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Why cricket should apply to the Olympics

The game needs an external measure to recover its equilibrium

Written by Mini Kapoor |
June 3, 2013 12:24:05 am

The game needs an external measure to recover its equilibrium

The full scope of betrayal in Indian cricket may not become clear in the course of a few BCCI manoeuvres,but there is general agreement that the game is in desperate need of renewal. Renewal may require much more than change of personnel in the board’s high command and lazy suggestions to simply turn back the clock to before the IPL. Far too much has changed in the landscape of the sport for it to recover its equilibrium by being retrieved to the arena of Tests and one-days. That golden age-ish balance is gone,and a stern detox from the excesses of the IPL may not suffice.

It is not only that the latest scandal has found cricket to be discredited on too many counts — and,by all appearances,we have only just begun the process of taking stock. It is also that,in a wider sense,beyond conflicts of interest and covert compromises on how it is run and telecast,the sport no longer has an internal standard to determine what its greatest stage is,and what the stakes worth playing for are — TRPs,gate money,a contest of old-fashioned cricketing skills,new formats that reward athleticism,an expansion of the game into new territories,a grassroots revival,or maximum remuneration,what?

There is a general tendency to point to Twenty20 for cricket’s current roster of crises. But look,the fact that T20 could pack stadia while Tests go unattended,while one-day internationals appear to be neither here nor there,points to a crisis that is not the abbreviated form’s alone.

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Just this IPL season,Sri Lanka and the West Indies abandoned a scheduled Test series in the Caribbean to allow their cricketers,those of them lucky enough to be successfully auctioned,to participate in the IPL. When a Test in the Caribbean holds such little appeal,it’s time to acknowledge that the IPL is not the only crisis to have hit cricket.

Cricket,perhaps more than any other sport,has taken the interest of its spectators as a measure of relevance. In fact,to keep spectators interested,especially its television audiences,the game has been innovated to a degree that it is almost a computer game. Legend has it that there is no proper footage of Kapil Dev’s 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup,as BBC technicians were on strike then. Try conducting an international match today without the assistance of camerapersons; it won’t happen. No camera,no match.

But oddly,as cricket’s guardians have tried to up the tempo to keep the spectator on the edge of her seat,they have progressively disconnected the contest from old measures of context. And frankly,without context,longer — and presumably purer — formats are rendered rather less viable. Therefore,now that a crisis of credibility has hit cricket,a hasty retreat to traditional formats may not be enough.

It is time cricket is submitted to a competition outside of its clubby ecosystem. It may be an opportune moment for cricket to petition to become an Olympic sport. The process of being admitted as an Olympic sport is long and arduous,but I’d argue that it is just such a process that would help cricket find its centre,and that the very process of pleading its case would force its stakeholders to articulate the essence of the sport.

Of course,for this,T20 would have to be embraced as the format that allows the game to cross over into multi-sport tournaments. It would,more importantly,need us to recognise the damage being wreaked by the current tendency to exceptionalism and arbitrariness in cricket. It takes many forms,with the most cynical one manifesting itself in T20 and then the IPL. Cricket became so petrified that T20’s completely unexpected popularity could crowd the longer formats out of the calendar that an upper limit on the number of T20 internationals was sought. Meanwhile,when the domestic league’s seductions became evident,it went one further,and some of the rules by which Indian cricket is ordinarily run were allowed to be put in abeyance for the IPL. And please do not see this as the BCCI’s mess alone. Other Test-playing nations in the International Cricket Council more than went along,given their cricketers’ interest in the IPL and the financial returns for them by way of compensation for player salaries.

And we,those of us desperate to keep our beloved Test matches uncontaminated from this hyper-form of cricket,were happy too at the segregation. We could abuse the IPL and T20 tournaments,but weren’t we glad that they’d been put in a silo,so we could focus our indignation on one format and make a heroic production of finding the time and mind-space to track Test matches.

How tenable could this be? You either have best practices in running a sport in its entirety or you don’t. Now that the IPL bubble has burst,it has not only set back the idea of a domestic league that has so much promise,it has brought the entire sport into disrepute.

Cricket needs an external reference point to find a measure of what it could be,of how it could matter as a sport. It needs to recover an internal measure by sizing itself up against other sports. It needs to make a case for itself afresh in order to regain the fan’s goodwill. A humble turn Olympic-wards is its best option.

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