Robert Chadwick shares with us a brief account of the history of cricket, a sport whose origins are often taken for granted.
‘Cricket is dead, long live cricket’
This is an interesting quote and seems to be a bit of a paradox. For those of you who perhaps don’t understand it, have no fear, for this little article will explain to you the incredible inside story of how cricket reinvented itself to become a modern sport. Some of you might say that cricket is a boring sport and to those people I say – prepare to get your curiosity piqued and your bigoted sporting views challenged, for this is interesting… sort of.
Like a phoenix from the ashes (get it?) modern cricket is pulling itself out from the gently smouldering remains of its former self. Test cricket is becoming increasingly poor and obscure, propped up by a life support machine paid for by the megabucks made by its reinvented self, as it waits for the opportune moment to pull the plug.
We are starting our story in India, in the early 90s. The story doesn’t start here, but there is a strict word count on this piece and I have to cut words brutally. So, early 90s, India. A struggling economy gets hit with some strict IMF sanctions which demand that they open up the country to multinationals and give themselves over to the capitalist swine who secretly run the world. Previously strict laws on state run television are overturned and money pours into the country. Cricket, India’s national pastime, is one area which is targeted with the likes of Emperor Murdoch coming into milk the cash cow of one of the fastest growing markets in the world.
Suddenly TV rights for Indian cricket are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and a new generation of shrewd Indian businessmen move into cricket administration and begin to auction off every aspect of the game to the highest bidder. From ‘official’ world cup chewing gum in 96’ to branded sixes in the IPL- there was a sale on in world cricket and everything had to go.
Kunal Dasgupta, who himself bid $230 million for World Cup tv rights, succinctly justified the (not so) silly money being spent on Indian cricket thus, “Cricket is the only product in India which unites the whole country, north- south, east- west. It transcends class, religion, regional and language differences.”
In this process, test cricket, the traditional form of the game, lost out to one day cricket. Tests are harder to watch, harder to understand and frankly, really boring. Conversely the instant gratification of one day cricket with the certainty of a result, the loud colours and exciting action made it more marketable to a rapidly expanding Indian middle class.
With money lining their pockets and the weight of numbers behind them, a succession of Indian sports administrators took over the international governing body of the sport (the ICC), ousting out of touch white blokes in North West London so caught up in their own pomposity they failed to appreciate the seismic shift happening in world cricket.
A revolution off the pitch was matched by a revolution on it. One day cricket succumbing to its logical conclusion and becoming T20 cricket, an even shorter, faster, and more exciting version of itself.
This is when the big bucks really started to role in.
The Indian Premier League, the brainchild of the mercurial Lalit Modi started in 2008 and became an annual event. The cricket became a spectacle with Bollywood stars sponsoring teams and the best cricketer’s in the world hauled in. Sponsorship money became rife as everything was monetised. Unsurprisingly this proved to be spectacularly popular, a daily evening drama for millions of Indians, a soap opera that a whole country could follow with relative ease.
The success of the tournament has firmly and rightly established Indian as the centre of world cricket allowing them to dictate terms to the inventors of the sport about their own sport! Michael Atherton recently wrote a piece commenting on how the spiritual home of cricket was no longer Lords, it was the playing fields of Mumbai. This is true, by sheer weight of numbers and depth of passion cricket’s spiritual home is India, even if its administrative headquarters has now been moved to the tax free shores of the newly invented place on the map ‘Dubai’.
In two decades the face of cricket has changed and the faces running it have also changed. The new version of cricket is here to stay and will enable the sport to compete against the ever expanding influence of American sports. It is vitally important for world cricket that cricket remains India’s most popular pastime and the best chance of ensuring that is the Indian Premier League.
Cricket, with its values and practices associated for so long with empire, has become indigenised to, and in many ways redefined by, its place in Indian society.