Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tiddlywinks

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.

10 comments:

Tabula Rasa said...

Hopefully the early world cup exit of the money-making powerhouse will restore some sanity to the whole thing.

How?

Rahul said...

By making everyone as cynical as I am, so that people stop betting on the thing, the racket dries up, and incidentally the sponsorship money also dries up...

Anonymous said...

hi,

you seem to miss a lot about sport in general and what it means to people esp people who are in the lower strata of the society . it might not be out of place here to quote clr james, considered by many the greatest ever writer on cricket and its relation to society....."what do they know of cricket who only cricket know"................sport was and is an important part of all civilized cultures right from the time of the greeks........also, not everything is right with academics and other things...the same problems that affect modern sports seem to affect everything in general....it is just the way the world is and not an indictment of sport.......the craze for publishing...the politics of indian science academies.....the lure of the media.......etc etc

Anonymous said...

however i do agree with the general senti ments expressed as regards this mad craze of watching the game only to support the national team and other things like betting etc...but the general comments are ( i believe) way off the mark....

Tabula Rasa said...

anonymous:
i'm not sure the it's the people in the "lower strata of the society" who are getting their tata sky connections and going hoo ha india. (unless you're defining strata on some evolutionary basis.)

and i'm not sure how "the same problems" that affect the indian science academies affect increasingly professionalized sport as well. please elaborate. are people betting on directorships? are scientists deliberately screwing up experiments that looked as if they'd succeed? did an advisor just get killed because the student didn't pass their generals?

rahul:
optimist.

Rahul said...

anonymous - as TR says. Also, I was talking of professional sport only. You say it's "way off the mark" but don't say why.

gaddeswarup said...

I will stick my neck out and try to guess what Anon. is trying to say. May be both performance in sports and academics are a reflection of the general culture. For example, consider India's performance in Olympics and sciences. In the areas I know (like mathematics) some of the Indian institutes have excellent facilities, very little teaching and provisions to go abroad. Yet, the performance of Indians abroad is much better and in my opinion some of our best institutions do not even compare with middle level American universities. Are the Indian scientists doing something else like contributing to teaching, education, commottees etc ( again I am talking only of areas which do not need much investment)? I doubt it. Lot of effort seems to go in to maintaining status and fending off competetion ( like scientists from abroad who may want to come back. Offer them lower positions than they would accept etc. I have personally seen libraries being prevented from having books in which competetors were mentioned and books from which the current professors copied). About sports, there seems to be nepotism, corruption at every stage and too much adoration and sponsorships to the extent of affecting athelete's performances. A few institutes in India that I watched seemed to have deteriorated ( some of the second generation are now working in some of these institutes). So, may be general culture seeps in to every thing, however talented the persons in a team or an institute may be. This is my guess of what Anon. is trying to say and to some extent my impression too ( I did not make a very careful or scientific study).

Anonymous said...

all that patriotism!!

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vani

Rahul said...

GS -- from what I've seen of Indian science you're being quite unfair. I don't know about mathematics, but in physics and biology I'd say the best Indian places are quite comparable with "middle-level American universities" (though not the top-level ones), at a fraction of the funding. Travel funding has improved but still doesn't compare with what you get in a developed country. Mathematicians, admittedly, don't need much in research grants, but the rest of us do, and it's good but doesn't compare with the developed world.

As for your comments about fending off competition, I have not seen anything of the kind: quite the contrary. The better institutes are desperate to attract the best talent, and offer good positions -- quite often a young faculty member will become a "reader" or "associate professor" sooner here than in the US or UK. The pay is not so good but we can't do anything about that.

Perhaps what you talk about does happen in the lesser places or the universities, but it would happen in lesser places everywhere. I know many universities have "deteriorated", but not the higher research institutes or labs. Abi recently linked to numbers suggesting that even the much-maligned CSIR labs have shown a remarkable improvement in the past few years.

gaddeswarup said...

My experience is from some of the elite institutions (TIFR and ISI) but that was from about 20 years ago; I visited them off and on later. Moreover anecdotal evidence is far from empirical evidence from bigger studies. I am not sure what I meant by middle level; may be the ones after top 20 or so. It is possible that there is a lot of change since I left. I will be happy if I am wrong.