• Monday, Nov 18, 2019
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The gentleman’s game

  • Published at 10:54 pm June 10th, 2019
For the love of the game
For the love of the game / BIGSTOCK

Despite the lack of glitz and glamour, many a heart is ruled by cricket

Cricket -- an unusual water-cooler topic of conversion you are sucked into because your erstwhile incurious colleague just happened to have watched the new Hasan Minhaj episode. 

As you politely try to sidestep a full recap, unnecessarily accessorized with irrelevant anecdotes, another colleague, having overheard this riveting one-sided parley, decides to inject himself into now what has suddenly turned into a team bonding event.

The new player immediately proceeds to name-drop a few cricket related shows he has nibbled on Netflix and Amazon, trailing off with “… I can see myself getting hooked onto this, the “behind the scenes” IPL stuff looked super intriguing!” 

Newsflash, you quip, most behind-the-scenes loosely scripted documentary-style films are designed to draw you in by making you feel like a fly on the wall of a close-knit intimate environment. 

It is just human nature to want to have a peek behind the curtain. However, even though multiple viewings of Pumping Iron did not sway you to renew that gym membership, you press on. 

You sense the bemusement of your colleagues at this sudden, lightly aggressive, undressing of a rather off-hand innocuous statement. But instead of taking advantage of this slight hesitation to exit the stage, you can’t help but itch that proverbial scratch. 

But anyway, you switch tracks, the Cricket World Cup is here after all! This perfectly coincides with all your newfound love for the game. The game times are a bit boorish but any plans on catching some over the weekend? 

Completely unprompted, the new player not only answers in the affirmative but in a bizarre show of confidence, which in all honesty you should have seen coming, declares that he thinks the European teams are the favourites to make the semi-finals. 

With the final punch line set up for you on a silver platter, you decide to take the high road for a change, assisted by the timely “ding” of the microwave, indicating your morning muffin is now ready to be consumed. There’s only one European team, and it too is trying to get out of the Union.

You go back to your workstation and open your phone to go through all your unread overnight messages. You have friends sprinkled across the globe, which results in a steady stream of chatter almost 24 hours a day. 

You have carefully manicured WhatsApp groups that not only act as a constant drip of a newsfeed but also serve as discussion boards, for the insane range of sports you follow. 

Late May going into early June, there is a steady increase in intensity and excitement. 

Your second favourite football team is in the Champions League final; your hometown NBA team is in the finals for the first time in franchise history; your favourite tennis player is marching towards his unprecedented twelfth Roland-Garros title, and of course there’s the Cricket World Cup. 

However, as you browse through the banter, the memes, and the arm-chair punditry, something dawns on you. For an event that is arguably the crown jewel of the sport, and held only once every four years, the amount of fervour it has generated leaves a lot to be desired.

You pin this down to a couple of things. The glitz and glamour of modern football, with its Middle Eastern investors, lucrative TV deals, and comical transfer fees, has something cricket doesn’t -- a continuous story being told all year long. 

The football season almost runs the entirety of the year, with a small summer break, which keeps you enamoured with the myriad transfer news, rumours, and speculations. 

For the hardcore fan, the summers are also filled with the World Cup, the European Championship, the African Nations Cup, and the Copa America, all rotating in a four-year loop.

The average cricket fan, however, is not similarly engaged. The passion might be there, but it’s more of a stuttering spark rather than a sustained glow. 

If you’re a supporter of the Bangladesh cricket team, you get your steady diet of four or five bilateral series a year, typically at home, against a carousel of familiar opponents. 

The Windies, the Lankans, the Zimbabweans. Hardly exciting, even when you are winning. Which is more likely, your friend inviting you over for some late night adda, cha, and FIFA, or for a game of cricket?

This brings you to your second thought, the administration of the game itself. In a world where inclusivity is all the rage, cricket has regrettably regressed in its approach. You would have to go back to 1992 to find a Cricket World Cup as exclusive as this year’s edition. 

At a time when the NFL takes its product to the shores of Europe, when the NBA holds pre-season games in Asia, and football teams begin their preparations in North America, cricket has stubbornly refused to expand its footprint beyond its core base. 

And while the vote bank might be delivering, for now, voter apathy, make no mistake about it, is at an all-time high.

But still, here you are, up at five-thirty in the morning on a weekday for the love of the game. Work be damned, the “gentleman’s game” is on. 

Mashkur Hussain is a sports aficionado based in Toronto, Canada.