Category Archives: Coverage

Cricket Sightings in America: Downton Abbey Edition

An occasional series of cricket sightings in the home of the brave, to accompany my related effort to catalog Aaron Sorkin’s love for the game (see here, here and here). Episode 1 is slightly misleading — the show Downton Abbey is made in England, but it’s been discovered by the Americans (to paraphrase Ashis Nandy):

Forward defense

Advertisements

Just Who — Or What — Is Shane Watson?

Does anyone know what, who, or why Shane Watson is? Are we fascinated/infuriated with him because we cannot understand him? How can someone alternate so quickly and so often from injured to essential to needy to demanding to invaluable? From Cricinfo, an almost-daily exercise in trying to uncover Watson’s true nature:

watson1 watson9 watson8 watson7 watson6 watson5 watson4watson10

The Poetry Of Bishen Bedi

Taken from here; inspired by this; [and a previous post on the poetry of Waqar Younis]:

————-

When you buy a shirt,

A pair of trousers,

How do you buy it?

It is very simple:

You

give

a

few

runs,

You

buy

a

wicket.

——————–

Flight is a trajectory,

It is a loop It is

Quickish in the air

But,

It has a rainbow effect.

——————–

If the batsman is shaking his head

While negotiating the spinning ball,

Then advantage bowler.

If you are setting a field for bad bowling,

Advantage batsmen.

———————-

“Right areas” is not on the 22 yards of the playing surface;

“Right areas” is the six inches between your ears.

You have to plan a strategy;

You have to plan a man out.

——————–

What is the job of the batsmen?

To score runs.

What is the job of the bowler?

To get wickets.

When Cricket Takes A Back Seat

Sorry for the no-posting of late, but the East Coast heat wave and rain in England have conspired to put cricket on my back burner for now.

And, well, there’s also Wimbledon. I could be wrong, but I believe there is a sizable bunch of mid- and upper-class Indians, particularly Goans (like myself), who count the two weeks at Wimbledon among the best parts of the year. It’s when my Anglophilia comes into full blossom — even if it periodically raises questions about why I like such exclusive events like cricket at Lord’s or finals at Wimbledon (where tickets may reach around $20,000 if Andy Murray beats J. Tsonga). Is my inner snob crying out?

How Tough Is It Being The Wicketkeeper?

The New York Times ran an article last week on Russell Martin, a catcher for the Yankees. The position, which requires someone to squat behind the batter in baseball and catch the pitch, is the closest thing to the wicketkeeper in cricket, and it’s no surprise theTimes calls it the “toughest position” of the sport:

Getting down for the next pitch — again and again, across scores of games and hundreds of innings and in service of thousands of pitches — is the essence of Martin’s job. He is, as a professional baseball catcher, at once trusted and vital, exposed and embattled, relied on by his team and most likely underappreciated by fans.

From the first day of training camp in late winter until the end of the season in the fall, a catcher will make innumerable critical decisions affecting the outcomes of games. He will take hundreds of tipped and bouncing balls into dozens of protected and unprotected parts of his body.

And he will put untold stress and wear on his knees, legs, back and neck. Just by getting into his position.

“It’s the hardest position to play, by far,” Tim McCarver said. “People don’t realize half of what goes into it.”

Catchers pick up all sorts of deformities — their fingers and wrists get cut and bent out of shape; their thigh muscles grow disproportionately; the mental exhaustion of the routine is a killer. Read the whole article — even though it’s about baseball, it gives you a very good idea of the commitment and strength required by the position in cricket. Actually, I imagine it’s slightly harder in cricket because wicketkeepers are also expected to contribute with the bat after spending an innings squatting and standing.

