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Why Does Cricket Matter?

May 2011
Why Does Cricket Matter? Dear PMG:

It’s been weeks since India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup, but still the buzz continues. I don’t get it.

First there was the weekday semi-final match between India and Pakistan, which was billed as a kind of “cricket diplomacy.” But if one reads the jingoistic blogs, the match felt like a war of the worlds. I was supposed to have had an early morning meeting with my colleagues in Bangalore, but they all had “family emergencies.”

Then there was the Saturday championship match between India and Sri Lanka. Even I, a non-fan of cricket or any other sport, got caught up in the excitement, albeit by a website that provided commentary for every bowled ball. I learned all about overs, googlies, wickets, and required run rates. It was fun to be part of something that united an entire country, if not an entire subcontinent. I found it sweet that young men carried their older teammate (Sachin Tendulkar) on their shoulders, saying, “Sachin carried the burden of the nation for 21 years, and now it’s our turn to carry him on our shoulders.”

But while that shining moment was something special, I’m a bit perplexed by the fanaticism of cricket (ditto for baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer).

Isn’t it a bit much when young men are offered crores of rupees for throwing, hitting, and catching a little, round ball?

Isn’t it a bit much when the same young men are treated like gods for being on the right side of a game’s outcome?
And isn’t it a bit much that they will be treated like a contagious disease when a few matches from now they find themselves on the wrong side of what is basically a coin toss?

Dear Friend,

No quote available from M. K. Gandhi.

In all the words attributed to Gandhiji, there does not appear to be a single reference to cricket. To be sure, the “Father of the Nation” was once a young boy who, most likely, played cricket. But life’s turns took him away from the frivolous fun and games that most of us enjoy (or at least use as a form of distraction).

According to Ramachandra Guha, who has written extensively about both Gandhiji and cricket, “The Mahatma insisted that swaraj (freedom) would come only when Indians rid themselves of the pernicious practice of untouchability.” Guha goes on to relate a bit of cricket history involving an “untouchable” captain named Vithal Baloo: “In the finals of the 1923 Quadrangular, the Hindus defeated the Europeans, with Vithal making a century. A patriot who watched the match later wrote: ‘The happiest event, the most agreeable upshot of the set of matches was the carrying of Captain Vithal on the shoulders of Hindus belonging to the so-called upper castes. Hurrah! Captain Vithal! Hurrah! Hindus who forget caste prejudice! Mahatma Gandhi Maharaj ki jai!’”

If the eminently quotable M. K. Gandhi needed a few words about cricket, he might have quoted C. L. R. James, who in Beyond a Boundary wrote, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”

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