Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cricket, the great game

Cricket is an idea. It was an idea of the gods, quoted Sir James Barrie.

Many people ask "What is Cricket?" You have two sides; one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out when he is out. He comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in. And the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When both sides have been in and out including the not outs. That's the end of the match. That is Cricket! Durban's Kingsmead Oval's Centenary Museum has that description (in italics, above) for the tourist who wants to know what Cricket is about.

It is also worthwhile to recall a letter written by Lord Harris in THE TIMES (2.2.1931): "…You do well to love it, for it is more free from anything sordid, anything dishonourable, than any game in the world. To play it keenly, honourably, generously, self-sacrificingly, is a moral lesson in itself, and the classroom is God's air and sunshine. Foster it, my brothers, so that it may attract all who can find the time to play it; protect it from anything that would sully it, so that it may be in favour with all men…."

The game is played with a hard leather ball with a willow bat. The 'klunk' produced when ball strikes bat is sheer pleasing melody. But it is a hard game played the hard way. Only the fit, talented, hard-working and courageous can survive long playing it. There is more to Cricket than just winning and losing.

Cricket is indisputably pre-eminent for its qualities as a means of entertainment, of character building and even as a way of life. It is a game synonymous with sportsmanship and chivalrous behaviour. Great cricketers are respected all over the world not only for their technical skills, but because they are gentlemen. The game does not encourage gamesmanship or underhand tactics. The laws of the game must be obeyed and there is a strict code of personal behaviour which is intended to cover all situations not governed by precise laws. No player can ever be greater than the game itself.

Cricket is a storehouse of pleasures and rewards. The rewards of physical and mental health, personal satisfaction, life-long friendships and other less tangible things stand out. It is a game which always upholds ethics and etiquette. Cricket is renown for its 'glorious uncertainties'. The game can be very absorbing and exciting. Sometimes, soporific and dull. The progress and outcome of a match is dependant on unpredictable factors like weather, ground conditions, personality, mental poise, varying individual skills and opponent's strengths. Their combination in varying degrees is what makes the game so thrilling and keeps the suspense element till the end. They say that 'the game is not over till the last ball is bowled'. Watching the game is a sight to behold esp. when the great players are in action. The connoisseurs have always liked the Test Matches. This is where all of Cricket's nuances are in full bloom.

Numerous bizzare incidents happen in this game. Here is just one: Harold Charlwood, playing at the Oval, gave a dolly catch in the deep and was dropped. He had already taken two runs and was run out when on his third. Meanwhile the second run had been signaled 'one short'. He went down in the score-book as "dropped, made one run, ran one short and was run out. All in one hit!"

Humour in Cricket has always been amusing and unique. Cricket's own jargon adds much beauty to it and can drive a lay person crazy, like this one: During the last Ashes Test at the Oval some decades ago, Norman Yardley, the England Captain received a letter from an old woman like this : " I have no interest in cricket and I do not care who wins. But the other day, quite by accident, I listened for a few minutes to a Test Match Commentator. He said that someone or something called Lindwall bowling. It sounded purely a name to me, but when he proceeded to say this bowler had two long legs and one short fine leg, I was shocked. Tell me Mr.Yardley, what kind of creatures are these Australian cricketers? No wonder our Englishmen can't win". Sans humour, Cricket would have become quite monotonous.

There have been many great people who have thoroughly excelled. Some have even been knighted in honour of their yeomen efforts. Such a personality could be easily located by anyone. Once an Australian fan of Sir Don Bradman mailed a letter when Australia were touring England. He addressed his envelope "Mr.D.G.Bradman, Somewhere playing in England". It reached the man!

There have been many great acts of sportsmanship on the field. At Leeds in 1909, Jack Hobbs hit a ball to the mid-wicket boundary and while doing so, had dislodged a bail with his right foot. An appeal was made but neither of the two umpires had seen it and so favoured the batsman. Hobbs knew this. So, two balls later, he withdrew his bat away to a straight ball and allowed himself to be bowled.

Cricket can bring great fame and fortune but the joy it gives to the player and the beholder is immeasurable. It is probably the profoundest of all games. Perhaps this is why there are so many who are playing and following it. It is a great team-game that encourages honesty and provides a 'family atmosphere'. It prepares us to face situations positively with humility and enjoy the process more than its outcome. Victory is no doubt sweet, but it teaches you to accept a defeat gracefully.

Playing Cricket is a wonderful feeling (in its true spirits). Those who have experienced are the fortunate ones for, it is a complete game which has everything in it. It makes the man. Playing the game demands top physical fitness and athleticism. The body will not obey the mind if one is not fit. The proverb "a healthy mind in a healthy body" holds a lot of water esp. in Cricket. A 'cricketer' is a more worthy name for one who works on his fitness, who is a 'team-man', a gentleman, skillful to the extent of adapting it according to the situations in a match and usually an amateur (An amateur is one who engages himself more as a pastime rather than a profession. The word amateur is often misunderstood and freely used wrongly to mean 'immature'!!). Those who fall short with these qualities are all mere 'cricket-players'. I reckon this is the subtle difference between them.

George Bernard Shaw (perhaps the greatest of cricket ignoramuses) had quoted: "A game played by eleven fools and watched by eleven thousand fools". Not for nothing Cricket is the most popular game. And he was the one who was once informed that Australia and England were playing "Tests" to which he had reverted "What have they been testing?".

[The most recent "Sydney Show" was after all, not cricket and just like what Bill Woodful the Australian captain had quoted '....but just one side out there is playing cricket'. His quote suits here too. The less said the better, because this is about cricket!]

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Good that DD is away from Cricket Coverage

Watching live cricket on TV from Australia is such a pleasure, both to the serious cricket-knowing viewer and the casual cricket follower alike. As expected the TV coverage is excellent, English commentary team is expert and grounds are beautifully laid out – almost flawless. I’m sure even the Hindi-dependent viewers too enjoy the coverage without a murmer! Hindi, because this is what we are fed with and we get fed up with, usually. Not this time! Thanks to our beloved Doordarshan, who could not win the rights. You know what is DD style? Commentators sit and watch the TV [they see what we see] in the DD studio with a mike on and commentate with alternate Hindi and English for us, switching off the original commentary in English. No one knows what is happening when there is no cricket action on the field – for example, between over change, during even a small stoppage for valid reason. The viewer is disconnected – including our commentators! Instead, we are shown commercials. Score cards are not shown. If anything happens in the last ball of an over, viewers are deprived of it. The reflex of the switching person is swifter than that of a slip-catcher! He does not waste a milli-second to show the commercials and thus earn fast bucks. He is instructed to show action, only when the bowler runs in and bowls! As soon as a defensive shot is played, the commercial is on even before the ball has reached the fieldsman’s hands! Many times, he would miss a no-ball or a wide off a 6th ball and switch to commercials immediately. I have always wondered why they do not show live action at least as an ‘inset’ in the screen during those breaks. Instead, they are interrupting even during an over, showing them on two sides. It is switched over irrespective of what commentators are talking about and that too mid-way.

When DD does not win the deal, viewers are happy. Look now, how beautiful it is to watch live action from Australlia. Not much commercials to interrupt the flow of action and coverage. Wickets in Australia also provide good cricket. Lush green carpet-like outfields make the ball smoothly pass as if on a billiard table, which is such a joy to look at. Fortunately, DD is not here to annoy this time. Listening to description and commentary from the team is an education in itself, aside from watching beautifully covered live action.