There are two things about this picture that I must say.
One, Brian Close was in his forties when he faced the terrifying Holding and the rest of the 70’s Windies pace-attack. ‘Forbidding’ doesn’t begin to describe them. Holding his own against them despite a steady battering, is both brave and remarkable, especially for a batsman of Close’s limited capability.
Second, images and videos from that era, till about the end of the last decade, appear to me to be subtextual eulogies to the game of cricket, as it was. Those happy days of skill and glory, I am fairly certain, will never be here again, despite higher delivery speeds in a few contemporary fast bowlers. Never, that is, unless one holds the BCCI down by the scruff of its neck, and forces a structure that demands transparency, descipline, technique and talent back into both international national formats of the game.
In other words, and to repeat myself, happy days will never be here again.
It’s not that I love the hit-and-miss days of inadequate protective gear and killing pitches without reservation. I’ve never been one for the thrill of the killing fields. Neither am I the mealy-mouthed grinch who wants young cricketers to be deprived of obscenely high remunerations (although I do have a few sharp things to say when public funds are redirected to congratulatory gifts for them). But as someone that money is eventually being made off, I would like to get some bang for my buck. You know? Some actual cricket in my matches. If that isn’t too much to ask for. Tests, I may literally no longer have time for, but I certainly miss the pleasure of watching clever field placements, well-thought-out bowling attacks, and shrewdly-amassed innings that even a decent fifty-overs’ match offers.
Twenty20s, on the other hand, are primarily a great deal of flash and jump at the fringes of the actual game. It is also the most obscene spectacle of blatant flesh-trading I’ve ever seen, and I speak as one who has watched post-election MP-trading in India for years.
Had this hobson-jobsoning amounted to something worthwhile for the audience, I’d have kept shut. Hell, more power to players who can make teams run after them with bundles of cash and incentives, by sheer dint of performance (and a great agent). But the prime function of the Twenty20s, sportswise, appears to be squishing talent and skill out of the young pool, by de-incentivising actual performance over mere inclusion or on-field appearance. And that’s to speak nothing of the betting and fixing.
The Popularity Myth
Supporters of the format, however, keep telling me not to be such a stick in the mud, because Twenty20 has done the near-impossible. It has brought popularity back to the game. It has made cricket fashionable again.
Which is a lovely warm plate of dee-licious tripe.
First, as I’ve verbosely underlined above, I’m actively discouraged from considering this form of the game ‘real’ cricket at all, by virtue of its practice of rewarding parody-like playing skills. But one might dismiss this as a subjective opinion. Very well then. Second, despite the IPL being one of the most valuable sporting franchise in the world, I haven’t noticed global interest in the game spike noticeably since it kicked off. Have you? Weren’t Japan, Spain, Uzbekistan, and China pitching teams for a World Championship event last April? No? Ah, I must be thinking of figure skating.
In the ICC World Cup last April, 14 teams qualified. In the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships last April, disrupted by the Tokyo quakes and shifted to Moscow at the last minute, 44 countries competed. And this is a game whose spread is limited by the availability of ice.
I rest my case. Or no, hang on, I don’t.
Esprit de Corps [or, the Cricket-Zombie]
The whole thing about cricket being a gentleman’s game has taken quite a beating since postcol. times, since the conflation of ‘gentleman’ with ‘white man of birth and means’ (or simply ‘white man’ in the settle colonies like Australia and New Zealand) was challenged by teams from the subcontinent and the West Indies. But there was still a certain code to the game, overt racism and Bodylines notwithstanding. The definition of masculinity was somewhat different. There also wasn’t this degree of access to disposable income and the power of celebrity — and yes, I do keep in mind the feminine personal effects thrown at the 70’s and 80’s stars sometimes, possibly by women (and some men) who hadn’t watched a full day’s match in their lives.
Lately, however, manipulating media and the commodities market to let popularity for the game be centred completely on personas and not their cricketing abilities has, to my mind, given rise to rather a dangerous culture of entitled little boys with their own clean-up crews, eager to piss on hoi-polloi who give them so much and demand so little in return. Largely because they can. Although I’m told it’s a rigorous game in it’s own way, the reason I can’t bring myself to like American football, for instance, is because to someone standing outside the culture, it looks exactly like contemporary T20 cricket will look like in half a decade’s time: a bullies coterie of spoilt little boys, hiding behind masses of padding just to play rough rugby on field, and swanning about like frat boys with a party-pass to the whole world beyond it.
Quite apart from the ridiculous immaturity and insecurity it radiates, the layers of physical and legal protection, coupled with artificially-pumped adrenalin and testosterone levels around this new culture of games, take the sporstman spirit right out of it, and makes it a diminished-responsibility chest-thumping arena for mentally lazy shows of arrogance and shallow aggression.
It isn’t a pretty picture. And it’s got claws.