A changing sport,in changing times

Almost every day,there is room for a legitimate discussion in our news meeting about where certain cricket news should be published...

Written by Kunal Pradhan | Published: March 14, 2009 11:58:41 pm

Almost every day,there is room for a legitimate discussion in our news meeting about where certain cricket news should be published — on the sports pages,the politics pages,or even the business pages. Between the Lahore terror attack,the Indian Premier League,the meetings between state and central governments over security,and Allen Stanford,the sport has been in disarray over the last month.

The debate that was expected to rage on in 2009 because of the advent of Twenty20 — should cricket in the future be pure entertainment,pure sublimity,or a complex mixture of the two (and if so,in what proportion) — seems to have become irrelevant. Matches,results,centuries,ten-wicket hauls,and No 1 rankings,even more so.

This really could’ve been an exciting time for world cricket. An unpredictable battle for the top slot in which Australia stunned South Africa against the run of play,India darting up the ladder with each passing match,Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting showcasing their evergreen genius,JP Duminy and Phillip Hughes rising to the occasion in their first brushes with international cricket,and Virender Sehwag drawing comparisons with Vivian Richards.

But,sadly,for everything that’s happened on the field,there’s been something more dramatic,more catastrophic,and more riveting,away from the middle that’s hogged the limelight.

Taking a step back,placing cricket on a timeline going back to the late 70s,the sport has perhaps suffered more scandals than any other over such a short span. From the rebellion of World Series — some traces of which are still visible in the form of the ICL — to match-fixing,racism,fraud,and now terror,the effects of geo-politics have descended on cricket,showing it is somehow more connected with the upheavals of a changing world than any other sport.

In football,too,there has been racism and match-fixing. But given the much smaller global base of cricket,the impact of world events on the sport are staggering if proportions are taken into account.

Forget these extraneous factors,even internally cricket has constantly been in a state of flux as its laws have permanently been under review.

Football,for example,has hardly made sweeping changes over the last 100 years — the back pass became illegal,and there was the golden goal,silver goal confusion for a few years a decade ago; tennis incorporated tie-breaks to shorten matches and has now allowed appeals against line calls; hockey made way for rolling substitutions and got rid of the off-side rule; and basketball decided to break games into four quarters to attract more TV advertising.

But changes of this nature in cricket are so frequent that they almost come and go unnoticed. Powerplays,substitutions,third umpires,rain rules,free hits and referrals have been introduced,edited,re-edited,and re-introduced. Two entirely new formats have come forth,and have been given full-fledged global recognition after many other configurations were rejected. And now,a club league has started,not from scratch but with the pomp and show of Premiership proportions.

Cricket,as this unrest suggests,is still trying to find its feet and is experimenting vigorously in search of the right model for its future development. While this has been going on,the influence of money has grown exponentially rather than gradually,bringing with it its own share of advantages and drawbacks.

So,as the sport stands at another important crossroads in its chequered history,does anybody really know where it will go from here?

What will happen to the Sublimity versus Entertainment debate? Will centuries,batting averages and breathtaking nine-over spells hold any relevance fifty years from now,or will they just be objects of nostalgia,like the eight-ball over and WG Grace’s exploits in May of 1895?

And,from a very selfish perspective,will cricket news still be published on the sports pages?

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