It may be a while before cricket acquires the global following of soccer or tennis, but thanks to the mobility of modern labour and the passion for the game shown by its émigrés, the game is spreading around the world.
OLD friends will not be surprised to learn that my favourite column in The Hindu’s magazine section is not my own (though I admit I read every word in it, masochistically watchful for printer’s devils) but the one that usually appears immediately above it, Ramachandra Guha’s on cricket. Two of my consistent passions over the years have been good writing and cricket (no adjective necessary there), and both appear in abundance in that space. So I am conscious that, in venturing onto Ram’s turf, I may be guilty not only of irreverence, but of irrelevance. Two columns on cricket in one page, especially when the first is Ram Guha’s, might manifestly be too much of a good thing.
And yet my theme today is one I cannot resist. A visitor to New York the other day asked about cricket matches in the city and waxed eloquent about the growth of the game in, of all places, Dubai. When I first heard of the phenomenon, I had visions of Bedouins on camel-back trying to turn chinamen upon the desert sands, and scorecards bearing the regular notation “dust storm stopped play”. Enlightenment soon followed, however: I duly learned about the lead taken in promoting the game by the Air-India Sports Club, the success of the Dubai cricket development programme, and the fact that many matches are played on subkha grounds with sand outfields. And why not, indeed? After all, there is a famous stadium in next-door Sharjah, and the United Arab Emirates team would be a force to reckon with in the International Cricket Council (ICC) trophy if it were only allowed to field some of the subcontinental stalwarts who play the game around the Gulf.
The globalisation of cricket is a phenomenon of which even this occasionally serious columnist has to take notice. After all, I can speak from personal experience. In the course of a peripatetic life I learned not only that Italians and Israelis played cricket, but I ended up playing the game myself in two less likely countries, Singapore and Switzerland.
If ever Singapore gets around to nominating a national sport, you can be pretty sure it won’t be cricket. Most Singaporeans appear to believe that the term applies either to a noisy insect or a trademark cigarette-lighter. So the fact that every Sunday I would dress up like a poor relation of the Great Gatsby and venture hopefully into the drizzle clutching my bat invariably mystified my Singaporean friends. Bats, of course, they associated more with vampires than umpires. And the notion that anyone would spend the best part of his Sunday on an uneven field in undignified pursuit of five-and-a-half ounces of cork provoked widespread disbelief. “You mean they still play cricket here?” exclaimed one Singaporean. “I thought that ended with the Japanese occupation in 1941!”
In fact there were 20 teams in the two Sunday Leagues run by the Singapore Cricket Association when I was there in the early 1980s, and innumerable others playing “friendly” matches on Saturdays. They ranged from the sometimes plebeian Patricians to the tavernless Tanglin Taverners, from Non-Benders who chased every ball to Schoolboys who didn’t, and from the two teams of the elite Singapore Cricket Club to the more esoteric acronyms of SAFSA and SPASA (known to the initiated as the Armed Forces and the Polytechnic respectively).
“I do not play cricket,” Oscar Wilde once wrote, “because it requires me to assume such indecent postures.” Most Singaporeans, a notoriously serious and straitlaced breed whose recreations are golf and economic growth, appeared to share his disdain. The Archbishop of Canterbury who described cricket as “organised loafing” and the Nobel Prize-winning author who termed cricketers “flannelled fools” would have felt right at home in Singapore. Many a local utilitarian with the national devotion to statistics pointed out to me that cricket simply wasn’t cost-efficient enough. The amount of space and time it took to give 22 players a game could, I was reliably informed, be more productively allocated to 100 squash players, 200 swimmers or 300 joggers. When I responded that 88 crickete
Source: The Hindu