Cricket in india a cultural artifact


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This paper presented in a college seminar explored Cricket in India through the lens of Nationalism, Feminism and Capitalism.

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Cricket in india a cultural artifact

  1. 1. Cricket as a Cultural Artifact Seminar Paper presented by Gayatri Gopalan, Manpreet Kaur and Amita Malhotra LSR (2003) “Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English” Ashis Nandy‟s comment succinctly brings forth the idea that Indian cricket is a cultural hybrid. Despite its foreign origins, cricket has found strong roots within Indian culture and magically transformed not just the way the game is played but how it is received as well. Instinctive and imaginative improvisations that the English would be amazed at, are an important part of the Indian experience of cricket. A gully for a cricket field, piece of wood for a bat, ball made of India-rubber instead of cork, wall/stones for wickets- these are innovations that would leave any Englishman stumped! But while this is hybridization at one level, it is made possible only by the more important transformation in the very texture of the game- in the way the game has been uprooted from it elitist circle to reside in the hearts of millions. Indian cricket‟s unique ability to invigorate the masses, and the energy, emotion and frenzied passion that become part of our cricket as a result of this mass following make the Indian version of the game radically different from its English counterpart. Cricket has indeed travelled a long way- both literally and metaphorically. In its present form, Indian cricket has reached a point where it becomes a site for the intersection, interaction and in the process translation of various narratives. Our paper will explore the narratives of Nationalism, Capitalism and Feminism. It is an undeniable fact, whether you are a cricket enthusiast or not, that ours is a cricket- crazy nation. And it is equally undeniable that cricket has acquired a value greater than just entertainment. It has moved out of the sports arena and become such an integral part of our public life that it is the only public life some people can claim to have. On a more serious note, cricket has the unique ability to unite all of India over and above its diversities. Inspiration-Passion-Devotion-Obsession, cricket evokes myriad responses across India. But what is common is that India rejoices every time Team India wins and despairs at every loss. As those Eleven Men become representative of nationalist aspirations, cricket becomes a symbol for the nation. In making cricket larger than what it is, we also make larger-than- life figures out of our cricketers. As noted sociologist and cricket historian, Dr.Ramachandra Guha notes, “ India ranks at about 150 in the World Development Repot, just below Namibia and just above Haiti. It is the cricketers, and they alone, who are asked to redeem these failures.” Cricketers then represent not just nationalist but national as well as individual aspirations too. Noted Mumbai columnist, C.P.Sundaram echoes the same idea though much less charitably. According to him, every time Tendulkar walks to the wicket “a whole nation tatters and all, marches with him to the battle arena. A pauper people pleading for relief, remission from the life-long anxiety of being Indian…seeking a moment’s liberation from their India-bondage through the
  2. 2. exhilarating grace of one accidental bat.” So, when Sachin was accused of ball tampering in 2001, a huge public outcry ensued in India. Questioning Sachin‟s integrity was somehow seen as an attack on the judgement of the people who had instated him as a National Hero. Perhaps it was also the fear of losing another hero to ----. This hankering after icons, however, also has its flip side in terms of the hysteria and the fanaticism that has suddenly plagued the cricket culture. Cricketers in good form would amount to deification and a lean patch would instantly trigger effigy-burning and cricket funereal processions. Disrupting matches at the scent of a defeat by throwing empty bottles, burning newspapers etc is symptomatic of the growing intolerance and fanaticism of the Indian crowds. Indo-Pak encounters exemplify the worst kind of fanaticism feeding on an “ugly and destructive nationalism”(Guha). For example, the celebration of Pakistan‟s defeat at the hands of Australia in the 1999 World Cup final is emblematic of a common view that equates Nationalism with anti-Pakistan sentiment. The digging up of cricket pitches and vandalizing of BCCI‟s offices during Pakistan‟s tour of India in 2000-01 by Shiv Sena activists is also a case in point. Leaders of both the countries have long used cricket as an expedient tool for manipulative diplomacy. It becomes the first casualty in case of breakdown of Indo-Pak talks and any improvement calls for the immediate resumption of cricketing ties. It is not just the politicians but also the media that has played a major role in projecting cricket as a battlefield. The 1999 World Cup match between India and Pakistan was widely seen as an extension of the war being fought in Kargil at the time. But it does not end here. Ahead of a potentially groundbreaking tour by India to Pakistan in March this year, some TV imbeciles have over-enthusiastically decided to call the series „The LoC Series‟- ostensibly Lions of Cricket but the real agenda is way too obvious. Playing up the political dimension of the series is a deliberate (though smart) ploy to market the event (as if it needs any more marketing!). The discourse of Capitalism thus becomes an important point of analysis in any study of modern day cricket. Notwithstanding the fact of its indispensability, it is a