I have been offered free tickets for a cricket match by a couple of people and I refused, much to their surprise.
I do not follow cricket. In a country where everyone else does, that makes me bit of an oddity. There was a time when I did, sometimes quite passionately, but not anymore. There is something being played on the cricketing field but the game is dead.
Cricket is the quintessential English game. For better or worse it embodied the English class system with its emphasis on the amateur and good gamesmanship. There was a strict code of honour that governed conduct on the field and above all it was a game. Something to played with spirit but with no real emphasis on winning.
When professional players entered the game, the class system was enforced through separate entrances and, if I am not mistaken separate dressing rooms. To this day there are doors marked "Gentlemen" and "Players" at many an ancient cricketing arena.
The scorecard distinguished between the two by the way their names appeared. Amateurs (gentlemen) had their initials precede their surnames whereas with professionals their initials followed the surname. Thus, M.C.Cowdrey and P.B.H.May but Trueman F.S. and Statham J.B. This practice was discontinued in 1962 but not much else changed.
The English took their games with them and cricket took root in the colonies but retained the basic character of the English game. In Ceylon, as presumably everywhere else, school coaches started by emphasizing manners, before anything else was taught. The golden rules were, never show dissent, always obey the umpire, always walk, never claim a dead catch. Contrast that with what happens on the field now.
The game started to die with the introduction of money and the single biggest villain was Kerry Packer. Not unexpectedly he was brash outsider, an Australian businessmen.
He brought money into the game and with it, coloured clothing,day/night matches and much else. When he took his proposals to the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), the body which controlled cricket at the time, the MCC were aghast and he was rightly shown the door. Packer then had the cheek to go and form his own World Series Cricket, signing on the top players of the era; the Daily Mail headline of May 9, 1977 read: "The World's Top Cricketers Turn Pirate"
World Series Cricket lasted only until 1979 but the damage was done and many of the Packer innovations were included in the game. The arrival of first the neutral umpire and then the third umpire were more steps down the slippery slope.
The last nail in the coffin was the launch of the 20/20 IPL league in India earlier this year. Complete with players auctions and dancing girls the playing arena now resembles a circus than the cricket field of old.
What is taking place on the field is not the gentleman's game but professional sport, which is in essence a part of the entertainment industry. Fittingly this takes place in India, home of Bollywood and its extension, the IPL league.
The blurring of the line between field and screen went a step further when several Sri Lankan cricketers starred in a Bollywood film.
Cricket had a pretty good innings, but I think it has now died out almost everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere. Followers of the old game can still catch glimpses of it at the Cricket Club Cafe where old matches are sometimes aired. One can see scrawny, weedy looking Indians, gangly West Indians and slightly pot-belied Englishmen toiling away under the sun, the shaking of hands when a wicket is taken and a pat on the back when a batsman reaches a century. It all seems so quaint and old fashioned now.