» News » The Global Reality Show

The Global Reality Show

By Pratik Kanjilal
February 28, 2003 20:15 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

For a change, I am taking an interest in the World Cup.

It is difficult to ignore an event in which Australians are being doped by their mothers, New Zealanders are being rabbit-punched by South Africans for howling haka war cries in pubs and the Indian Prime Minister has to weigh in to save cricketers' families from mob fury.

This is a global reality show. I follow it because it rewards me in certain intangible ways. It reinforces my innate belief that the world is an absurd place and the objective of life is to get as many cheap thrills as possible before the lights go out. However, this is scarcely the sort of motivation one associates with a real cricket fan. So what do they get out of it?

What do fans get out of cricket?

A small number of social perverts like me follow the World Cup for entertaining sidelights. A larger, cannier set follow it because they stake their money on it, or help other people stake their money on it for a considerable consideration. Considerable, because these people routinely have red corner notices issued against them by Interpol and enjoy the oppressive hospitality of the police. It's a high-risk, high-return undertaking.

And finally, there is a smaller and even cannier set of people in sharp suits, quiet ties and buffed shoes, with trial lawyers, flunkies and shooflies clustered all over their bodies in a riot of symbiotic life, who are engaged in the legitimate and rewarding business of buying and selling telecast and sponsorship rights and advertising spots.

Deeply litigious people with high television visibility, whom no law would dream of touching, no matter how piratical they turn. These are the bona fide cricket fans, the genuine item, a small, almost invisible minority that makes money hand over fist without ever having to understand the physics of a seam or the stickiness of a wicket.

These guys are not be confused with the poor deluded fools you see all about you, surgically attached to transistor radios or rushing to buy bigger, flatter TV sets on spuriously easy terms. In the popular imagination, of course, the fools are the ‘real' fans. ‘Real' because they have no material stake in the game. So what do they get out of it, these sad basket cases who believe that happiness flows from a warm radio?

What do ‘real' fans get out of cricket?

Perverse, self-righteous pleasure, that's what they get out of it. The pleasure of harassing people not of their persuasion by insinuating that cricket is as intrinsic to human civilisation as politics, and that a disinterest in its details is a symptom of a sociopathology not far removed from sub-humanity.

At the mass level, cricket is a tool for generating peer pressure and forcing people to be enthusiastic about ordered, conservative, monolithic society. Everyone has suffered from this peer pressure at an impressionable age. It results in a condition known as ‘being bitten by the cricket bug'. Significantly, the term ‘bug' is usually reserved for malevolent entities that cause disease in humans and crashes in computers.

Only the strongest are able to resist the cricket bug. I remember being bitten by it when I was about ten years old. Among other psychiatric disorders, it caused transistor radio fetishism, obsessive-compulsive behaviour which forced me to repeatedly bowl imaginary overs, and attention-deficit disorder whenever I was confronted with real life.

However, I was able to diagnose my condition in time, and abjured it for all time. I am now able to look indulgently upon the poor suffering people who failed to squash the bug, which has taken up residence deep in their brain, in the lee of the hypothalamus. They are still surgically attached to their transistor radios, still fibrillating when Sachin hits a four, still bowling imaginary overs in the office after hours, when there's no one around to bear witness to their shame. I pity them, and now they can no longer demoralise me with their cricket-supremacist nonsense. However, elsewhere, cricket continues to cause harm, causing deep disquiet among non-fans. They are asking questions, questions which must be answered:

Can cricket cause grievous bodily harm?

Please read your morning newspaper. Please read about the child who had to be hospitalised after drinking kerosene, mistaking it for blue Pepsi. The Pepsi campaigns, as we all know, is not entirely unrelated to the World Cup. However indirectly, cricket can lead you to the stomach pump. Self-immolation is also not unknown after losing to a bitter rival, as happens with some passionate fans following India-Pakistan matches.

Can cricket endanger the modern family?

It's in the papers again, in the subtext. Not only do cricketers' families need police protection from mobs, they are now under siege from within. The elder brothers of cricketers have turned out to be implacable foes. Shane Warne's brother revealed that his mother had administered the banned drug to his sibling. This is far more embarrassing than the earlier revelation that Warne had phone sex, something that thousands of people the world over do while leading otherwise upright lives. This amounts to evidence of heritable stupidity in the Waugh family.

Meanwhile, in Calcutta, Sourav Ganguly's elder brother has been writing rather frank columns on his sibling's poor form, to the glee of all the Bengalis who, in the early days of the Cup, turned against their only icon, lynching and cremating him in effigy and immersing his barbecued sacral bone, also in effigy, in the Ganga. In this whole charade, only the Ganga was not in effigy. It was real and wet. But the main point is: elder brothers are turning out to be a serious threat to the integrity of cricketing families.

Can cricket take control of your mind?

With effortless ease, the cricket bug surges forth from its command centre in the lee of the hypothalamus to influence all your purchase choices. Cricket determines which motorcycle you ride, which airline you fly, which drink quenches your thirst, which television you watch cricket on, and which credit card you use to acquire these goods and services in the first place. In a market economy, this amounts to mind control.

Can cricket cause delusions?

Mass delusions, believe you me. The most prominent of these delusions is cricket diplomacy, which is a contradiction in terms. The model, obviously, is the Olympics, which were instituted as a form of surrogate warfare by the Greek city-states, in which everyone could work off their aggression without seriously hurting each other. Someone wins, someone loses, but it's all on a manageable scale.

However, when someone loses, someone gets upset, so this is not a very good model for diplomacy. Diplomacy is all about win-winning. So it's scarcely surprising that moments after Indians and Pakistanis play a ‘diplomatic' match, they go right back to shelling each other in the mountains.

Another delusion, pervasive among the intelligentsia, is that of cricket as metaphor, or cricket as a barometer of deep anthropological truths. Several authors, who are usually occupied in writing excellent books on mass culture, political psychology and other obscure areas, have written books on cricket while in the grip of delusion. These books have been largely successful because critics have pronounced them to be “immensely readable”. This is scarcely surprising, because cricket is much less complicated than political psychology, and these books give lay readers a rare chance to find out why these writers are so famous anyway.

The most pervasive delusion is that cricket somehow strengthens the moral fibre and imparts the values of civil society to players. “Play up, play up, the side, and play the game,” as one of the Victorian writers famously put it. Given the fact that the game was invented and propagated by a colonial power, and that colonialism is infamous for its errors of commission in the areas of morality and civility, this belief is clearly absurd.

But the worst delusion that cricket engenders is that it is a simple and accessible game. It is not. To the lay observer, it seems to be full of legs (short and long, bye and before) and a silly point that seems to lurk among them. There are far too many ways in which bowlers may be deemed to be deficient or batsmen declared out, and far too much technology about what can be done to a ball with spittle and what cannot be done with a stealthily applied bottle cap. Commentators revel in the sort of arcane private code that micro-neurosurgeons and plasma physicists spitefully use to exclude people from their field.

And finally, there are the statistics. Ah, yes, there are statistics and statistics. Statistics that would give a Cray a headache. All told, I think people like me are well-adjusted. We don't need to change our lifestyles like everyone else every time a World Cup looms up.

We might bitch once in a while about having the newspapers and the TV channels pumped drum-tight with cricket. But there are always those stories about doping mothers and haka warriors to make up for it. We can patronisingly watch it drift past, marvelling at the colossal stupidity of the human race.

Pratik Kanjilal is the author of The Penguin Guide to Using the Internet in India (2001) and The Last Wilderness (Indigo Publishing, 2002), the English translation of Nirmal Verma's Antim Aranya, and the publisher of The Little Magazine (


Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Pratik Kanjilal