Cricket’s Mid-Life Crisis

 

When last week’s pay television ratings were released, the India Vs Australia Test Match Series occupied the top three positions. “Cricket on the Continent Captivates Subscription Viewers”, the press release trumpeted. On this basis some may think that the game is in a healthy place right now. However, the bigger picture shows cricket in general is on a downward spiral.

 

The first reason for cricket’s malaise is that it’s having a mid-life crisis. To borrow a phrase popular with Kevin Rudd, it doesn’t know if it’s Arthur or Martha. Has Test match cricket been usurped by Twenty20 cricket? And if Twenty20 cricket is now the dominant form of the game, what role does the 50-over game play?

 

The game desperately needs to go off on a retreat, sort itself out, and until it comes back sure of itself, interest will continue to wane.

 

This has hitherto been impossible because the true powers within the game – everyone other than the ICC – have been blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes. The fanaticism associated with the Indian Premier League vis-a-vis the latest Test series shows were the Board of Control for Cricket in India is extracting the majority of its revenue, while the fact that players are opting for the hit and giggle shows where their hearts truly lie.

 

This leads to the second reason for the games mid-life crisis – it’s excessive neo-liberalism puts Jeff Kennett to shame. One only needs to pay a visit to their local library to see this. While a player may publicly quiver in nationalistic pride when they are handed their baggy green in front of their teammates, the fact that they are off writing their own biographies fifty overs later shows what truly rules in this game – individualism and the almighty dollar. Once they have finished drooling in their own pretension they will doubtlessly be filming their latest television commercial, with advertisements for car dealerships and takeaway outlets once again set to challenge poor American imports as this summer’s television turn-off. Of course this is no different to what we saw in this year’s Olympic games, with our individual athletes attributing the ecstasy of their victories to the jingoistic thought of “doing it for Australia”, only for us to then pick up the newspaper the next morning to read the obligatory analysis from media-buyer Harold Mitchell as to how marketable they are.

 

Cricket’s commercialisation was at its most blatant during the Indian Premier League this year. The “clubs” are the quintessential twenty-first century rich-man’s sporting franchise. While these franchises may be named after geographic regions, it is not unreasonable to doubt whether any of its international players have the slightest idea where they would find the fans they are supposedly representing. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine Ricky Ponting visiting a local Kolkata school to conduct cricket clinics, or inform the schoolchildren of the dangers of substance abuse. What has always made people so passionate about cricket is its patriotism. Why do Australians love to revel in the glory of winning an Ashes series? Because it means we beat the Poms, something of significance since the days of a colony beating its mother country and subsequently proving its worth. If the game is going to remove this regionalism by establishing generic franchises comprised of disparate playing groups, what will be left for the average cricket fan once the novelty of watching a big six is over? The purists are already cringing in their rocking chairs, and if the game continues along its current path and bastardises itself any further, the game’s players really will be left to please themselves.

 

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