The cricket season is now global; it has neither a beginning nor an end, which can be severely disruptive of the rest of one’s life…
What of the onfield changes? Jean-Marie Brohm, a French sociologist, has described all sport as ‘a prison of measured time’ [Mr Ali sure reads widely: “Jean-Marie Brohm’s essays are by far the best attempt to position sport within a radical Communist framework…”]. Looked at that way, five-day test cricket is the equivalent of a life-sentence. And yet test matches can be tenser and more stimulating than any other form of the game, even when they end in a draw – a possibility that is excluded in shorter forms, where a result is vital. It’s fogeyish, of course, to say that things were better in the past, but there is a serious argument here. Fifty-overs-a-side one-day cricket can be enjoyable, but Twenty20 is cricket’s answer to the penalty shoot-out: its outcome depends too much on luck. The main thrust behind globalised cricket is commercial and few bother to hide the fact. It is organised by the money-wallahs and TV schedulers: floodlit night matches, played to secure prime-time audiences, are increasingly common.
Test cricket at its best has the qualities of an exquisitely choreographed ballet. To watch the great spin bowlers – Abdul Qadir, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble – bowl at the same batsman for over an hour, varying each ball till they trap their victim, is to delight in their artistry. It can also be boring and predictable; but so can its abbreviated offspring, for all its frills.
When the IPL [Indian Premier League] circus first began, with Bollywood stars and Indian corporations getting franchises, I feared the worst. The hoopla, the slavish commentary by over-paid pundits and the unending shots of the IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, preening like an Indian god minus the make-up, all this was truly awful, but the cricket was exciting and I was hooked. The new season, which begins in five weeks, will be a bit different [indeed–moved to South Africa for security reasons]…
Meanwhile the Chinese government has decided that its youngsters should learn how to play cricket, just in case the shorter version becomes an Olympic event. Former test players from South Asia, especially Pakistan, have been hired to go and act as coaches. If cricket were to take off in China, the ICC would be forced to shift its headquarters to Shanghai and the biggest cricketing event of the sporting calendar in 2030 would be the annual India-China test series. Who knows? Chinese helicopters might be provided with a permanent pad at Lord’s.
Tariq Ali’s latest book, Protocols of the Elders of Sodom and Other Essays, will be published by Verso this summer.