Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The summer’s game that isn’t anymore

Where did cricket lose its heart and soul?

Update : 14 Aug 2023, 09:14 AM

The English are credited with inventing the game of cricket -- for women, that is. It was one way of keeping the more exercise-inclined occupied outside of the once traditional darning, painting, and invigorating boring gossip in the balmy English summers. It was also to keep them out of mischief while the men could make merry. 


The same Anglo-Saxon descendants are conversely guilty of turning it into a man’s game, spreading it across their former empire. So it is strange that cricket -- a game essentially devised for women -- has left the so-called “softer gender” struggling to reach parity with the just as daftly touted “stronger gender” in terms of pay and facilities. 


Few cricket boards, if any, have women contextualizing changes to the game. Women are rarely consulted on any impact world shattering tinkering with rules might have on them. Change is happening, but at a pace that decries necessity. 


The great British Empire was notorious for forcing societal changes on conquered populations through a mix of dismantling indigenous culture, education, literature, and even language. Laws and rules devolved from “gentile civilizations” prevailing today in archaic forms have been tweaked to supposedly reflect a present day reality causing mayhem and dislocating distance. That was their solution to force their own devised conjectures so as to be ahead of the game. 


The game is in essence one of the mind; a chessboard of out-thinking and outwitting one another. Test cricket, the long-version designed to try patience and resolve, drew in spectators to play their own mind games. That was before technology and connectivity and to an extent over-use of the game began bringing in mind fatigue. 


Entertainment was the new order brokered by a revolutionary called Kerry Packer. He introduced the limited-overs game, threw pots of money at the best cricketers till ICC, the panacea of all cricketing problems, decided to join rather than be beaten. The outcome was mouthwatering. More through the turnstiles due to after work spectators, a form of family entertainment, and interesting rule changes contributed to it all.


As with any good endeavour the one-day game was flogged to death. TV coverage, switching from 60 overs to 40 only to settle at 50, and a radical revamp of marketing the merchandise all had an expiry date. Bowler unfriendly rules such as limited use of the bouncer, instant punishment for front-foot no balls, hangman leg-side wides, overs per bowler restrictions, and field restrictions took much of the panache out of the game. According to Mr Packer and ICC, people want to see fours and sixes, not intense mind battles between bowler, batsmen, and intimidating field positions. 


Then came the next phase-the 40-40 and finally T20 extravaganza with further restrictions -- all batter friendly -- sexy cheer-leaders, and night-cricket to encourage family picnics.


The emergence of franchise cricket had great benefits for players; little for the game. Players’ associations of more developed cricketing nations complained about niggles, being incessantly on the bandwagon and early retirements. As the money poured in, cricketers were agreeable to shorter careers and more injuries to the extent of discarding the binding central contracts that tied them up to national duty. 

Now it dawned on the ICC. An existential crisis has emerged where the top ten test playing countries find themselves on the verge of losing control of authority to franchisees. And so, post 2027, One Day Internationals will be reduced in numbers bilateral and international. The focus will remain on the pundits’ choice of Test Cricket and T20s. 


Traditional rivalry born out of history and nationalism will see more Tests between the so-called best of the best. The money-spinning (both organizationally and individually) will prevail through franchisees having to part with revenues to the ICC. In between, T20s will serve up for mediocrity than aplomb in the finer aspects of the game. 


As it is sports journalism, commentating and analyses have changed from truly inspiring reads, and thought provoking responses to comments and discourses. On the contrary, they too are flogging the horse through speculation and what-if scenarios. It doesn’t help when English or the native language is re-invented in the process. We are told that bowling attacks can be “threatful”; the left arm-spinner can bowl a googly and that the “hook shot” has disappeared from the lexicon. 


Perhaps it has something to do with changes in the seasons, changes of the heart, or that the literature of Neville Cardus no longer resonates in a game that’s played in rain and shine with the devilish Duckworth-Lewis separator thrown into the bargain.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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