. Rituals retain a core and then get reworked and reinterpreted over time; the best ones are those that are amenable to such rich reworkings so that they are able retain this “mystery” over time.

  9. raj says:

    That’s why sports marketers try to manufacture new stars, dont they? Yes, I have seen all structures possible, possibly. A TN player shattering records in Ranji and getting selected to national side, whereupon he crumbles to pieces mentally is amongst the most predictable patterns you’d see in Indian cricket. Yet, I have watched this unfold(with the same passion) right from L Sivarama to M Vijay.

    Now you know why Kohli is being sold as the new Tendulkar, donty you??

  10. […] my post on repetition in cricket, Samir Chopra challenged my thesis: You mean to tell me all cover-drives for four are the same? All […]

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