Cricket is a game that had its origins in England. As the British Empire extended its suzerainty over territories across the world, cricket began to be played in the colonies of England too. Today, cricket is an international game that is played in some 16 nations across the globe. Cricket is commonly nicknamed a ‘gentleman’s game’ though initially, before cricket became popular, it was a game that was played predominantly by women and children in the country where it originated.
Many feel that the term ‘gentleman’s game’ is a misnomer for cricket. What with the Aussies getting racial and sledging non-white players and players, in general, hurling abuses at umpires, cricket is fast falling from its exalted pedestal of being a game only for polite and civilized gentlemen. But still, the label ‘gentleman’s game’ suits cricket better than it suits football, which, according to many, is the world’s most beloved ‘ruffians’ game’. (Football, of course, has never ever been called a ‘gentleman’s game’.) Besides, with more and more women choosing cricket as their career, it would be positively sexist to say that cricket is a ‘gentleman’s game’.
A Game that Unites
Cricket is more than a game. It is a great unifying force. When Indian and Pakistani players shake hands or slap each other’s backs during or just after a cricket match, the gestures are capable of bringing tears to the eyes of the hardest of hardliners and fundamentalists. When different nations started playing cricket with South Africa after South Africa publicly proclaimed its repudiation of the contemptible apartheid, a legalized practice of racial discrimination and ostracism carried out by the whites of South Africa against the blacks of the nation, it was a red-letter day in the history of cricket that bowled everyone over.
With the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL), cricket has acquired altogether new dimensions. A single IPL team is a melting pot of cultures and mores with Indian, Australian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, English, South African, West Indian players playing in it along with players from other cricketing nations. Players who always played against each other and who were considered to be archrivals and opponents now play together for the same team, leaving behind their prejudices and dislikes. As barriers of language, race and culture vanish with camaraderie between newfound teammates, cricket gains a new and interesting face with every passing day.
It’s Not Cricket. Or is It?
It is still the same old cricket but it has definitely gone beyond cricket. The game has undergone a major facelift in the last few decades. Though five-day test matches are still revered, they are out of vogue, because they last for five days and tend to be boring. Most cricket maniacs look forward to One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in order to enjoy the highs and lows of the game in just one day. But ODIs too have lost their charm in the face of stiff competition from the Twenty20s (T20s). Cricket, it seems, is adapting itself to the times to cater to the needs of impatient, frenzied fans. Yes, you might be run out in the race to grab tickets, but modern-day cricket will certainly give you a run for your money, even if you watch the match on television.
Investing in Cricket
Cricket, currently, is thought to be a greenfield opportunity for businesspeople, a great investing ground that can yield great returns. Many genuine sports aficionados feel that cricket has become too commercial to remain a hearty game anymore. But many others feel that the ‘business’ of cricket is actually doing a lot of good to the game. Putting real money into cricket is actually helping to propagate cricket, they say. True. Look at some of the other games like hockey, polo, badminton, athletics, etc. of the Indian subcontinent. They are in a sorry state and are stagnating due to the dearth of finances.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has turned the cricket field into a gold mine. Celebrities, actors, and business magnates are all queuing up to buy and sell players like curios at an auction, to sponsor teams and matches and to make big bucks. Tycoons are fighting desperately for the most big-ticket players, making their bids shockingly high, before the hammer comes banging down. The stakes are very high in cricket today. While winners are eulogized by their owners, losers are disowned and sold off quickly. Just like what happens in the commodities market!
Can a Brand Ambassador be Called a Cricketer?
Almost all top-rated cricket players have done endorsements for products at some point or the other of their lives. Cricket is not a very paying game. At least, it is not very paying for the best cricketers of the world, who have lavish lifestyles. Doing endorsements is the only way for them to maintain their opulent ways of living. Some of these advertisements can really get you stumped out. This is precisely the reason why marketers use cricketers. When you see your favorite cricketer on a different pitch, displaying or patronizing a fast-moving-consumer-good (FMCG), you might actually be prompted to use the same product, yourself. So, cricketers are a good medium for companies to get their messages across as they make excellent brand ambassadors.
Advertisements have their flip side also. Several players have been accused of making too much money through advertisements only…and too little through cricket. They have slipped on the pitch, while their sales pitch has been great. They have often been run out on the field while the commercials they have featured in have given viewers and ad agencies a run for their money. As their bank balances have grown fatter and fatter through brand endorsements, they have been dubbed as wicked and greedy people who are only interested in money and not in the game or its spirit.
Wickedness in cricket was at its pinnacle during the match-fixing years. Talking about it in the past tense indicates that the writer sincerely hopes that match fixing really belongs to the past. During this tragic period, cricketers sold their game, themselves and their countries to bookies and others in order to make some quick bucks. It was a shame! The sheer numbers of players who got caught out for this sordid affair proved that cricket was indeed bitten by the devil himself. Wicked players would deliberately place their legs before the wicket in order to be out. Sides and teams would lose matches and tournaments purposely because a single loss was much more profitable to them than the prize money from a single victory. Cricket, countries and loyalties were traded freely for hard cash. Cricket has never paid as badly as you might think it has from the episodes of match fixing. It was not the lack of money that drove cricketers to fix matches. It was avarice that drove them. Greed to mint and hoard money by hook or by crook. While they got out for ducks in the morning and broke the hearts of devoted fans, they were probably congratulating themselves on the number of roast ducks they would have at the best hotels with their friends that very evening.
This is Really Not Cricket
Gossip columns in newspapers and magazines have sizzled with salacious tidbits from the personal lives of cricketers. While some cricketers like the unwavering Sachin Tendulkar are dedicated to the game, other cricketers have other dedications besides cricket. It would require a whole book to document all their interests, which are sometimes pretty immoral and unpalatable to talk about. Still, you get the meaning…? Late night parties at hotels, drinks, involvement with the opposite sex…..So, who wins at the toss the next morning? Not cricket. Cricket goes for a toss while the excesses of life supplant it. The player goes back to the pavilion, not with his head down as it should be, but with his arrogant head held high. He heads straight for the bar and the arms of the most despicable member of the opposite sex. But such players have never been able to make or break records. It is only conscientious, earnest, and committed players like Sachin Tendulkar who have created records and broken records.
Cricket Plays a Great Innings and Remains ‘Not Out’
Nevertheless, cricket continues to hold sway over present and past cricketers as well as over thousands of spectators with its inherent magic. One four and the stadium, whether it is Centurion, Lord’s or Eden, comes crashing with applause. One six and a terminally ill patient watching the match from his or her home, breaks into a smile. A century and an entire nation cheers and shouts forgetting all distinctions of caste, creed, race, gender. He may not raise a finger to help play the game but as soon as he raises his index finger into the air, the umpire causes a country to burst with joy. Though thunder and lightning can stop the game and force people to thrash out Duckworth Lewis, thunderous clapping is sure to be heard, once the game resumes.
Cricket is a sport, a game that enchants hearts. Cricket matches can get very exciting and put people on tenterhooks. One Day Internationals and Twenty20s can really give you a heart attack if your ticker isn’t too strong to withstand the scares and exhilarations of the game. Cricket is often used to build ties between nations, to patch-up hostilities, for forging new bilateral and multilateral relations. Cricket binds and joins; it brings solidarity, and breaks the ice. Cricket is capable of changing relations between countries and international equations. Cricket transcends all boundaries. Howzat for a game that had its origins in a grammar school of an obscure English village?