June 16, 2008


Cricket as Modernizer (SHASHI THAROOR, June 16, 2008, NY Sun)

Earlier this month, the Indian Premier League came to a thundering climax with a cliffhanger final match, watched by 60,000 cheering fans in a new stadium and an estimated 300 million television viewers around the world. As cheerleaders danced and waved brightly colored pom-poms, and star sportsmen from across the globe, clad in their teams' multi-hued regalia, looked forward to a $2.5 million payday, black-market tickets changed hands for as much as $2,500.
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Football? Basketball? No, the IPL is the newest Indian innovation revolutionizing that most staid of Victorian sports — cricket.

As the globalizing world discovers a 21st-century India full of high-tech computer geeks, efficient businessmen, colorful fashions, and glitzy entertainment — a far cry from the old stock images of fakirs on beds of nails, maharajahs on elephants, and mendicants with begging bowls — it is also finding an India obsessed with what most regard as a 19th-century sport. [...]

By bringing the world's top players to India at unprecedented salaries — one Australian player was auctioned to his new team for $1.4 million, more than most cricketers previously earned in a lifetime — and by spicing up the game through such innovations as American cheerleaders, the new IPL is transforming the sport. When the traditional English cricket season opened in April, as it has for the last couple of centuries, seasoned British journalists ruefully reported that while the players and officials were dutifully present, their minds were far away, following the fortunes of the lucrative league in India.

I have often thought that cricket is really, in the sociologist Ashis Nandy's phrase, an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British. Everything about cricket seems ideally suited to the Indian national character: its rich complexity, the endless possibilities and variations that can occur with each delivery, the dozen different ways of getting out — all are reminiscent of a society of infinite forms and varieties.

A country where a majority of the population still consults astrologers can well appreciate a sport in which an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss, or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform a game's outcome. Even the possibility that five tense, exciting, hotly-contested, and occasionally meandering days of cricketing could still end in a draw seems derived from ancient Indian philosophy, which accepts that in life the journey is as important as the destination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at June 16, 2008 8:59 AM
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