Modern cricket’s ‘naked’ truths

The Indian Premier League spectacle is a sign of the changing times, but long live Test cricket!
At the opening night party of the IPL in Mumbai,

I was taken aside by a `serious’ cricket follower who claimed to feel out of place in the frenzied atmosphere of the evening. “Look at that,’’ he pointed out at the stage as the singer Akon removed his shirt while crooning one of his foot-stomping numbers, “this is just not cricket.’’

I thought Akon had decided to bare his torso not because he had seen too many Salman Khan flicks, but because it was a terribly humid evening, but the serious cricket follower was unimpressed. “T20 is going to be the ruination of cricket. Too much entertainment, too little of cricket and its glorious tradition,’’ he said.

Frankly, I am amused by those who protest at the so-called intrusion of glamour and showbiz in cricket, now being identified as the trademark of the IPL spectacle. I love my Test cricket and have great respect for its glorious tradition. But times change, and so do people’s sensibilities. There was a clamour of protest when the one-day game came half a century ago, followed by coloured clothing and floodlights ODIs are now pretty much the `establishment thing. In due course, Twenty20, with its cheerleaders and slam-bang stuff will not be seen as radical or corrupting either.

I believe that there is space and spectatorship for all three formats to survive: as long as administrators don’t get greedy and obliterate Tests in favour of the shorter format for consideration of pure moolah. There has to be compartmentalisation, and let people pick and choose what they want. The crux, of course, is that Tests must be preserved for its pristine values but marketed with the aggression that the New Age demands.

As far as glamour and showbiz becoming part of the cricket, my understanding is that this has always been an integral part of the game, at least in the Indian context. On my first-ever cricket tour, to Pakistan in 1982-83, after striking up friendship quickly with Lala Amarnath, I asked him if it was indeed true that women had flung their mangalsutras at him after he had scored the first ever Test century for India, against England at the Bombay Gymkhana in 1932-33.

“History books are tame,’’ replied Lala with twinkling eyes. “Not just mangalsutras, women threw themselves at me, including some of the big stars of the time.’’ He went on to narrate some stories which can’t be repeated here because some of these were obviously exaggerated and all of them would be too salacious for a sports website!

I honestly can’t remember a single Test or ODI in Mumbai at least, where film stars, politicos and big biz honchos were not part of the spectators, cheering on their favourite cricketers. Indeed, I know of several film stars who are cricket obsessed: Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand (who made Awwal Number with Aamir Khan based on cricket), Aamir Khan (who made Lagaan), Amitabh Bachchan, Shammi Kappor (who is tweeting away his love for the game), Lata Mangeshkar (who sang in honour of Kapil’s Devils after the 1983 victory) to name just a few – apart, of course, from Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty who have now become owners of teams in the IPL.

Cricket is India’s undying passion. Because of the depth and extent to which it permeates the Indian consciousness, it is also a repository of great power for those who deal with the masses, like politicians and film stars. The nexus has always existed, only it has become stronger with the implosion in the media. Everybody who is in public life, wants to be in the thick of the action, one way or the other.

Ergo, the opening night party of the IPL had the who’s who of Mumbai society, half of the film industry, several politicians and general hangers on who inundate Page 3 of various newspapers, all in attendance. I suspect, the glamour quotient will also see an exponential rise this season, what with IPL having sold rights to after match parties which will include fashion shows et al that will make up for more television programming.

Is there too much of a good thing? I guess the history of the human race suggests there is; it also tells us, that we will never know what the threshold is till it is reached. Till such time, the parties, the entertainment will roll on.

So if you ask me what the big difference is between 1932 and 2010 where glamour in Indian cricket is concerned, I would say that in the earliest times, women were bold enough to throw their mangalsutras at outstanding achievers like Lala Amarnath. Today, Preity Zinta would wait near the dug-out to give her star performer a big hug.

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My Lloyd-ship!

And finally for those who think that the romance and glory of Test cricket is being stymied by T20, this anecdote from Richard Hadlee’s book `Not Out’ to keep the chin up and uplift the mood.

During a trial in Jamaica, the judge put his hand up and declared, “I have to tell you, folks, that Lloyd is dismissed.’’ The defence counsel, flummoxed, replied. “But my lord, my client’s name is Floyd.’’

“Ah yes, quite so’’ said the judge, “but I thought you’d all like know the latest score from Sabina Park.’’

There is a whole universe of people, I would add, who, like the judge are fanatics of Test cricket. I count myself among these.

(Ayaz Memon has been covering Indian cricket for three decades now. One of the most respected writers during our times, Ayaz, through his exclusive pieces, will capture the many moods during the Indian Premier League)

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