Thursday, February 05, 2009

The demise of cricket, a game played by gentlemen

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.


DeeCee said...

oo...take cover... you might see things thrown at you..


psst - I don't follow cricket either!

Jerry said...

People get what they want, I guess. People like entertainment. Though most amateur/school games are still pretty much unchanged.

Though I enjoy the new, flashy, baseball like version of it too.

Serendib_Isle said...

Very interesting – coming from someone who doesn’t follow cricket. I hope Cricketing Traditions in our schools remain unchanged and I don’t get to witness players enter the field with a “dialog” shirt.

Sachintha said...

I disagree with you on two counts.

But before that, let me clarify, this comment is coming from an ardent TEST cricket fan as they come. I would chose to watch a good, gripping game of Test over a WC Final. 'Nuff said.

Now, first, no I don't think cricket is a gentleman's game. It may have been in the 19th century. Not anymore. This is a game where people did all sorts of thing to 'win'. Remember bodyline? Drugs? Match fixing? Sledging at it's best? Not walking? And they happend before Kerry Packer as well.

Second is, cricket IS all about entertainment. You see, I'll give you a good example. Jack Kallis has an exceptional record. Almost similar to Garry Sobers, and far superior to Sanath Jayasuriya. But who are the entertainers? In years to come, will people discuss Kalli's impressive record over dinner table? Maybe a few Saffers will, but I think most others would chose to discuss an outrageous innings by Santh or the class of Sobers than Kallis. That is what cricket is all about - entertainment. People will always remember entertainers, not necessarily good crickers...

So... my point is like everything else in life cricket too change. Change is the one thing that does not change, isn't it?

We just have to accept it and enjoy it along the way.

I know, for me there's nothing like Test cricket, but ODIs and T20s are here to stay. We might as well learn to live with them...

Jack Point said...

Sachintha, thanks for visiting. The post is not entirely serious and broadly, I agree that to survive, it needs to adapt but on the way something of the old spirit has been lost.

Perhaps you are right about it not being a gentleman's game in the twentieth century but player behaviour has deteriorated a great deal over the last decade or two. There were characters like Dennis Lillee who were always in trouble but on the whole it was an exception.

Have a look at some of the old matches from the 70's or early 80's at the Cricket Club Cafe and the difference is palpable.

Records have also become meaningless: Murali taking 500 or 600 wickets, many of them coming against cannon fodder like Zimbabwe, Bangladesh can hardly be compared to Trueman, Gibbs or Sobers.