A Vague Feeling of Concern

My name is Brian. I like cricket.

Although I still like to think of myself as relatively young, I have been watching cricket for forty years. In many ways my life, especially during the English summer months, is dominated by cricket. I have to wash, and dress, and eat, and work for a living, but cricket is always somewhere near to the forefront of my mind. I've been going to Test and county matches regularly since 1975, and to say that I've watched a lot of cricket on television would be a ridiculous understatement. It would be a bit like saying that Sachin Tendulkar could just about hold a bat, or that Don Bradman made the odd run at a decent average.

I've read many cricket books and I've also been known to write about the game.

For all this, though, I have never seen a match in the Indian Premier League.

I've seen bits of it, of course, but never a complete game. In its formative years it was broadcast on Setanta and I didn't have a subscription. Therefore, I never got into the habit of watching it, and, now that I can see it, I find that I don't really want to bother. Besides which, I am always at work when the matches are taking place and I haven't yet managed to find a job in which I am allowed to watch cricket.

So, largely, it goes on without me.

I have heard about it, though. And I'm not sure I like it.

S.A.Rennie's recent piece Gamechangers, put some of the obvious concerns in typically punchy and elegant fashion:

'The death of Test cricket has been predicted before, and fair enough, it is still with us, but one could also say it’s these continually raised concerns that have reminded us of how much in the way of tradition and history we stand to lose. The erosion, though, has now reached a point of insidious acceleration. Pietersen was bought during the transfer window for this year’s IPL by Delhi in a deal reportedly worth US$2.3 million. For becoming the number one Test team, England received a cheque for US$175,000. Add to that the increasing frequency of two-Test series and the cancellation – sorry, “postponement” until 2017 – of the ICC Test Championship, and while it’s not quite barbarians-at-the-gates stuff, Test cricket’s fortifications could definitely do with some strengthening.

I do enjoy the IPL, albeit in moderation – like the coke-snorting yuppie who gatecrashes your party and drinks all your champagne, it does tend to go on a bit. I’m all for embracing change and accept that the game must adapt in this current economic climate. But some things are so valuable, you cannot measure them in money, and you cannot tear down a load-bearing beam in your house because the woodworm have taken a chomp at it and it doesn’t quite fit in with your snazzy new decor. It’s all about balance. Sure, you could probably make a home in the rubble if you needed to, but would you really want to live there?'

I concur with this. As I said earlier, I like to think of myself as being as young and trendy as the average forty-six year-old who remembers Stuart Binny's father bowling England out (which isn't very young or trendy, of course), and I don't have a problem with T20 per se. In fact, when you get home from work on a gloomy June evening and you just want to slump on the sofa and watch some six-hitting, good old English Twenty20 (the original, if not the best) fits the bill very nicely.

It's just that it's the long-form game that I see most of and which I prefer. And, in England, Test matches are still important. Lots of people, some of whom are sober, go to them and they are an indelible part of the nation's sporting fabric. Round my way, County Championship cricket even draws groups of people large enough to be termed crowds. It matters.

Is this still the case in India?

The IPL chimes with contemporary India's perception of itself as a vibrant, thriving, commercially articulate democracy. Increasingly, you have to wonder whether Test cricket, with its recent overtones of decay and repeated humiliation, can ever be made to feel important there again. The IPL is India, modern and highly educated, the world at its feet and at its cricket grounds. Test cricket carries echoes and reminders of a less glorious past. For every cover-driven six (Or 'DLF maximum'. See, I've absorbed the language by osmosis.) by Sachin Tendulkar that hints at the game's (and, by extension, India's) glamorous future there are Praveen Kumar's stumps being shattered by Stuart Broad, which hints at the past, a past where India are 0 for 4 at Headingley or they are bowled out for 42 at Lord's, or it is Sabina Park and half the team is injured as they slide to defeat.

