Monday, June 16, 2008

An explanation of sorts

Opening commenter and uberhostess Karen makes an interesting observation:

Similar to a new language, understanding a sport - especially one played internationally - takes more than just learning the rules.

I think that's exactly right; and that's the appeal of it, ultimately. Cricket is a sport that attracts damn near zero mainstream interest in the United States -- my NY Times link below might be the only major example of cricket coverage in a major US paper within the last twelve months -- but whose following in certain parts of the world is passionate bordering on psychotic.

So what's the deal with cricket? And what's my deal, exactly? I'm a mid-level financial professional and moderately serious sports fan who has now traveled a few times to India on business, and amidst the traffic and the food and the supernally friendly people and the irksome custom of having the beers kidnapped from your minibar on Gandhi's birthday, what's obvious is that everyday people are deeply into cricket. Work sessions stop dead during random ODIs against Australia, and everyone is sent into a ruinous depressive funk when a couple of early wickets fall cheaply; or otherwise serious people utter the names of heroic batsmen like incantations to their secret lovers. If, even as a la-di-da business traveller, you take your cultural environmental halfway seriously, you will be struck by these things, and you will be moved to attempt to understand the what, and more importantly the why.

Monday, June 2, 2008


So yesterday S. managed to unearth a website that was showing a live cricket stream, and it happened that she'd found the final match of the Indian Premier League tournament. Not that she needed to do anything else to impress me, but she'd succeeded yet again. ;)

It's probably impossible to overstate how thoroughly India have embraced cricket in general; and in particular the new faster-paced variant called Twenty20, a version of the sport so flashy that even the venerable Gray Lady felt compelled to take notice when India's national side won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup. (To put 'flashy' into perspective: a standard Test match, of course, involves several hundred overs and can last up to five days; whereas Twenty20 matches, as the name implies, last only 20 overs per side and can be completed in a bit less than three hours. Baseball games, which average a similar duration, are derided in some quarters as lethargic beyond all hope. I digress.)

So yesterday's final between the Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings (and the prevalence of references to monarchy in the team names is no accident) gave us an alternate form of that passion: using big money and glamour as the draw in place of national-team interest, as the IPL pitted national teammates against each other and paid them quite handsomely for the effort. (It varies a bit what the average professional cricketer earns normally, but barring endorsements, it seems to be the kind of salary that your well-to-do neighbor might take home.)

The final ended up with quite the dramatic finish (although the story stretches a bit in the retelling; the "cut-price" Rajasthani payroll was nonetheless immense for a six-week tournament, and no one will ever mistake Shane Warne for an underdog). And you can now hear the laments about the influence of money in the sport (some barmy American is plotting an English equivalent to the IPL, but mostly the big cash is denominated in rupees); how much of that is true sporting purism, and how much simple reactionary grousing, is an exercise left for the reader, as they say.