Saturday, July 4, 2009

Americanised Cricket

Roger Bate, in The American, came out with an interesting argument regarding the comparative similarities between baseball and cricket, and how the differences in the game signify differences in national character.

As the sub-title in the article says, says "Cricket and baseball are twin brothers, separated at birth." If so, they've long been twins of the Danny Devito / Arnold Schwarzenegger sort, as the nature of the games, though similar in some respects, were as different as Euchre and Bridge.

But, I'd argue, they've been re-united at long last, with age ironing out the differences. I'd also argue that Roger Bate was more than a bit off the mark about how differences in the game signified differences in national character.

For cricket purists, the one and only form of the game is test cricket, where matches can span up to five days, and where often little happens hour after hour as cautious batsmen meet cautious bowlers, both with little incentive to take a chance, act bravely but rashly, or heroically.

Test cricket was a game well suited to the nature of upper class British society, a group able to while away the hours and days in idle or not idle amusement. But for the vast majority of cricket lovers, kids, teens, and adults who played the game then and now, there was never any question of spending five days for a test match. No, they played limited overs cricket. 10 overs per side, fifteen, twenty, whatever. But there almost always would be a some sort of limitation. Very few people then and now had or have wide open schedules.

Which all means that Bate has it a bit wrong. Cricket players played cricket the way baseball players played baseball. The games were shorter, and then people got on to their business.

Cricket playing countries aren't like Canada, where during the winter a community will spend a week at a bonspiel simply because there is little else to do on account of the ice and snow. Most cricket playing countries have very verdant climates, and there is almost never a lack of the need for a pair of hands to help out at something or other.

So cricket, as it was played in the back lots and on the street, never really resembled the way the game was presented on the international level. The way the majority play a game is the way a game "is." Street hockey looks a lot like ice hockey, just as pick-up basketball looks a lot like your average NBA game (minus the size and skill). Out of all the professional sports, only cricket, in it's official form, differs so greatly from the actual sport the players know and love.

cricket, then, rather than representing the "true" or "pure" form of cricket, has always ever been a bastardized form of the game. The real game has only really started being played recently, internationally, and that game is known as 20/20 cricket. That is, limited overs, a game started and finished in a couple of hours, just like a baseball game. And the result of this change is stadiums filled with people, billions of dollars being pumped into the sport, and an unprecedented global growth in recognition.

Don't agree with me? Just take a look at the half empty stands during the Ashes, the most prestigious cricket event in the world, and compare that with the screaming throngs during a normal IPL match, or even during the recent 20/20 World Cup in England.

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