In England the future of the longer game appears assured by a respect for tradition that can be hard to define and explain. In India, it seems (and, writing from distance, I may be wrong), this is a feeling that is not so pervasive or strong. The IPL is modern, it is brash, it is glamorous and it is commercially successful in the free market. For that it is king. Test cricket, in its turn, is left to wither on the vine.

And, increasingly in cricket, where India leads, others follow.

And I'm not sure I like it.


Chrispscricket said...

Brian, I don't like it either.

I can see a scenario in which the Indian Authorities, after the retirement of certain players, withdraw from Test cricket. I intend to watch as much Test cricket as I can in case this plausible step starts its unravelling. Not as sure that I'll sit through an entire IPL game by then, though.


Thiru Cumaran said...

You're not alone, Brian.

During the first 3 seasons, I did watch most of the matches with unbridled enthusiasm at the number of sixes that were being hit and the nail-biting finishes.

However, that enthusiasm has dimmed down during the last season and the current one, largely due to have taken up a job which has literally taken over most of my life. Now, the IPL merely serves, purely, as a source of entertainment. The 1-2 hours between the time I get back home and the time I sleep, which used to be occupied by movies and TV shows, are now occupied by the IPL.

I barely have an idea of who tops the run tables, who tops the wicket charts, or what each team needs to do to get into the playoffs. The interest is purely from an entertainment perspective, and I feel that it should be left at that.

Though this season seems to have captured more interest, largely due to the close finishes, nothing beats a close finish in a test match.

The best part about close finishes in test matches is that the suspense and thrill can last for the best part of 7 hours, which can lead to frayed nerves, but leaves us with plenty of memories.

The 3-test series, played by England in SL in 2007, brings back quite some memories. The first 2 matches concluded in good nail-biting fashion, with the England batsmen hanging on for dear life on spinning pitches, having successfully thwarted the threats of Murali, Dharmasena and Jayasuriya to get both matches drawn (the first by 1 wicket, the second by 4 wickets).

It really is a truly unique and thrilling experience, watching each ball spin madly and the batsmen groping around, the bowlers & fielders ooh-ing and aah-ing, and the frequent shouts of expletives and other colourful language from those of us watching the match.

I'm not trying to belittle the IPL but, truth be told, the organizers are promoting it as a form of entertainment (not sport), and I prefer to treat it as such.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Chris.

While I'm not sure how quickly it'll happen, I've felt for a while that we'll come to the point where certain countries stop playing Test cricket. England and Australia will continue, but they can't just play each other, so you'd have to hope that South Africa would too. I'm not sure about New Zealand - cricket's a pretty marginal game there - and as for the others, who knows? If India were to take the lead, others (with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and perhaps the West Indies the leading candidates) would probably follow.

The ICC has the power to make this much less likely, but they don't seem very interested in doing so, which is very sad.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Thiru.

As I've written before, I think Twenty20 has many merits purely as an alternative version of the game, and I think the English brand has stayed just the right side of the sport/entertainment divide, which is why I enjoy it (although there are too many games). As you say, the IPL has probably gone a little too far the other way, which is not to say it's without merit.

I have no probalem at all with the existence of the IPL - if I was a professional cricketer I'd be desperate to participate in it - it's what it could lead to that concerns me.

Backwatersman said...

What particularly worries me is the extent to which the English domestic game has become focussed on producing a successful England side, and how much it depends on the revenue generated by international cricket for its survival. I can't think of any other major sport that operates in this way (certainly not football or rugby league, and not rugby union either - or not in Leicester anyway). It seems to me to devalue the domestic game and make it horribly vulnerable to the kind of changes you suggest might take place on the international scene.

I suspect this is why I was less than overjoyed by last year's series against India - it seemed to foreshadow a future where a good - but not great - England side steamroller a series of sides who've lost interest in test cricket. There may well be a market for watching that among the English public - but I'm afraid it doesn't include me.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Backwatersman.

A very good point. I hadn't thought about the possible consequences for domestic cricket of a long-term reduction in Test matches, but of course you're right.

I hope, obviously, that we both turn out to be wrong on this.

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