Home/ Opinion / Columns/  Why T20 triumphs over intellectuals and purists

World Cup defeats of the Indian cricket team do not hurt as much as before. It is not because we have been trained by cricketers to become tougher. It is just that our lives are fuller than before and the age of heartbreaks itself is over.

However, the loss may still hurt a bit, and since Thursday, when India lost to England in a semi-final of the T20 World Cup, Indians have come up with various consolations. The comedian Tanmay Bhat tweeted, “test cricket is real cricket". It was also a jibe at a type of serious men who keep saying this.

The fact is that today the predominant version of cricket is the 20-over version. Cricket is T20. It has eclipsed even the one-day game. In what, you may ask, if you are of the serious type. And I would say, “in the only thing that matters in sports—in popularity." What about prestige, you may ask. Prestige itself is not so prestigious anymore.

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Test cricket is, of course, the most sacred form of cricket, but it is like most sacred things—there is a broad consensus on its sacred nature, but no one can say why, nor is there any deep emotion underpinning its sacredness. Most people who love cricket do not watch Test cricket anymore, even though they may track match updates. It is more event than sport. They do not even watch an entire one-day match as they used to before. In fact, if it were not for the 20-over version, cricket would have stagnated or even shrunk in a distracted world filled with addictive frivolities where even Hindi films struggle to lure fans into theatres.

T20 has made cricket prosperous and deepened the love of its fans. It is in the natural order of things then that its birth was difficult. It was considered abhorrent by the sort of people who are very sure about what is abhorrent.

T20 was born of a local necessity in England, where the young found domestic cricket boring, chiefly because it was. A marketing manager with The England and Wales Cricket Board, Stuart Robertson, suggested that a 20-over version of the sport will draw people in. It was not received well. Seven of the 18 country chairmen voted against it, and so the decision passed narrowly. Many major cricketers and writers scoffed at the idea. But, eventually T20 stormed the cricketing world, aided by the Indian Premier League (IPL).

I was among the people who were certain the IPL would be a failure, but in my defence I must say that my reasoning was not that it was an inferior sport, but that for decades Indians had neglected domestic sports because they were not really sports-lovers; rather, they were looking for national pride and watched only international cricket. So, I wondered, why would they watch a 20-over version of domestic cricket?

The triumph of T20 is a triumph against intellectuals and purists. One-Day Internationals themselves had faced similar resistance at various stages of the format’s evolution—when floodlights were introduced, when the red ball was replaced by white, and when cricket whites were replaced by coloured clothes. Purists called it “pyjama cricket", a term that percolated down layers of society and inevitably infected pretenders.

In any field, purists are usually a section of old-money folks who also generally had good childhoods, and hence have reasons to love and imitate the world of their parents. Their considerable influence in media then influences middle-class pretenders. The third type of purists are players who are direct beneficiaries of a particular tradition. Like Sunil Gavaskar has reason to consider the straight bat superior to the helicopter shot. There was a time when fine Test batsmen considered the reverse sweep a quaint sacrilege.

In every sphere of human life, there are these three types of purists who appear to uphold a sacred antiquity. They existed in the publishing industry, and they scoffed at Amazon’s claim that it can sell books online. They were in the film industry, scoffing at Netflix’s vision of cinema that did not require movie theatres. Not very long ago, when a Netflix film would be screened at an international festival, purists used to boo.

In any given sphere, purists drive a way of the old life to ruin until delinquent capitalists who are not in awe of tradition create something new to save the old. They are insulted by the purists as crass entertaining clowns. Then the honest masses who have not read enough to pretend to be other people make that innovation a huge success. So the purists lose, grumble and eventually accept the change.

I must confess that by far my happiest memories of cricket were at dawns in December and January when I would be up in Mumbai watching live telecasts of a Test series in Australia. I didn’t care if India played. It was a beautiful spectacle that did not require the menace of meaning or thrill.

So, I do not suggest that what purists try to save is useless. But what they resist and what they insult is often precious.

Tradition survives by glorifying abstract things. For instance, the central flaw in the consecration of Test cricket—that it is a true test of the calibre of a batter. It is absurd that this hypothesis has survived for so long because Test cricket is filled with great stonewallers whose mediocrity is exposed in other formats. A batsman needs to be more gifted to perform well in T20 than in Test matches. It is easy for mediocrity to survive in Test cricket because the fewer strokes you have, the fewer risks you would take and the longer you last.

Endurance, in all walks of life, is nature’s reward for ordinariness.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist, and the creator of the Netflix series, ‘Decoupled’.Elsewhere in Mint

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Updated: 14 Nov 2022, 08:46 AM IST
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