Category Archives: Assimilation

Cricket In The USA

Cricinfo has a fairly instructive piece on the challenges facing cricket in America (which will host a New Zealand v. Sri Lanka T20 shortly). Generally, I’m a skeptic; I don’t see people other than expats or immigrants (from the West Indies and South Asia, in particular) carrying this game forward. But I don’t know much about sports development.

I did want to point out another thing: when Americans talk about cricket, they usually view it as a upper-class game. On NPR’s Fresh Air show last year, the host told the author of Netherland — a cricket novel — that she was surprised his book centered around Indian/West Indian immigrants, given that the game is so British. (And ‘British’ was code for upper-class, along with Wimbledon and tea.) A couple of years ago, Esquire magazine did a spread on “cricket fashion,” and it was what you would expect: prep boys dressed in Test cricket sweaters and whites.

In 2005, two authors of a New York Times editorial relied on the classist argument to explain cricket’s mysterious death in America after the 19th century:

This elite appropriation played into the hands of baseball entrepreneurs who actively worked to diminish cricket’s popularity. A.G. Spalding, described in the Baseball Hall of Fame as the “organizational genius of baseball’s pioneer days,” was typical. “I have declared cricket is a genteel game,” he mocked in “America’s National Game,” his 1911 best seller. “It is. Our British cricketer, having finished his day’s labor at noon, may don his negligee shirt, his white trousers, his gorgeous hosiery and his canvas shoes, and sally forth to the field of sport, with his sweetheart on one arm and his cricket bat under the other, knowing that he may engage in his national pastime without soiling his linen or neglecting his lady.”

The Uniformity Of Modern Cricket

Harsha Bhogle has an interesting new column in Cricinfo about the rote-learning at Indian cricket “academies”:

Ten-year-old kids are going to academies of various hues, largely dubious, to learn the forward-defensive stroke and the cover drive. They must learn almost by rote, and therefore not too differently from the way they study history; they are taught about where the front foot should be, about how bat and pad must go together, where the elbow should be, where the toe should point, about how the follow-through must end with the bat over the left shoulder. All perfectly correct, except that they don’t learn to hit a ball; instead, they become obedient pupils.

Bhogle’s point mainly deals with the danger of “mollycoddling” coaches, but I think there’s a bigger problem in store with cricket if most of its recruits learn at the hands of textbooks and manuals. Because of its geographic and ethnic diversity, cricket has always produced its outliers and eccentrics — Murali and Mendis; Jack Russell and his strange wicketkeeping stance; Paul Adams and his unbelievable bowling action.

More broadly, there are different types of players (consolidators, Michael Bevan-type pinch-hitters; Jayasuriya/Sehwag openers). I’m not saying Bombay alleys are the ideal breeding ground for cricketers, but I think there should be a fair enough space left for experimentation and fun. Rahul Dravid is beautiful to behold, with his classical shots, but we all need a little Dilshan scoop now and then.

The IPL Cheerleader Question (2)

Kanishk Kapoor makes some very good points about IPL’s dubious sexual politics:

But I can’t just grit my teeth or laugh it off. Regular viewers of the IPL are now familiar with the sight of leering spectators separated from the cheerleaders in some stadiums by cage-like fences, an image that brings the cricket arena uncomfortably close to a zoo. It is the larger dichotomy suggested by this unfortunate image that I find troubling, that of Indian men ogling mostly white, non-Indian women. All too common in India is the belief in the licentiousness of foreign women. In recent years, stories of sexual violence against tourists in India have proliferated, a tragic byproduct in some cases of the impression that foreign women are naturally promiscuous. While I wouldn’t draw a direct line between IPL cheerleaders and such incidences, the very nature of IPL cheerleading as a spectacle feeds deeper, insidious notions about race and sexuality in India.

The paucity of Indian cheerleaders tells its own story. In a country where an entire film industry is sustained by beautiful women dancing, it is hard to believe that the appropriate “talent” is missing. The choice made by IPL organisers in this regard suggests, first, the unsettling marketing conclusion that Indians really just want to see white skin. Second, and perhaps more troubling still, it suggests a quiet acquiescence to the view of the conservative elements of society that Indian women are somehow more sacred and less carnal than their western counterparts. Not for them the tight tops and bared thighs of IPL cheerleading. Just like the licentious foreign woman, the idea of the modest Indian woman is closer to fiction than truth. It is the kind of fantasy that animates attacks on girls who had the “audacity” to have a drink at a pub (as happened in Mangalore last year). It is an ideal that masks the sexual violence perpetrated against Indian women on a daily basis (an issue about which I have written in these web pages before).

The IPL Cheerleaders Question

I don’t know who Tanya Aldred is, but she makes a good point about the IPL cheerleaders on Cricinfo:

2 Why are the cheerleaders all white? Aren’t there any Indian dancers? Surely they could dress in a culturally acceptable way if crop tops are not considered de rigeur. Or wouldn’t they be Caucasian enough to attract the American market? Am I missing something obvious here?

