Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short Lived : Life and 20-20

I have often voiced the forlorn faith as cricket’s romantic rooter.  The spirit sustaining sentiment that the game involving men in white on the greens reflect the drama that gets played out on the greater stage of life.

It is true. Seldom is any other game swayed by the slightest change of the wind, by the movement of the clouds, by the moisture in the atmosphere and turf. Few other sports combine the earthy ingredients of sweat, shine and spit to manipulate the laws of physics into esoteric outcomes as the reverse swing. Rarely in the arena is one treated to the thrills of diametric differences between the expected and the observed as the twist of the wrist unleashes a wrong 'un.  In no other sport is the inept asked to take on responsibilities that he is not born for, to walk out courageously to fend and prod as a night watchman, and still defy odds and logic to score a hundred the following day. And, as so often in life, we are given a second chance for consolidation or correction, when the openers trot out to begin the second innings, the fast men gear up with the second new ball.

While all that is true, can the attentive reader fail to detect in my words some tentative yearning for the good old days? Is there not more than a hint of what one misses in the modern day game?

Read again. Do I not say men in white as opposed to entertainers in multi coloured pyjamas? Do I not hint at night watchmen and stay clear of the antithetical aberration called pinch hitters? Do I not deliberately dwell on the game moving on from the day to the morrow instead of winding up in the course of a few overs? Do I not look longingly back at a time when the teams by default batted twice and even when the old ball changed into new, it remained as red as ever? Do I not make the cheerleaders shaking hip and more and the cash flaunting, club owning matinee idols conspicuous by their absence?

So, does the game in its modern manifestation, as the glitz and glitter wrapped Babel tower of corporate ambition, continue to echo the facts and fancies of day to day life?

Do Champions League and IPL or Stanford or 20-20 world cups kindle in the soul the same sparks of euphoria of seeing an allegory of life being played out in the forty or so overs?
It is true that I for one struggle to detect the finer nuances and delicate shifts of balance over and over again in the mini version of the game.

Life is faster, some argue, and time is squeezed into small boxes of instantaneous. 20-20 is nothing but a reflection of the jet age, where even the greatest aficionado of grounded beans has to succumb to the ersatz pleasures of instant coffee. Where in these hurtling times is the luxury to pursue a sport that moves slowly over five full days?  People fly across continents, send instant messages, close deals and make financial transactions at the click of a button. This is more than reflected in a game where even walking back to the pavilion is time consuming enough for a solution to be dug out.

And the incorrigible idealist that I am, I disagree. People may hurtle along, but lives are not getting shorter. It is less likely for instant cricket to reflect life than for a wolf whistle to generate the same sweet melancholy that fills up the soul when one hears a Beethoven Piano Sonata.

However, if one looks beyond just the game and focuses at the orbiting mayhem, one does find the reflection of modern times – a microcosm of modern madness.

The gradual conversion of all and sundry of the cricketers and the fringe players, the stars and the side characters, the men close in and in the outfield, into the forty over fold is the story of the current state of human affairs enacted through the hoops corporate cricket circus. As Fredrich Durrenmatt so masterfully demonstrated in his play The Visitor, lure of lavish and lucre engulfs all.

When ex-cricketers, once so vehemently against tarnishing a great game with this short lived incarnation, now flamboyantly wield the microphone doing pitch reports for the battle of corporate franchises, it mirrors the phenomenon of manufactured consent that is the working way of the world.  The commentary box loaded with heavyweights from the past days of glory, shedding their vestige of indignation and studiously analysing agricultural slogs do smack of propaganda akin to the diplomats who claim imperialistic expansions through financial bullying and bomb aided devastation actually liberate the underprivileged world or eminent industrialists claiming a little oil spill never hurt anyone.

When the respected journalists try to write out of their skin to create an illusion of benefit that the twenty over fracas brings to the mother game, one can see an allegory of similar parallels played out in so many levels of the media modelled modern world. In them I see the return of the editor of Illustrated Weekly, 'not a nice man to know', elevating Sanjay Gandhi to the stature of a demi god during the days of the emergency. I see Padma Shree winning journalists carrying their own motivated agenda into print as agents of a political party. I see a so called people’s paper solidly standing behind a nation trampling, crazy talking so called author.

The constant focus of all media on the events, innovating beyond themselves to pitchfork as many tenuously related programs, articles and features as possible into circulation plays out the same drama of FM Channels playing the same number over and over again to make it a hit, books and movies publicised as best sellers and box office hits before release.

In this mad rush for profits, bottom line and mass media brain manipulation, the Lalit Modis of the cricket world so closely parallel the unfettered greed of Satyam, Enron, Lehmann Brothers and later the banking institutions that brought the world to the brink of financial collapse.

Can anything be more demeaning than players themselves being auctioned, put up for sale, much like the medieval slaves who were made to fight as gladiators, with the colloseum madly baying for bets and blood?

Most of the parallels that one can draw with life no longer deal with the noble foundations of human endeavour and pinnacles of achievement that test cricket embodied, but do so with the murky marketplace that the world has been transformed into. And as mentioned earlier, the similarities are to be found more in the action in the fringes than in the middle.

In the larger than life figures of the ShahRukh Khans rooting for their sides from beyond the boundary, one can see the reflection of God and George Clooney selling Nespresso in tandem. The game is now nothing more than a commodity pandered to public with semi naked cheerleaders prancing around at each important and not so important landmark. Much like similar renditions of feminine sex appeal which crop up on billboards and television screens to sell everything from cars, watches to holiday packages. The esoteric essence of the brand has entirely overtaken the action in the middle.  The focus is on weaving it into the fabric of life. Akin to the Just Do It slogan that relegates the shoes and tee shirts manufactured in the sweat shops of Asia by malnourished children into the background, just like the yellow arches that eclipse the undone meat shoved between stale pieces of bread.

As fans flock to cheer the teams named in baseball style, across as many tournaments as can be crammed into a calendar stretched to limits, test matches are neglected by administrators and adherents alike. And here too one notices a curious parallel to the ironies of existence. The milkman has to vend his products from door to door, but the liquor den is always full of rabble.

To me, tweny twenty divides the cricket world, into the connoisseur and the commoner.

In this world, there will always be toddy and milk, Harold Robbins and Shakespeare, masala movies and magic on celluloid, a handful of readable magazines amidst two hundred gossip tabloids. Which will sell more is less than a rhetoric question, in the realms of an axiom. However, it is subtlety and sophistication repelling the hordes that go on to make something special.

I would rather continue my romance with the game than give in to the urges of a wham bam affair.

1 comment:

  1. What would you prefer:
    Buying packed vegetables from the shelves of a supermarket or from the romantic bylanes of a busy market place replete with the smells and the noise that goes along?

    What would you prefer:
    Marriage as a life long commitment to one person or the live-in relationship with the option of variety? Isn't variety the spice of life?

    What would you prefer:
    Lining up a queue outside an STD booth after 11pm to make that STD/ISD call home or pulling the mobile phone out of your pocket? After all making a call after waiting for 30 min in a queue makes it worth it doesn't it?

    Cricket as you have rightly pointed out reflects life in more ways that one can imagine. I, for one, have no problems with any form of cricket as long as I have the choice to pick the genre I love.

    Just as equally, you have the right to change channels and watch what you want.

    Now what would you prefer:
    Walking up to the TV to change the channel or using the remote?