The game of cricket is undergoing a speedy transformation. This has given those who love cricket — its slow pace and the stamina it demands, its inherent unpredictability, and its splendid mix of artistry and physical power — reason to despair. Cricket, its well-wishers will concede, has lost much of its innocence. In recent times, politics, market forces and the media have corrupted the game and aroused misdirected public passions.
Cricket has become imbued today in the politics of militant nationalism and in the politics of hatred. It is being used as a powerful tool to arouse the collective national ego. Not surprisingly, therefore, the rhetoric of war/revenge has begun to be associated with cricket with rather disturbing frequency. A victory against Pakistan is celebrated as an appropriate “lesson” to an enemy country — no different from the Pokhran blast.
If the politics of nationalism has shaped the trajectory of modern cricket, global capitalism is not lagging far behind. Multinational corporations have begun to sponsor cricket matches. This has brought money into the game and glamourized it — reducing it to a spectacular visual image through which global products seek to enter our consciousness.
Cricket, it would not be an exaggeration to say, has become like a bottle of Pepsi. Have it more and more. Eat cricket. Drink cricket! In the metros, big hotels and restaurants invite the upwardly mobile class to dance, drink and, make merry as they watch cricket on a big screen.
It is often said that cricket is becoming democratic. But the fact is that cricket is becoming just another item of public consumption in the market place. It is being trivialized.
It is in this context that the role of the media must be understood. Cricket is being projected as a hot media spectacle. It is seen as “sexy” and “seductive”. The excitement that the media generates adds new meaning to cricket. Most important, it builds the cricketer into something like a mythological hero — masculine, full of zeal and enthusiasm, driven by the will to conquer. He is the embodiment of the “ideal” in this media-induced, market-friendly culture — he is always successful, he never fails; he never makes mistakes.
As a result of this constant bombardment by the media, it becomes difficult for many to take failure. When Sourav Ganguly fails to score a century, or Anil Kumble to get wickets, it is seen as something unnatural. A cricketer is thus either a hero or a villain, he cannot be anything in between. His elevation to iconic status is his final tragedy.
Is there any way cricket can be rescued from this trap' Unlikely, many would say. In a world so terribly affected by the media-market alliance, the romantic vision of the game has ceased to have any significance. Yet it should not be altogether impossible to bring in an element of decency in the game.
To begin with, cricketers must themselves resist appropriation by the market. Yes, money is important and cricketers are not saints. But then, it is possible to earn a reasonable amount of money without falling into this trap. In fact, they would play better cricket if they had the courage not to become puppets in the hand of global capitalism, to realize that they are just players who love the game.
At least the new generation of cricketers needs to be motivated and inspired by the saner elements in society, so that they can make a new beginning and resist the temptation to make cricket into a money-making machine.
Two, the larger viewing public must appreciate cricket as a game, with its moments of glory and ignominy, victory and defeat — not as a boost for our national ego. And the public can only be educated if the media becomes responsible, engages in some self-introspection and, instead of overemphasizing the role of cricket in our life, gives it the space it deserves.