relatively recent phenomenon. The commercial ethic made its debut with the introduction of the one-day cricket format by Australian magnate, Kerry Packer. The commercial viability of Indian cricket increased considerably with India making it big in the 1983 World Cup. Come 1992, economic liberalization opened the floodgates for foreign investment. The stage was set for the Cola giants to battle it out on the cricket field. It was also the decade in which TV revolutionized the way in which cricket would be watched and cricketers would be remunerated. Till 1993, the state broadcaster insisted that the cricket board pay them for covering cricket. Six years later, they paid 55 million dollars for the right to show it. As against that, SetMax paid a whopping ----- to BCCI to claim telecasting rights for the World Cup 2003. Money started flowing thick and fast not only in the accounts of BCCI but also those of individual cricketers. 2.7 lakh per test, 2.21 per ODI, at least 280 days of cricket in a year, you needn‟t be a rocket scientist to figure out that they are stinking rich! Add to it, an average of about 20 lakh per ad assignment and it becomes amply clear why cricket is such a lucrative career in India. But this gentleman‟s game
  3. 3. was embroiled in the most un-gentlemanly affairs thanks precisely to this commercialization. The match-fixing scandal erupted around the world and it was Indian money that funded it. The recent Abhijit Kale episode, where he apparently offered the selectors Rs.20, 000 for a place in the National team, was another case of Acquired Integrity Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This displacement of values, that is, a movement away from national pride to selfish commercial interests problematises the whole concept of Nationalism. Inspite of this, Nationalism continues to be a powerful discourse that in the sphere of cricket has been conveniently appropriated by the Capitalist enterprise. Does Nationalism then become just a marketing gimmick? Is the media by catering to a specific cricket-crazy audience obliterating the „real‟ issues? Is cricket facilitating the hegemony of MNC‟s and encouraging a kind of economic neo-imperialism? An example of marketing strategy-mandira bedi,the prime attraction in the packaged deal that set max offered as part of its world cup coverage;not just how cricket was packaged,but quite literally,how the woman was –I mean the mega sleeves and the noodle straps.No doubt that this lady, with due respect to her obvious charms, was where she was because she belongs to the entertainment industry,and more importantly,to a particular gender. But as against the self professed claim of her mandate being “bringing in the women audience” what was being catered to was clearly the male gaze.Cliched, but the argument holds. So, the glorious extra of extra innings seems to have inspired shows like the 4th umpire on DD sports and more recently the Shaz and Waz show on ESPN STAR SPORTS .The idea here is certainly not the grand vision of bringing in women to the game or getting their inputs but pure gimmick. The cultural stereotype of the dumb bimbette gets reinforced in this process of representation. At the end of the day, the woman behaves exactly the way she is expected to-concerned with the trivial or trivializing her concerns.Interestingly, mandira bedi herself pointed out that the criticism against her was due to the fact that a woman was trespassing upon a man‟s game. But is such an intrusion possible? And if that had been SetMax could have called upon Diana Eduljee, the highest wicket-taker in women‟s cricket, or Mithali Raj, the highest scorer. But obviously, these women of accomplishment lack the „style‟ that Bedi exudes. Can informed women cricket enthusiasts be accepted? Does that mean that in the world of cricket, is woman condemned to be dumb- either as a misplaced sexual attraction in a serious sphere where a male panel discusses authentic cricket, or as a representative figure for all the women audience who can‟t get over the fact that Rahul Dravid is sooo cute and Brett Lee is soo hot. Where then does one locate Mndira Bedi‟s recent endeavours to find sponsors for Indian women‟s cricket team? Her attempts to empower this marginalized form comes from her own empowered position- which really is a disempowerment in that it comes from from maintaining stereotypes rather than questioning them. There are no clear answers. The debate rages on. The divided opinions, however, are based on one fundamental notion that cricket provides an interesting site to explore the space available for woman, if any, within this man‟s world.
  4. 4. The feminist discourse makes for the reading of a particular kind of representation within the present day culture of cricket. The narratives of nationalism and capitalism, however, are self-evident because they become dominant modes that explain and in turn are explained by the cricket culture. In a country like ours, cricket , within its all pervasive influence often comes to be seen as a grand narrative. However, a generalization of this sort is bound to have its own share of problems. After all , any act of centering necessarily involves marginalisation and cricket is no exception. Cricket mania in India is restricted to “team India”, and doesent filter down to the domestic levels. Cricket is also accused of overshadowing other sports in the country. Women‟s exclusion or exclusive inclusion in this sphere has already been discussed. As earth shattering as it may be for a cricket enthusiast, there is a sizable population that fails to understand what the halabaloo is about. Therefore, it would be naïve to assume that cricket is a totalizing narrative. However, it cannot be denied that cricket is a dominant strain in our cultural consciousness.