In a Dorothy L. Sayers novel that I re-read recently, “Murder must advertise”, a spectator at a cricket match is all excited about an opposing batsman (whom he recognises, from his “exceedingly characteristic late-cut” that he remembers from twenty years earlier, as Lord Peter Wimsey of Balliol College). When someone commiserates with the spectator about his team losing, he is dismissive about his own team, saying (I quote from memory): “I want to see cricket played, not tiddlywinks.”
Are Indians actually cricket lovers, or tiddlywinks lovers? We like to see India win, that’s all. There is no particular interest in seeing good performances in neutral games, let alone in the opposition against India. I predict that the viewership for the cricket world cup in India will now be less than for last year’s football world cup. (Always assuming that Bangladesh don’t contrive to lose to Bermuda and allow India to sneak through.) And there is not even the slightest interest in domestic tournaments like the Ranji Trophy. So the supposed passion for cricket, and the associated marketing power and financial clout, are all a sham. The masses have been brainwashed by the advertisers, playing on misplaced instincts of patriotism.
Sambit Bal wrote a few days ago that “Cricket needs a reality check. It has an unhealthy, and unsustainable, business model that relies primarily on an increasingly delusional and one-dimensional fan-base. The bubble has to burst for a semblance of sanity to be restored.” Welcome to the reality check.
I’m cynical about professional sports in general. I grew up watching the Soviet bloc (particularly the East Germans) sweep the Olympic medals; it turns out they all did it on performance-enhancing drugs. (For a long time the Olympics pretended to be amateur, but they gave up that charade a while ago.) The western countries do it too: The Tour de France has been mired in scandal. And even players who don’t abuse their bodies with drugs suffer lifelong stress injuries. Our top tennis player, Sania Mirza, seems to be injured all the time. What is sport about? Achievement and human spirit? No, professional sport is about the money, and screw one’s own long-term health and fitness, never mind such minor considerations as ethics and morality.
And — to get back to cricket — the money-driven nature of the game has a very ugly side that we have all preferred to ignore: even after the match-fixing scandal we pretended that the problem was solved with Cronje, Malik and Azharuddin out of the game. The murder of a coach means we can’t ignore it anymore. Hopefully the early world cup exit of the money-making powerhouse will restore some sanity to the whole thing.