Is cricket becoming something we see between advertisements?
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Sunil Gavaskar has rarely hidden behind diplomacy in stating what he thinks about cricket. Consequently you can either agree with him or, occasionally, disagree, but he provokes thought and debate and he loves the game. And there are many in our country who are drawn towards the game from an academic, intellectual point of view; just as there are many who love it only for the sheer spectacle it generates. Coincidentally I have just started reading a highly acclaimed book called What Sport Teaches Us About Life by Ed Smith where the author talks about how sport can be enjoyed at different levels, like music, literature and art can. My fear is that in India we have started putting the commerce of cricket so far above everything else that there are few occasions for thought and education and debate. I am hoping therefore that Gavaskar stimulates thought and that the media views it as such, not just as a collection of quotes to be used in the next edition or bulletin.
I fear too that commerce is driving us towards cricket becoming that little something we see between advertising. To be fair, that advertising pays for my livelihood and makes it possible for all of us to view sport but we are fast reaching a stage where administrators, as custodians, need to draw a balance between propagating sport and selling it. If we price the product so high that the buyer has no choice but to recover his cost with advertising at every opportunity, we run the risk of diminishing the spectacle of sport for those that follow it. We cannot make the watching of sport clinical when it is meant to be enjoyable. So here is a debate that is crying out to be heard; one forum for people who sell rights, for those that buy them and for people who watch the final product.
The other major debate, one that Gilchrist spends a fair bit of time on, is about the future of the 50-over game. The one-day international has been the financial driver of cricket, almost single-handedly responsible for sustaining the game, for keeping Test cricket, the most outstanding sporting challenge, alive. But Test cricket needs to be propped up, its beauty needs explaining to a newer generation, it must be kept alive. Can one-day cricket still make that possible? Will one-day cricket be like the floppy disk that revolutionised the storage of data but which had to bow to the progress it initiated? Or will it be like a pair of jeans that constantly evolves and stays relevant to every generation? India's games in the West Indies this week and, more critically, the Champions Trophy in September will give us clues about what the viewers want. At the same time, though, I would love to know what today's cricketer thinks about one-day cricket.
One final thought on the ICC World T20. It produced very good cricket, some really fine skill was on display and it proved a lot of people wrong on one count. For all of those that make fun of women's cricket, the news is that one of the best matches was the semi-final between England and Australia. The girls played a pretty high level of cricket but they also demonstrated great skill in setting and chasing targets. They played for abysmally poor prize money but maybe because of that we got to see the kind of enthusiasm that the amateur so wonderfully generates.
I don't know, maybe Gavaskar would want to touch on that. His sister, remember, was one of the earliest women to play competitive cricket.
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