Monday, 10 January 2011

Where have all the Cricket Writers Gone?

 Where have all the Cricket Writers Gone?

- Senantix 

The reason I write these pieces is that I am an incurable romantic.

To me cricket is not just a game in which a battle ensues between two teams armed with the willow and the leather and in the end there is a winner and a loser.

Cricket is much more than that. It is a game of infinite refinement, of perilous swings of fortunes, of subtle changes of balance, of rising hopes and of breaking hearts. It has adequate room in the great green fields to welcome swaggering heroism and ubiquitous workmanship, sophisticated stroke play and raw energy of the tearaway paceman, the creatively casual leg spinner and the ever busy poucher behind the stumps. Each one has to perform roles they are capable and not so capable of. The fortunes depend on the vagaries of soil and sun, clouds and wind, perfection of technology and the frailty of human decision. In its versatility, cricket is life itself encapsulated in a story that unfolds over five days, a symbolic allegory of existence, scripted in poetry, drama and skilful performances.

Thus to me, the game should be described in a language befitting its appeal. In the lyrical lilt of words that were used when poets wrote ballads about heroes. The poignancy of an  impressionist paintbrush to mix the dollops of colours spreading on the canvas to describe a starry night, a field of poppies or a party on a boat.

Hence I yearn for the good old days when a Neville Cardus merged music and reportage into compositions which played on the pages of print and struck a chord of symphony in the psyche of the reader, enticing him to the grounds in the want of encores.

Here is what he writes about Archie McLaren on an innings of the master as he neared his final days as a batsman., "He was the noblest Roman of them all. The last impression in my memory of him is the best. I saw him batting in a match just before the (1914) war; he was coming to the end of his sway as a great batsman. And on a bad wicket he was knocked about by a vile fast bowler, hit all over the body. Yet every now and then one of the old imperious strokes shot grandeur over the field. There he stood, a fallible MacLaren, riddled through and through, but glorious still. I thought of Turner's 'The Fighting Temaraire' as MacLaren batted a scarred innings that day, and at last returned to the pavilion with the sky of his career red with a sun that was going down."

Compare and contrast this to the convoluted hash of similes  "Amir is a bee, Asif is a snake" and atrocious adjectives such as "ballsy stroke" inflicted on  thousands of readers in the form of current tripe that passes for sports writing. Some of the reporters of the current day have even used their discussion forums to get into abuse hurling matches with the public who have cared to question their judgment. Can one imagine a Cardus or an Arlott or a Cozier coming down from their press boxes to engage in a slang slinging bout with readers?
It is this aspect of the modern day game that grieves me most, even more than the cheerleaders who swing their hips and more to the fours and sixes in a 20-20 game as Lalit Modi and company count the money to be made on greedy, grubby fingers. The game is popular as never before, in all its different time and over bound manifestations. To touch upon an obvious and unpleasant topic, cash in cricket is more abundant than ever, the once pleasurable pastime of amateurs is literally lolling about on lucre. Media frenzy has taken it over in a wave of capitulation. Words uncountable fly about on the happenings on the field and even more depicting the intriguing stuff that transpires away from it. And to me it seems that most of these written words stink from severe smear of mediocrity, even ineptitude, that has become the hallmark of columns and bylines.

When Jack Hobbs got out to an edge, even in the dismissal Cardus would pay him a tribute. His peerless observation would be, "A snick by Hobbs is a sort of disturbance in the cosmic orderliness." Now we have self important columnists earning their living by writing "Tendulkar got out to a foolish stroke". A noun, a verb and an opinionated adjective do make a sentence. Add a semi-senile ex Australian skipper behind it and it may even venture into the realm lousy reporting. But it does not amount to writing in the slightest refined sense of the word.

With articles aplenty in the effort to grab TRP, sound bytes, column space, page hits, there is a mad rush for converting unstructured thoughts into half baked pieces and forcing them through the eyeballs of the readers. A lot of the masses are satisfied with the cliche ridden news and opinions even as the discerning hurt, ache and pine for the days of Cardus and Arlott. The sheer numbers make the industry overflow with scribes of impotent pens, who need a lot of careful handling to rise halfway to the occasion, ejecting their pitifully meagre creative juices. The ones promising much tend to get shrouded by the multitude or lend their names to too many bylines.

Cardus produced a heady mix of cricket and music while John Arlott brought poetry into reportage. Both of them have departed beyond the far pavilions, to the world where timelessness is not bound by editorial deadlines. Nowadays a Scyld Berry comes few and far between, a Peter Roebuck makes for rewarding reading with interludes in between, while much of Harsha Bhogle is limited to halting words about topics his heart does not care for but his employers do. An epic test match can move one to Homeric epithets, as the match winning 73 by VVS Laxman demonstrated in the recent past. But, can anything but drab, calculating financial articles be drafted about the Champion's League? Yet that is what seems to be Bhogle's main theme nowadays.

So, while in the yesteryears, a late cut by Don Bradman would be described as 'dismissed the ball from his presence', a Frank Worrell drive to cover point would be 'persuading the ball to go on its way', today most often even a sublime flick of the wrists from the blade of the most graceful of batsmen would be put down in time tested cliche as 'finding the gaps with ease'.

The problem is that while Cardus believed that  "We remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination.", the universe is changing rapidly. What remains standing in memory and history is fast becoming the earning of a cricketer and the franchise that employs him.

The situation can be summarised through a thought experiment. In these days, when the corporations, the media, the sponsors, the franchises, the betting syndicates, the political bigwigs, film actors and cheerleaders – everyone hangs on to the outcome of a match, imagine the reaction when the event is washed off by inclement weather. Disappointment. Anger at the gods of rain for inflicting losses all around? The tabloids masquerading as newspapers and websites reporting it as 'Match washed out' or the more imaginative 'Rain plays spoilsport' or the incisive 'Lack of foresight on the part of organisers leads to losses'.

Who in these materialistic days can combine beauty, lyrics, music and philosophy to describe the event as Cardus would have done in one sentence?  'The elements are cricket's presiding geniuses' ... Oh for a Cardus in the covers.

Click here for the cricket blog of Senantix - the avatar of Arunabha Sengupta on blogosphere 

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