I’ve addressed my own concerns with the cheerleaders here. There are two ways to be bothered about them: the first is the sexism question (cheerleading turns women into objects, especially in the context of cricket, which has absolutely no role for women, not even as umpires). The second is the post-colonial question, which Aldred touches on: why adopt an American tradition in India, and that too in an all-white reincarnation? (You have to be careful about this line of attack, lest you find yourself next to some parochial Shiv Sainik going on about the dangers of Valentine’s Day. I think there’s a difference, of course, between a couple voluntarily choosing to do something on a particular day, and a mass audience being exposed to images on television while trying to watch a cricket game.)

Hitler And Cricket

Via Alex Massie, this delightful article talks about Hitler’s brief brush with cricket. The game apparently didn’t suit the Fuhrer, who thought it wasn’t sufficiently masculine:

“He had conned over [sic] the laws of cricket, which he considered good enough no doubt for pleasure-loving English people. But he proposed entirely altering them for the serious- minded Teuton.” Specifically, he “advocated the withdrawal of the use of pads. These artificial ‘bolsters’ he dismissed as unmanly and un-German . . . in the end he also recommended a bigger and harder ball.”

The article raises a more difficult question: is cricket inherently democratic? Given that its spread depended on decidedly imperialist origins, cricket may not be the best candidate for liberalism. (My American friends uniformly bring up this point when they ask how I, of an Indian origin, can like the colonizer’s game.) And, really, you don’t want to give cricket too much credit lest you fall into all that nonsense about “civilizing discourse” and “White Man’s Burden.”

But Desmond Tutu made the case for cricket best last year, when he told an English audience that “you drummed into us what the world saw as ‘fair play’ and what is not ‘fair play.’” What separates cricket from others is its insistence on good manners, which is why it’s disheartening to see defenses of Graeme Swann swearing at a Bangladeshi batsman. There are other elements, of course, like the appeals process: in other games, a referee can make a decision spontaneously; in cricket, an appeal must be made first.

Think, also, about cricket accommodates and pacifies violence. You’re allowed to bowl a ball at a batsman’s head, but only twice in one over. And your object should be to test a batsman’s reflex, not kill him (this isn’t the case in, say, American football or ice hockey or perhaps even rugby, where the violence is an end in itself).

A Partial Defense of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan

I’ve said before — again and again, in fact — that I don’t like Siva.

My animus boils down to one big thing: Siva comes across as a person impersonating a commentator, rather than an actual commentator. He knows the textbook things to say, and he dutifully says it, but that doesn’t necessarily make for good television. Ravi Shastri, for instance, understands the dynamics of drama — “Now this should be interesting!” — and he knows how to manipulate his voice and tone appropriately.

But I must say I appreciate Siva in certain aspects: first, the guy knows spin. I didn’t know he coached spinners until the recent series against South Africa, when he also simply and quickly demystified the googly (“As a batsman, if you see the bowler’s back of the hand, you know it’s a googly.”). That might be common knowledge to others, but it wasn’t to me. (And it isn’t to A.B. DeVilliers either, apparently.)

Second, Siva is unmistakably a dork. That too an Indian dork: he has oil in his hair, he’s kind of demure and wears big glasses. But I realized the other day how rare that is to see on television, where only the perfectly made-up people, or cricket legends, are allowed access. The thing is, while Siva may not banter easily or show much hints of originality, he still seems more sincere than, say, Sunil Gavaskar, whose jet black-dyed hair and perfectly accented English occasionally annoys me (especially when he harshly scolds onfield cricketers for some cricket foible or the other).

Also, I think my dislike stemmed from a post-colonial insecurity. Siva’s accent used to make me cringe; the way he can’t say words like “aggression” without tripping over it. That relates to my own insecurity as an Indian in America, where I learned the difference between the ‘v’ and ‘w’ and had to deal with the Apu jokes. I wonder: why do I find Geoff Boycott’s Yorkshire accent charming, but Siva’s own embarrassing?

So, keep your job, Siva. I still prefer Ravi over you, but, really, I’m not that impressed with the rest of Neo Cricket’s crew.

Collingwood’s Golf Blunder

I see Reina, Cricket Minded and Nestaquin have all sounded off on Paul Collingwood’s gaffe:

“It won’t be easy to find a golf course in Bangladesh — if there is one, they’ll probably have wooden clubs — but if I can find a bit of grass somewhere, I’ll clear my mind by chipping balls into a net or putting along the hotel corridor.”

I’ll give Collingwood that touring the subcontinent — as a cricketer or a tourist — is not the easiest thing to do. The best, most honest account I’ve read from a Westerner came from Seth Stevenson in Slate.com (“Trying Really Hard To Like India,” Parts 1 and 2). Otherwise, most approach the place with an Orientalist perspective (the people, so spiritual! So exotic! So “friendly”), or with absolute contempt (Filthy! Smelly! Not enough baked beans and toast!)