 

Jason Alexander’s Gay Cricket Joke

Via The Daily Dish, I see that Jason Alexander (known chiefly for Seinfeld, but for me, Dunston Checks In) apologized for calling cricket “gay” on Craig Ferguson’s late-night show. The apology is actually pretty deep and well-thought; I recommend all read it in full. But here’s the cricket part:

Years ago, I was hosting comics in a touring show in Australia and one of the bits I did was talking about their sports versus American sports. I joked about how their rugby football made our football pale by comparison because it is a brutal, no holds barred sport played virtually without any pads, helmets or protection. And then I followed that with a bit about how, by comparison, their other big sport of cricket seemed so delicate and I used the phrase, “ a bit gay”. Well, it was all a laugh in Australia where it was seen as a joke about how little I understood cricket, which in fact is a very, very athletic sport. The routine was received well but, seeing as their isn’t much talk of cricket here in America, it hasn’t come up in years.

Until last week. When Craig mentioned cricket I thought, “oh, goody – I have a comic bit about cricket I can do. Won’t that be entertaining?”. And so I did a chunk of this old routine and again referred to cricket as kind of “gay” – talking about the all white uniforms that never seem to get soiled; the break they take for tea time with a formal tea cart rolled onto the field, etc. I also did an exaggerated demonstration of the rather unusual way they pitch the cricket ball which is very dance-like with a rather unusual and exaggerated arm gesture. Again, the routine seemed to play very well and I thought it had been a good appearance.

Three quick observations: 1) When American media personalities talk about cricket, they usually portray it as a hopelessly complicated upper-class English pursuit. It’s easy to see how ‘effeminate’ and ‘upper-class’ are linked in Alexander’s mind, because gay culture in America is often portrayed that way (think Queer Eye for a Straight Guy, or Tim Gunn on Project Runway). A while back, Esquire magazine did a fashion spread on cricket that highlighted the sweaters and caps and whites. Alas, it’s rare to see cricket the way it is — an extraordinarily diverse game that is increasingly centered among the Indian (rich-middle-class-poor) masses.

2) It’s funny that Alexander mentions the all-whites and the tea-cart on the pitch (which doesn’t actually happen) because he’s referring here to traditions that mostly come from the Victorian era of the game. As this article argues, the Victorians didn’t view cricket as an exercise in joy and self-expression (as “Georgian laxity” allowed); they saw cricket as a way to assert order, morality and a particular notion of masculinity. In other words, the modern game of cricket, which takes many cues from the Victorian era, descends from a period that viewed homosexuality as deeply aberrant; indeed, in India, to say someone “chucks” — that is, to say someone does not bowl with the ‘exaggerated gesture’ Alexander finds so funny — is equivalent to calling him gay. (When I grew up in Bombay in the 1990s, a “chuck” was a deeply offensive word.)

3) I should note that I’ve heard more than a few Indian fans call bad bowlers “gay,” and it’s never been clear to me if they’re using the term the way schoolboys do (i.e., anything pejorative is gay), or if it’s something deeper. In India, there is an almost universal belief that Pakistani bowlers are better because they eat meat and are Muslim and are warriors and are masculine (etc. etc.); my grandmother once told me Javagal Srinath would improve his strike-rate if he dropped his veg diet. And I think we all spent most of the past two decades comparing India’s “masculinity” versus Australia’s: Why can’t we curse and sledge the way they do? Why can’t we bat against the short ball the way they do? Why do we lack the KILLER INSTINCT? It’s not a line of inquiry I’d spend much time on.

Final question: does anyone know any openly gay cricketers?

Ashis Nandy And Cricket

Tehelka has a great profile of psychologist/anthropologist/cultural-critic Ashis Nandy, whose Tao of Cricket I recommend to one and all. Excerpt:

If it was the bottom-up energies of hindi cinema that Nandy found irresistible, ironically it was the top-down construct of cricket that he found compelling. he has been drawn to his two principal tropes for opposite reasons. He saw cricket as part of the imperial project: “It’s not an accident that cricket, not football, was shown as England’s national sport to Indians.”

The arcane rules; the umpire in the white coat who is infallible and inviolable; the constrained aggression; the idea that the close-in fielders are not opponents but the first line of spectators before whom you must not behave in a ‘wrong’ manner: it was Nandy who demonstrated that the cricket match was a means of sublimating colonial class hierarchies.

