I used to love cricket. Still do, in fact. But now it is like a relationship with a divorced wife of long standing. A certain formality has crept in, a combination of regret, nostalgia and genuine thankfulness that you are no longer obsessed.
Cricket used to be a game of grace, patience and intense sporting competitiveness. And then they took all that was good and beat it to death with a bludgeon of cold, hard cash. As with any business looking to make a profit, what used to be fun soon devolved into a mind-numbing barrage of mediocrity and advertisements.
Is it any wonder that I no longer live and breathe cricket?
It started with Test cricket, that holy grail of the sport. It took genuine love of the game to follow the swinging dynamics of targets chased down, and then set again over a period of five days.
But even the most ardent fan now finds it hard to muster up the will to go through even one day of ads interspersed with the odd bit of bowling and batting. In the face of the growing commercialisation of the sport, it is no surprise that the long version has been comprehensively sidelined.
One-day cricket, for long the more exciting and fast-paced version of the sport, took this concept and ran with it. Every over completed and wicket taken is celebrated, not with players rejoicing, but advertisers blaring their messages at you with greedy glee. After all, audiences will obviously prefer to hear about the newest smartphone or cold drink flavour rather than be privy to the inter-over discussions between the captain and his bowler. It is maybe only a matter of time before the cricketing powers decided to do away with the sport entirely and just play advertisements for the entire duration.
Towards that worthy endeavour, T20 cricket and its devilish baby, the IPL, was born. The plan to shorten the game was perhaps a good one — nobody really has the time to even watch an entire one-day match any more. But, chagrined by the truncated window in which to brainwash viewers, advertisers resorted to every cheap trick in the book. And boy, can they get cheap!
A day will soon arrive when people will genuinely term a worthy achievement in their lives a ‘Citi moment of success,’ or associate a stellar performance with a ‘Yes Bank maximum.’ And there are only so many times one can hear a Samsung advertisement screaming ‘I’m alive!’ before actually wishing one wasn’t.
But that’s just the advertising monstrosity cricket has become. We are yet to come to the absolute dilution of the quality of the game. Gone are the days when a batsman lasting out a day’s worth of bowling and scoring only 22 runs was lauded. No, now we want such a batsman to score 22 in four balls and still be disappointed he didn’t score 24. Why not just get Pavarotti to sing Britney Spears songs while we’re at it?
Why a sport with packed stadiums and screaming fans needs scantily clad women to encourage applause is anyone’s guess.
But sexiness sells, and that’s all cricket is about any more. So now we are graced by that single-most important American contribution to cricket — cheerleading. Why a sport with packed stadiums and screaming fans needs scantily clad women to encourage applause is anyone’s guess, but there you have it. Young European and American girls make the long trip to India just to dance every time a four or a six is hit, or every time a wicket is taken. As it turns out, they dance a lot, the poor things.
That’s not because the quality of the cricket is stellar — just the opposite, in fact. Cricket has become a batsman’s sport with pitch curators, rule-makers and umpires conspiring to squeeze as many boundary shots as they can from each delivery. It is little better than slogging at a bowling machine in the nets. And wickets are rarely a product of good bowling or crafty field placement. More often than not, they are a result of a poor shot because the batsman was hell-bent on slogging at every delivery.
It is ironic that the one area India has near-absolute global control is the one area even Indians wish we didn’t. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) makes full use of the billion-strong fan base it caters to, working the Indian cricket team for every ounce they can muster, bombarding the viewers with non-stop cricket of mostly substandard quality, while at the same time strong-arming the other national cricket boards into acquiescence.
This is not the sport I once loved. This is not even sport. This is a travesty disguised as evolution.