My previous post elicited some criticism in its comments section. Golaandaz took my praise for Test-only players as an irrational bias against certain formats of the game; calling them “childish,” he said, hardly does them justice. But while my positions on the formats are clear — I like all cricket, but Test, ODI, and T20 in that order — that wasn’t what I wanted my post to be about. Hear me out:
Regular readers know that I have a particular view about what makes cricket special. My case is largely borrowed from Ashis Nandy and his book Tao of Cricket, a phenomenal read every cricket blogger should thumb through (twice). In it, Nandy says that cricket is special because it recognizes the limits of human agency. The outsize roles for the pitch, the weather, time and other contingent factors (like the existence of the “draw,” a concept beyond many American fans) sets the game apart from the others. Take this together, and you have a very good case for cricket as a game set apart from modernity. Indeed, a big reason I like Test cricket is the fact that it can be boring sometimes; these quiet stretches of nothing-ness are a tribute to an ancient rhythm we don’t see much of these days.
So, where does Eoin Morgan fit in? Again, I don’t begrudge the guy choosing money over virtue. That’s a tough call for many to make, especially youngsters like him. No, my post was merely a call for a different type of player — the anti-modern player, who solely plays Test cricket and refuses to allow the game to swallow him whole. Exciting as young players like Kohli and Raina are, I have come to increasingly respect the players in their early-mid-late 30′s, who have to face their “mortality” (i.e., their fading skills) even as other concerns (family, most prominently) begin to alter their lives. In these players, you see the larger lesson of cricket — man comes and goes. Imagine cricket in this scenario not as a scenario or a game, but as a space set aside against the backdrop of increasing commercialism, modernity, and ‘progress.’
This line of argument suffers from a number of weaknesses. Russ will accuse me of glorifying the ‘amateur era,’ which he thinks was largely a sham. (He’ll have to explain that more himself.) Others will say that I, like Nandy, merely trade in baseless nostalgia for an era and sentiment that never existed. But, for me, the IPL represents some of the worst parts of the Indian growth ‘miracle’ — a crass consumerism that emphasizes work/skill over virtue/honor. This is what happens when the market takes over — and while I know the trend is generally beneficial, I’d still prefer an athlete who resists. Is this so naive?