To Indians it became a means to grapple with issues of ethics and chance. “Cricket is a game of fate passed off as a game of skill,” Nandy argues, “it is not a game against the opposition; it is a game against your own destiny. The weather conditions may change when you are batting, the ball may swing more when the opposition is bowling. That’s why I used it to explore, for instance, the phenomenon of astrology.” The full name of his frequently quoted book of 1989 is telling: The Tao of Cricket: On Games of Destiny and the Destiny of Games.

The profile doesn’t quote the most famous line from the book, which is something like: Cricket is a game invented by the English but discovered by Indians. Read the whole thing if you’re interested in a model for analyzing cricket for larger cultural lessons.

Has The Quality of Cricket Gotten Better Over Time?

Once upon a time, researchers who studied IQ trends puzzled over a paradox: studies consistently showed that identical twins (i.e., same genes) did about the same on IQ tests even when they were separated at birth. At the same time, however, studies show that IQ scores have generally risen over time. The first finding would suggest that environmental changes do not matter; the second suggests that obviously something has happened — more nutrition? Better health? Better education? — to make for smarter people.

The person who largely solved this paradox — James R. Flynn — did so by coming up with the concept of individual and social “multipliers.” Say you and your twin brother are separated at birth and grow up tall and sturdy and with a love for basketball. Once you reach P.E. class, your height may help — teams will pick you to be on their side; coaches will take an interest; you’ll start practicing more; you get better. In other words, there is a feedback loop in which your genes (height+strength) upgraded your environment (training+teams+coach+practice).

But it’s the social multiplier I’m particularly interested in. Here’s Flynn on an example:

Look at what the industrial revolution did to basketball by the invention of TV. It gave basketball a mass audience, it increased the pay a professional player could expect.  Wider and keener participation raised the general skill level, you had to shoot more and more accurately to excel.  That higher average performance fed back into play:  Those who learned to shoot with either hand became the best — and then they became the norm — which meant you had to be able to pass with either hand to excel — and then that became the norm — and so forth.  Every escalation of the average population performance raised individual performance, which escalated the average performance further, and you get a huge escalation of basketball skills in a single generation.

Fascinating, no? The obvious question for me is: will television make for better cricketers? I’d say that the first cohort that grew up with televised cricket is only now reaching international cricket (that is, people born in the mid-1980s in India). It’s entirely plausible that constantly watching cricket, slow-motion replays, commentator deconstructions, pressure situations, etc. will make cricketers more intelligent and talented than the previous generation. And it’ll be even more interesting to see how the game changes as television in India increases its penetration (according to Wikipedia, roughly 150 million Indian households had TV in 2011).

Television, of course, isn’t the only “social multiplier” — as more Indians start to make money, they may spend more on leisure or coaching for their kids, increasing the talent pool. But since I’ve spent so much time on this blog bashing the effects of TV on cricket, I’d thought I’d credit it with at least broadening the appeal and participation of the game. I put this question to you: Do you think the quality of cricket you’re watching is better now than before? And if so, in what way — is the batting demonstrably better? Has fielding changed?

 

Linear Thinking Watch

This is an old hobbyhorse of mine: You can’t assume that a match result would have been different if a particular incident during the match didn’t occur. For example: Rajasthan Royals lost by one run against the Deccan Chargers. In the last over, the umpire didn’t call a wide. Ergo, the Royals owner tweets, if we had that wide (an extra run, an extra ball), we would have won. Not really, as I wrote before:

This logic assumes a linear narrative — that is, batsman is dropped, batsman goes on to score runs, therefore, drop led to defeat. But it’s also entirely possible that different realities are created with each ball.

Who knows what would have happened if that wide was called? The batsman, calmed by an extra ball, may have reacted differently to the next one. The bowler, angry that he had given away an extra at such a crucial point, may have found the inspiration to pull off an in-swinging yorker. It’s silly to focus one missed chance and view it as the “cause” of the loss; if anything, I’d blame the Royals for losing from a position of 15 off 12.

If anyone wants to use this post as an opportunity to teach me about chaos theory, please go ahead. Otherwise, I’ll be hosting a viewing of Sliding Doors later. You’re all invited.

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?