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India’s Victory, Cricket Capitalism, and the Death of Fast Bowling by Sajid Huq

March 31, 2011

Sajid Huq

Of course, like most avid cricket fans, I am a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, and even Zaheer Khan. I even enjoy the IPL, and very aware that the Indian team is at least as good as the Sri Lankan team, regardless of who wins on Saturday. It’s a tight call, hence no prediction this time. The India-Pak game was far easier to predict.

To be fair, the Indian team deserves to win the World Cup though because of their consistency in overseas and home tours in 2010. However, there are some negative unintended consequences to a victory by Indians on Saturday, April 2nd, in Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium.

Cricket Capitalism will become larger, to the extent that it may even threaten cricket as we know it. For starters, the IPL will have vindicated itself not only for the commerce it generates, but also for generating the next generation of Indian cricketers.

The powers-that-be will deem the IPL to be a good filter for Ranji players to prove their shot-making and temperament. They will be on the lookout for more Suresh Rainas, Yusuf Pathans, and Munaf Patels.

Given that is has vindicated itself for its ability to generate commerce, advertising revenues, and so forth – the IPL will only feed off an Indian World Cup triumph, and become bigger. There will be more franchices, more teams, more foreign players, more games, more celebrity ownership, and more Bollywoodization.

In the IPL, since Indian players predominate, the “Indian style” of cricket will catch on more and more. In the bowling department, this will simply mean the death of traditonal fast bowling (And no Brett Lee’s success in all forms of the game is not a rule, it’s an exception).

Or to sound less polemical, it will mean that fast bowling will never be what it was, for those of who grew up watching the West Indian, Australian, Pakistani and even English pace bowling in the 80s and 90s.

Think back to what made Zaheer Khan such a potent weapon throughout the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Zaheer does not rely on pace, bounce, and the ability to instil fear in batsmen. He moves the ball for sure, but the reason why he is successful is because of his unpredictability. It is the same reason why Shahid Afridi has been successful. Zaheer is a master at changes of pace, variation of length, sometimes line, angle of delivery, and so forth.

These are of course tremendously useful traits but not necessarily the main ingredients of successful fast bowling as he had known it in the 80s and 90s. This is the sort of bowling that causes doubt in the mind of the batsman, chokes him, cuts off runs, and lures him into a false shot.

These are the ingredients of bowling that continue the blur the line between an Afridi and a Zaheer, and this to my mind, is an inevitable consequence of the success of the Indian Premier League and T-20 Cricket at large. Is this a negative change? Well that’s up for debate depending on your flavor of choice.

There is also a less obvious angle. If you look at the ongoing 2011 World Cup, for the first two-thirds of this tournament, teams were either scoring freely and notching up 300-plus scores, or failing to reach the 225 mark. If you look long and hard at the team totals in the group stages, especially the first two-thirds, you’ll see that this is the case.

Of course, as the tournament wore on, many teams realized this I think and took a harder look at the pacing of their innings. The Indian team is a case in point, although the match wasn’t as attractive to watch.

Moreover, further down the road, Ranji will become big money as the corportization of cricket continues. I wouldn’t be surprised if India produced a 50-over version of the Indian Premier League, wherein foreign players would come in and play for different states.

The outcome would be that the financial and professional pinnacle for international cricketers would constitute going to India where the money in, and getting to play for Punjab or Bengal or Delhi.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Well imagine if all Latin American and Continental Europeans only played for the English Premier League (EPL) and only the EPL. What would it do to the style and technique of Brazilians, Argenitians, and Spaniards then, and how easy would it be then for their players to gel as a team at the international stage?

As it is, foodball critics know well the effect of playing in European leagues and the detrimental effect it has had on international football. Cricket, as we have known it, used to largely be a sport between nations, wherein lay its charm. The increasing importance of highly lucrative leagues, therefore, is bound to be disruptive for international cricket.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, when every team had its distinct bowler and batsman wit its distinct style, when the cricket economy was smaller and it was still a gentleman’s game, I can’t help but think it was also more exciting.

And of course, there are other perils to an aggressive cricket capitalism, and the inevitability of a black economy.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Iqbal permalink
    April 1, 2011 9:53 am

    Hm, well I am one of those who is not opposed to the Bollywoodization of cricket. Frankly, cricket can use a bit of dressing up and the black economy is a necessary birth pang on the path of growth of the cricket economy. I also have to say that the article is well-written and observations about the death of fast bowling are not hyperbolic.

  2. Jingoist permalink
    April 2, 2011 5:26 am

    Well if you have watched Sreesanth bowl today you wouldn’t say would you that Indians are incapable of bowling fast – he was clocked at 145 K/ph. So there.

  3. Alan Townsend permalink
    April 2, 2011 7:35 pm

    I think the advent of EPL and T20 will make fast bowlers better. The same happened when Kerry Packer popularized ODIs. Fast bowlers had to adapt, and the generation of fast bowlers of the ’90s were more cerebral than their compadres from the ’70s and ’80s, and this is because of the shorter version of the game.

    Sajid, I understand and agree with your point about the EPL, but look at the financial benefits of IPL – cricketers like Brendan McCullam can make more money in one season now than they would have over their entire careers. So, there are some positives out of having the IPL.

    Also, I don’ t think the last few years of IPL has done much to make the national cricket teams very homogeneous. The South Africans are still the master chokers, the Pakistanis are still the worst fielding side, and the Poms are still aweful at playing spin. Some things just never change.

  4. April 3, 2011 3:07 pm

    Largely speaking, you are right, Alan. Although IPL generating better pace bowlers is only possible if by better you mean, more accurate, more deceptive in terms of changes of pace, etc.

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