Still, I’m always disturbed that this seems to be a one-way train, where Westerners offer their opinions about touring the developing world, but the Asians and West Indians don’t get the same privilege. When the English went on and on about the dangers of touring Pakistan — justified as it turned out — I was annoyed that they assumed touring England was that much safer:

Even England, which has been on relatively high alert since the 2005 attacks, is not immune to dangers. In 2006, the MI5 chief spoke of the range of threats his country faced:

Since [2005], the combined efforts of my Service, the police, SIS and GCHQ have thwarted a further five major conspiracies in the UK, saving many hundreds (possibly even thousands) of lives. Last month the Lord Chancellor said that there were a total of 99 defendants awaiting trial in 34 cases.

Recall the famous case of Srinavasa Ramanujan, the Indian village genius mathematician who was taken to Cambridge, but soon fell sick there, lost without his usual diet and habitat. I know the West has great roads, an occasionally balmy climate and excellent golf courses — but that doesn’t mean it’s always a walk in the park for us either, Paul.

Mrs. Amla and Mrs. Smith

Quite a jarring image on NEO Cricket: a quick shot of a burqa-clad Mrs. Amla next to a white, blonde model Mrs. Smith. Daryl Cullinan then said: “See what a cosmopolitan society we have in South Africa.”

It’s interesting, because Mrs. Amla’s South African husband, Hashim, plays like an Indian, wristy and all, in a very un-Indian squad (South Africans prefer pace to spin; straight to wristy). Cullinan noted that most South Africans don’t develop that skill because of their hard, fast pitches. “That probably explains his success in India,” Ravi Shastri replied. We often talk about “Indian” or “Australian” ways of playing cricket, but it’s always something to behold the cricketing cultures transcend political borders. (See, e.g., Kevin Pietersen, hailed as a very un-English England player at the start of his career.)

Shahid Afridi’s Bizarre Ball Tampering Apology

According to Cricinfo, Shahid Afridi offered this bizarre non-apology apology after he was caught ball-tampering:

“I shouldn’t have done it. It just happened. I was trying to help my bowlers and win a match, one match,” he told Geo TV, a Pakistan-based news channel. “There is no team in the world that doesn’t tamper with the ball. My methods were wrong. I am embarrassed, I shouldn’t have done it. I just wanted to win us a game but this was the wrong way to do it.”

Count the number of ways Afridi approaches his remorse: first, he righly admits he shouldn’t have done it. OK. But then, second, he says, it just happened (meaning, it was not pre-meditated), though chewing anything requires a fair amount of planning (hand-mouth coordination and all that). Then, and third, everyone does it (meaning, it’s something he should have done?).

As The New York Times reported this week (after Toyota flat out apologized for their faulty gas pedals), a good apology seems to have fallen out of fashion:

Examples of bad apologies abound. “ ‘I want to apologize’ is not an apology,” Ms. Weeks said. “It’s no more an apology than ‘I want to lose weight’ is a loss of weight.”

How about “I’m sorry if you were offended,” or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”? These imply that the injured party is just too sensitive. “I’ve been agonizing about this. I’ve been losing sleep. I feel so bad.” These suggest that the wronged party should take care of the apologizer. And then there’s, going on attack — “Are you going to hold this against me forever?” — if the apology isn’t immediately accepted.

For another example, see Matthew Hayden’s faux apology after he mocked Ishant Sharma’s accent.

That Dravid Bouncer…

Quite brutal stuff, though it looks like Rahul Dravid fared better than poor Daniel Flynn. But bouncers are strange things, extremely violent but also the truest expression of the game. On the one hand, you have the sheer terror of the delivery. On the other, it’s clear that bowlers don’t mean to hurt, only intimidate or draw on the mistake of reflexes. Think of the many bowlers who run to the batsmen after they fall down in a heap.

The bouncer is the fine line between savagery and civilization, which cricket nicely negotiates with its norms about good sportsmanship and fair play (and, you know, its stricture that no one should kill anyone on the field). There’s a recognition of man’s violent nature, but also the prospect that it can be properly guided and channeled in modern society.

But I wonder: does the bowler owe anything to a batsman he’s hit? It’s always cheering to see a concerned bowler, but I also love hearing the crowd roar — as if watching a Roman gladiator match — when a batsman gets hit. (Though I also liked watching a Bangladeshi in the crowd break down in tears after Dravid retired hurt.) A hurt batsman is, usually, a batsman’s fault, not a bowler’s (which is why we allow bouncers in the first place; they’re meant to test a batsman’s skill. It’s fair play, but to a point — hence the infamy of the Bodyline series).

Didn’t we all thrill inside when Harmison cut Ponting and simply turned the other cheek (back to his run-up)?