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Narendra Bisht
Cheerleaders prime the IPL crowds at the Kotla, Delhi
A Porn Called T20
Cricket’s buffet is now too large. Digest it at your own peril.

So Sri Lanka didn’t win the World Cup. Again. We made it to the finish-line, before being tripped up by the wicketkeeper. Again. Two weeks have passed and it appears that the hangover has finally lifted. On the bright side, two consecutive finals prove, at the very least, that 1996 wasn’t a fluke. On the dark side, this is the last stand for many of our 2011 alumni. By the time another World Cup rolls by, Chamara Silva will be our most experienced batsman and Nuwan Kulasekera will be our main strike bowler. Yikes.

Sri Lankan fans have responded with quiet dignity. Many accept that we were beaten by a greater force, that our multi-pronged bowling attack, marred by injury, soggy conditions and miscued selections, were unable to tame the best batting line-up in the world.

There have been no prolonged sulks in the press as per the western media. No subcontinental-style hurling of pebbles at cricketers’ homes. For a nation not averse to irrational barbarism, the reaction has been surprisingly measured. Effigies have escaped the flame. Conspiracy theories have been discussed and then discarded. Trade in scapegoats has been low. Instead, Sri Lankan cricket has gone and done something radical. It has typed up its resignation and handed it in.

First Murali went. Then Malinga swore he wasn’t coming back. Sanga chucked it in, closely followed by Mahela. Then there were the selectors, and then the coach. According to Andrew Fernando’s spoof Cricinfo article, ‘Sri Lankan Team Bus Driver Resigns’, “En masses resignations are generally the best way to deal with losing a World Cup final.” And in the current climate, who can really argue?

That’s why I have half a mind to leap aboard this crowded bandwagon. To toss my white envelope into the ring. And announce my resignation from writing about cricket. And to serve notice on my days of being a fan. Now this probably seems a tad drastic. The petulant reaction of someone choking on sour grapes. Surely, I can be less of a drama queen. Chuck an effigy of Kulasekera on the barbie, pick fights with Indians in cricket chatrooms, spread a few malicious match-fixing rumours. Curse the Cricket Gods and move on.

I am resigning because I can’t endure the assembly-line of meaningless contests from now till then.
After all, IPL season is upon us. Then there’s Sri Lanka’s tour of England under new skipper Dilshan. Followed by a triangular with.... And there we come to the heart of the problem. I’m not resigning because I can’t wait four more years for our next shot at repeating ’96. Oh no. I’m resigning because I cannot endure the assembly-line of meaningless contests from now till then. I’m resigning because too much of a good thing can end up being a terrible thing.

If we use the last 18 months as a barometer, there will be 181 Test matches and 774 one-dayers to look forward to from now till the next World Cup. Assuming Sri Lanka features in 10 per cent of these games, that’s approximately 174 days of me sitting in front of a TV watching leather hit willow. There was a time when this prospect would’ve filled me with glee. No longer.

We used to thrill at the thought of Viv Richards squaring up to Dennis Lillee. At the sight of Gavaskar’s elegance defusing Botham’s belligerence. And our hearts would melt when Aravinda de Silva hooked Imran to the fence.

It could be the mistaken notion that the past is superior to the world we now inhabit. That the gentlemen of yesteryear were somehow purer cricketers than today’s mercenaries. That the bombast of T20 has robbed cricket of its artistry. And that the vast sums of money riding on each game has stripped it of its romance. But this is neither accurate nor honest. The reason we don’t look forward to the battles between Kallis, Ponting, Sachin and Gayle has little to do with talent or sentiment. It’s quite simply because we’ve just seen them play each other last Tuesday. And the Wednesday before. And if we stick around, we may get to see them face off again tomorrow after lunch.

Fact 1: There’s too much darn cricket on. Fact 2: Any commodity experiencing an excess of supply will lose its value. The accountants will no doubt disagree. As the Cowboys and the Indians at the IPL play to packed houses each night, it’s evident that the game’s worth more than it’s ever been. But for true cricket fans, not everything is measured in rupees and cheerleaders.

Back in the day, a Test series was met with excitement and anticipation. Especially amongst us Sri Lankans. Back then, the world of cricket was smaller. It was just six Test playing giants and us. England, India, Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and the Windies would rotate the strike, take turns granting us matches and use us as punching bags. But we didn’t care. In fact, we’d look forward to our annual Test series as a rugby fan would the next All Blacks game.

These days there’s no such thing as a cricket season, unless you’re referring to the period between January 1 and December 31. The game is spread thinly across three very different formats. And the calendar is now cluttered with as many meaningless fixtures as the English Premier League.

At the risk of blaspheming, let me state that for all its hype and star-filled dramas, the EPL dishes out very few surprises. Four clubs swap places at the top, while the rest make up the numbers. As a Newcastle fan, I console myself with the odd upset, though after Andy Carroll’s defection, that looks about as likely as Wigan playing Champions League.

Next month, the West Indies play Pakistan. Once upon a time, we would’ve rubbed our palms and licked our lips at the prospect of Imran and Wasim charging in at Greenidge and Haynes. Yet, today, the encounter has all the fascination of a Blackburn-Blackpool fixture.

It’s all about context. At a time when commentators were heralding the death of one-day cricket, the World Cup proved that there was still life in the old format. There were plenty of nail-biters, many of which featured England. Each game had a meaning, a subtext and a reason for being. Something which a 7-game series between New Zealand and Zimbabwe may lack. While the World Cup final had most of us riveted, can the same be said for the last 50 Sri Lanka-India games, which probably took place in as many weeks? If we keep repeating the same battles and lowering the stakes, cricket will be shorn of its meaning. And I may not be the only one tendering my resignation.

Perhaps my desire to resign is a knee-jerk reaction to the changing landscape, borne of my revulsion to T20. As was recently pointed out to me, if a Test is a classical text and a one-dayer is a racy thriller, then T20 is a glossy porn rag. Maybe my mistake was in trying to embrace all three formats at once. Like trying to cram Herodotus, Ian Fleming and Larry Flynt into one anthology. Like trying to stuff an entire buffet onto one plate. Ultimately, the fragmentation of cricket is an inevitable evolution. And to be a fan it is no longer necessary to watch every game and follow every format. It’s now up to us to choose how we consume our cricket and to select which matches we assign meaning to.

So rather than resigning from the game, maybe it’s wiser to resign yourself to what the cricket has become. To take from it what you will. And to discard the rest.

Karunatilaka is the author of Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, a novel about Sri Lanka and cricket. Waterstones UK listed it as one of the top debuts of 2011.

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