Why isn’t cricket popular?


Alright keep your pants on.

I know it is the sport Royale here in India and it is definitely one of the big boys in the former colonies – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies.

Even though the fate of cricket reasonably matched the fate of the English language – the patients are definitely running the mad house – even the English gamely keep playing the old sport.

But however much we add our total populations and dead ancestors to the list of “fans”, it is plain that even 60 years after the British tally ho’ed off, cricket remains an English-centric game.

Other sports like Formula One and Football have made great inroads into all the countries who adopted the English game. But the reverse is mostly untrue.

So why is that? Here are a few theories –

1) Complicated

Despite what those howling for changes cry, the problem is not that the rules are complicated. Formula One is technically extremely complicated – and F1 rules change every year.  Complication is not a problem for a team sport that needs ‘fixing’. But cricket is not just complicated in rules alone. It is complicated in concept as well.

Football can be boiled down to – You and your buddies need to kick that ball into that net there while these other guys stop you. If you do it more times than them, you win.

Formula One can also be evaporated to  – Get in that car and accelerate. Turn left and right as applicable. Braking is optional. First place gets the Swedish models and champagne.

But cricket…well…

This guy here tosses the ball. That guy there hits it.

If the ball is hit far enough, it’s an automatic run. Otherwise the guys who hit the ball (oh yeah, there are two of them but only one actually hits the ball..the other waits on the other side…) run like bitches in the center while ten guys go fetch the ball. (Preferably not all at the same time.)

Through a series of various actions the fielders can make this guy go away…only to get another….ten more times.

Then the fielders bat and the batsmen field and the entire thing is repeated. The match is won or lost depending on who scores more.

Originally they would keep jogging and ball tossing until everyone, including the players, were considerably beyond caring.

But in our more enlightened times, they only do it 600 times – the mathematical limit of human patience.

 (And even that condensation barely makes any sense.)

So is it any surprise that the former two are more easily followed than the latter?

2) Too much legacy

Cricket has long and old associations with why it is played, how it played and by whom it is played. This makes it’s legacy double-sided.

On the one side, you have history – which is like that one guy who brings guns and shots of tequila to war negotiations. This can be fun sometimes but usually means the cleaning blood off the ceiling before long.

Whether it is the whites against the blacks, the browns against each other or anyone against England – you can find fifty years (if not a full century) of shit hitting the fan.

So in the countries where the game is played, it is easier to follow a game where you can pick any team without your national loyalties suddenly becoming suspect in a bar full of drunks.

The problem is reversed for the neutral countries who don’t give a shit and switch over to football because ironically, a second hindrance is the other side of cricket legacy – it is an English game.

If you weren’t ruled by them or if you have any reason to particularly dislike them (because say…you fought several wars)  – you have little reason to even care why the idiot English and their cultural descendants are jogging about in the middle of a green field,  drinking tea every six hours.

A mold that is unfortunately difficult to break because English – the people, the legacy and the language – are at the heart and center of the game still.

After all – No one has yet managed to even get so much a Japanese translation of a cricket commentary.

(Presumably the translators preferred to commit suicide with swords rather than try to translate Sidhu and Ravi Shastri.)

3) No seasons

The great advantages of seasons for any sport is that it allows closure – something that as emotional humans we need more than we need our mothers. Closure is the feeling that a great task was begun, it had a long enough run and now it is over.

We are free to lay back down on our sofas, fix a steely stare to a far off point just over the horizon of the television and say in a cold voice…

“I was there…well I was watching anyway…the great events of 2011”.

To have this wholesome experience, the perquisite requirement is a season.

A season wipes all slates clean. It allows for realignment of alliances and the reforging of old bonds. It allows you to pick a new set of favorites and fondly watch them grow like a priest and his altar boy.

Or you can watch them crash and burn (along with your television) which is also cathartic. At least it allows you to fixate and vent your daddy issues on a particular group of people.

Cricket unfortunately has no seasons. Cricket is played throughout the year, at any time, day or night.

While it is true someone is playing Football or Motor sports  all the time as well, you don’t have to care about every race or every match because you can only follow the season of one particular flavor that plays when you are awake and drunk.

In cricket it is all official.

You may be rooting for South Africa ’cause it’s all number one in the ranking bitches! yeah!

Then you go to sleep and wake up to find out they are number three now because England played against Bangladesh in the West Indies and beat them by 30 runs and a run rate of 13.6 so now they got a billion points.

Your only comfort will be the crushing feeling of “How the fuck does that matter?”

But in cricket it does you see.

Every match, whenever, where ever played matters.  Much like medieval industrial production, the number of matches is only limited by the ability of the players to shakily stand upright.

 (And even if they keel over dead when hit by the breeze of passing wide ball, that is still a ‘hit wicket’ and the batsman’s stats will be duly updated. Also tell the captain he has five minutes to get this corpse off the wicket else someone gonna be fined for slow over rate!)

The fact that all matches are official means to be a fan, you now are touring with the team. And you have to keep up with all the other teams as well.

And the casual fan might..at least until they realize the F1 2013 season has begun and they can pick any team they want from scratch, follow the entire season and come right back to find these idiots still jogging back and forth. So fuck it.

Now it is true that you can be just a fan of a series – the Ashes or the Champions Trophy or even the World Cup – but that is only a few matches (lets say five or ten for the team you are supporting) and that is just not long enough sadly.

(That’s what she said…)

Any Solutions?

Well there is none per se.

The Indian Premier League tries to address all of the above and fails miserably. It is not just the corruption and fixing and inept team handling – viewer ship was dropping even before that.

Anyone who watches the game for any length of time quickly admits that watching a man blindly swinging with eyes closed and praying that wood hits leather…is not improving the game.

There is such a things as the essence of cricket and by butchering it, removing its style and substance and compressing it into 300 games in 3 months – that essence is being sucked out with all the finesse of a well-payed prostitute.

Cricket was always an elite game. And the attempts to make it more ‘acceptable’ so that more money could be leeched off it has only driven it into the ground.

Everything about cricket – from how it is played to why it is played – makes it a game that is loved by many, but not that many.

So we should accept slightly lower profits and just keep it that way.  (Lower here is relative of course. Cricketers are still paid crores of rupees.)

After all you don’t see wine makers start eying hops and wheat lovingly just because people drink more beer, do you?

My personal solution is to get rid of the umpires. Other games have referees, cricket has two clucking mothers who watch over the children.

Let 13 men, two of whom are already armored up and armed with clubs in any case, sort out their issues by themselves in the middle of a field- the thrills will be ending-less.

We will have to figure out some way to ensure the game finishes though. (And don’t forget the slow over rate fines!)

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