A Lot Of Cricket But No Cricketers!
By Ravi Perera
My friend Raja is unusually insightful. At our watering hole, many a mundane discussion has been turned into sizzling intellectual treats by his wit. He was much sought after when the more serious minded of the club members gathered, intent upon deep meaningful conversation.
One day we were discussing the undeniable cultural imperatives that underline various popular sports.
“Almost all the sports that we enjoy in this country today came from Europe including even the parlour game of cards. A good number of these games came from England. Cricket, which has got so well established here of course came from England and no game can be more English than Cricket”, he said provocatively.
“But we are better than them at Cricket now. Today the centre of gravity where Cricket is concerned is without doubt in South Asia,” challenged George who is known as an avid reader of the sports pages of the local English newspapers.
“This is the thing. No question that there are millions playing the game in India and in her neighbouring countries. These numbers give them a tremendous advantage when selecting teams. But in my view, winning or losing is not that important in the inherent philosophy of Cricket. Surely a game centered on winning won’t be played for a whole day, leave alone five days in a test match! It is a very complicated series of activities carried out on a sunny day on the country green by a particular sporting culture. This includes the on-lookers who are generally very appreciative of the efforts of the players, regardless of which team they belong to,” he helped himself a fish cutlet which the man waiting on us had just deposited on the centre table indifferently.
“The umpire’s word is law, the batsman walks if he is out regardless of the umpire, and these are some of the underlying concepts of cricketing activity. In some cultures the idea of a third person umpiring a contest is looked at very suspiciously.”
George challenged him, “But don’t our guys follow the same concepts?”
“Well, sometimes even better than some Englishmen. But there is an undeniable sense of ideas somewhat half understood in the whole thing. Even when we listen to a Cricket commentary, the English guy treats it as a sport and is often tongue in cheek. On the other hand our commentators sound far too serious and try to give the game another, almost a scientific dimension which does not stand to scrutiny,” Raja argued.
“The general ideas behind the behavior expected of a cricketer did not develop here. ‘Not Cricket’ is a phrase that has no meaning in a culture where anything goes. To illustrate, now take games like Badminton or Tennis. In a normal social game whether a shot is inside the court or out is called by the players. If we get a player who calls everything that lands on his side of the net against the opponent a game cannot be conducted. Here the assumption is that the player on that side is a reasonable chap and would not go all out to call in his favour. I think these games reflect something inherent in the mother culture that gave birth to these sports”
“I can illustrate this even further. Take the game of Golf where the tradition is for the opponent to keep your score card. This idea to work effectively there must be a very large degree of integrity and trust. To give a local example what would happen if we ask Mahinda Rajapaksa to count the votes of Ranil Wickremasinghe and vice versa? Will they do the right thing? What will their cultural imperatives make them do? I cannot tell for sure, but going by our experiences in recent times the opponents score could be very intriguing?” he laughed.
Surely this is not a laughing matter. The realization that our leaders, in Cricketing parlance, might be good batsman, some may even call them pinch hitters, but in reality were bad cricketers was sobering. Like the various sports we discussed, politics also surely has a lot of unwritten rules. Every public activity to be meaningful must be based in an ultimate sense on a system of values. If the politician’s only motive is to gain power and when gained retain it at any cost, is that Cricket? In Sri Lanka a person enters politics as a very long term career. In fact in our way of thinking it seems that longer a person has been in the game of politics, better his claim to high office. In this country outsiders like Barrack Obama have no claim to political office. In Sri Lanka, there is no hope for a newcomer. Regardless of the number of times he has been given out, the batsman keeps coming back to bat, sometimes wearing pads of a different colour. Every shot played by his opponent he will call out. Match fixing, bribing the umpire, fiddling with the score card is all part of the game. And there is another very Sri Lankan dimension which degrades the game to a farce. It seems that one of the overriding ambitions of the senior batsman is to bring his children and other relatives into the team.
To achieve that, he will go all out to convince the selectors of their cricketing talents. In such an overall situation can we argue that the mere fact of an election gives any authenticity to the winner? Can a few acts of political legality, operating without any underlying principles, win legitimacy in a meaningful way?
In other words is this ‘Cricket’? We seem to play a lot of ‘Cricket’, but do we have any ‘Cricketers’?