Is cricket still a game?

Vidya Subramanian October 8, 2012

The latest innovation has been the emergence of Twenty20 cricket. Providing an alternative for television viewers from prime-time TV, and presented as a reality show packaged with celebrities from the worlds of business, cinema, and cricket.


Now that the molestation cases that were settled out of court are a distant memory, the movie star’s magnanimous post-victory apology for misbehaviour has been almost forgotten, the auditors’ inability to understand the revenue generated by Indian Premier League (IPL)’s ticket money is of no interest to newspapers, and spot fixing scandals and under-the-table payments to players are no longer making it to 24x7 television news headlines, it looks like the glitter from the after parties of the fifth edition of the IPL has finally settled. The League is now half a decade old, and in spite of the many controversies and criticisms that it has come up against, looks like it’s in no mood to shrivel up any time soon. Lalit Modi’s television-centric, cash-rich, celebrity-driven, non-national, cricket-based product may have kept some of the West Indies’ best players from their test team, but cricket as a platform for fast moving consumer goods looks like it’s here to stay.

In this age of the sportsperson entrepreneur, where a sportsperson is seen as having ‘arrived’ when they finally make an appearance on a television advertisement, cricketers are more than just sportsmen. They are stars, with retinues that rival those of rock musicians and personal staff that include managers and PR staff, alongside coaches and nutritionists. And consequently, their sport – cricket – is just one of the many things that they sell. The fastest version of the gentleman’s game is all about keeping the TV viewer’s hand off the remote. To this end, there are celebrities, spider cameras, interviews with players while they’re on the field playing, interviews with girlfriends of the players who are playing, and advertisements on every inch of the screen – if not crawling on the screen, then on stands, shirts, bats, and even umpires.

From being a sport played in white flannels by “gentlemen” cricketers who were expected to abide by a moral code at all times (bringing to life the term, ‘not cricket’ for anything below the high moral values that cricket stood for), cricket in the year 2012 appears to have been transformed into something that bears but a cursory resemblance to that game. A game that used to last five (and sometimes six) days now takes as much time as a movie to wrap up. A game whose meaning did not lie in the result (a draw was always one of three probable results to a test match) is now a binary win-loss concept. A great individual performance, a solid team effort, and excellent quality of play would be applauded even if you happened to end up on the losing side. This was possible because the game, by virtue of the very slowness that is blamed for spectator apathy, made it possible to pause and reflect on those aspects of the game.

IPL cheer The fastest version of the gentleman’s game is all about keeping the TV viewer’s hand off the remote.
Image: iDIVA

As cricket has become faster paced and shorter, the acceleration within play has led to the result becoming more important than anything else that happens on the cricket ground. This is not to say that individual performances have become meaningless, but as the game became binary, the central premise of the sport has shifted. It is no longer played within the moral code that was once the hallmark of the game. The moral centre has shifted out from among the players (who were once expected to walk if they knew they were out or call a bad catch at once) to the all seeing eye of the camera (because the batsmen these days will still wait for the third umpire even if they know they’re out). This is a direct result of the infiltration of technology into the game.

Technology is not simply that which enables us to watch a cricket match. It was Kerry Packer who first understood the potential of the television set within the cricketing paradigm. His World Series Cricket did more than popularise the day-long version of cricket. He brought to the game a certain razzmatazz that the white flannelled test matches did not possess. It was his idea to have cameras at both ends of the pitch (until then, every alternate over was seen from behind the wicket-keeper). There were night matches to ensure maximum viewership, coloured clothing for teams, and he set up a PR blitzkrieg to ensure that his rebel league got the “eyeballs” he wanted. This format came to dominate world cricket as the one day game became the main bread and butter for cricket boards around the world. And through the syringe of the television set (a revolutionary piece of technology), advertisers, corporate sponsorship, and broadcasters entered the game of cricket.

IPL cheer Cricket, thus, has been transformed into an industry, on which ride several other interests and stakeholders.
Image: myAyalaMalls

But it is not just in the broadcast of cricket that technology altered the game. The changes in cricket that have been spurred by technology – be it the television and related inventions, sports medicine, training equipment, or even software for analysis and broadcast such as the internet and social networking – have taken cricket from being a game to becoming a platform for several new constituencies. The latest innovation has been the emergence of Twenty20 cricket. Providing an alternative for television viewers from prime-time TV, and presented as a reality show packaged with celebrities from the worlds of business, cinema, and cricket; the new format of the game is a further injection of speed into the game, once again through the syringe of technology such as the spider camera, mongoose bats, and so on.

Cricket, thus, has been transformed into an industry, on which ride several other interests and stakeholders. Software engineers who can design better analytical software, film stars who seek publicity, players looking for quick money, businesses looking for a better advertising platform, and television channels trying to improve their ratings—are all stakeholders in the game of cricket today. The game itself is no longer the centre of the event of the match. With all the diverse interests riding on the match, cricket as a sport seems to have developed several foci around which it is played. In this de-centred universe, the game is just one of many centres that are important. The direction in which cricket moves is determined by the strength of these several, un-aligned, diverse focal points and the mutual push and pull that they can exert on the game of cricket. Mediated as it is by technology, cricket has proved to be an excellent vessel for the promotion, development, and sustenance of several other industries.

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Nice portrayal of current day

Nice portrayal of current day status of cricket in the world. The game never changes but peoples attachment to the game changes. The world is Maya and we are attached to it. We cannot change IPL, only we can change ourselves not watching the phony game.

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