Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Cricketers and Orations

Like a venerable typewriter salesman addressing the National Association of Typewriter Manufacturers, Rahul Dravid told his profession that it must do its best by its customers if it wants to survive. He was speaking yesterday at Australia's War Memorial in Canberra. The occasion was the rather grandiosely named "Bradman Oration".

Many years from now, some mainstream historian will probably see Kumar Sangakkara's address to those old conservatives at the MCC (some of whom probably still regret South Africa's isolation due to apartheid), and Rahul Dravid's address at the Bradman Oration, and see one more reason to conclude that the 2000s were the moment when the game went global. But perhaps he will read these two staid, formulaic - im-from-a-place-thats-foreign-to-you-all, diversity, money, fans, moments, what-a-great-game - speeches, and also see the moment in which the game's primary identity as a global business, and its demise as a great 20th century sport, was cemented.

I cannot shake off the feeling that even Steve Jobs, flogging Iphone(x+1) to Apple's tame tech journalists only a few months after having flogged Iphone(x) to the same tame journalists, was more of a visionary than Dravid and Sangakkara have been in their speeches. There is, in both speeches, a sense that both were pressured into believing that they were merely diplomats representing their countries, and not great individual sportsmen challenging their sport. Like lost squirrels nibbling away at the edges of a foreign leaf, both tentatively picked away around the edges of the great issues of the day, hedging their bets, picking, as Dravid told his audience Cricket must do, "the middle path".

Think about the game of Cricket today, and then think about it in 1991, the year Rahul Dravid made his first class debut against Maharashtra at Pune. Think of the Umpire today, and the Umpire then. Think of Test Cricket today, and Test Cricket then. Think of the massive changes in the game. Why, think about Cricket in 2006 and think about it in 2011. The Decision Review System is changing how decisions are made about cricketing events. It is changing the status of the Umpire. It is changing the relationship between the game and its broadcasters. The advent of franchise cricket, first in India, then in other places in the world, in the coming weeks, in Australia as well, has dramatically changed the shape of a cricketer's developmental ladder.

If ever an oration about something as trivial as cricket were merited, it is now. And yet, all we have heard from both Sangakkara and Dravid are mere platitudes and homilies. Sangakkara had this to say about this "critical juncture" in the game's history
I strongly believe that we have reached a critical juncture in the game's history and that unless we better sustain Test cricket, embrace technology enthusiastically, protect the game's global governance from narrow self-interest, and more aggressively root out corruption then cricket will face an uncertain future.
In the remainder of his speech, Sangakkara regurgitates similar platitudes about Cricket. To his credit, he did take on at least his country's cricketing establishment and its ways.

The extent of Rahul Dravid's engagement with matters of cricket policy was limited to a pathetic abdication of dignity by offering that cricketers should be willing to forego privacy and submit willingly to lie detector tests "if necessary". Dravid diagnosed a "change in temperature over the last two years", but this merely led him, twice, to aim at the "7 match ODI series" (There have been only two such series since 2007, in both cases involving Australia), and to the feeble point that all three formats are not equally important.

The gist of Dravid's speech, like that of any successful purveyor of a trade called on to address his similarly successful comrades, was that "We've got it good, lets not throw it away". A sadder, meeker, less imaginative "oration" is hard to imagine.

It has been disheartening to see Kumar Sangakkara, then Anil Kumble and now Rahul Dravid waste great opportunities, choose the staid, safe, middling mediocrity that the middle path often offers, instead of confidently using them (and their own eminent positions) to strip cricket - the game and the business, of its delusions about itself. Delusions which are all too apparent in "Spirit of Cricket" lectures and "Orations".

Maybe it is too much to expect of cricketers. Maybe it is too much to expect from such occasions, which, like your average Rohit Brijnath or Harsha Bhogle column, are about beautiful, often scintillating fluff with very little substantive, contestable argument. Maybe such occasions are not about thinking, but about taking a break from it.

It is all very well to say that cricketers should let their cricket do the talking. If they do not watch out, and speak out, pretty soon their cricket will have no place to speak in the tongues that they seem to love so dearly.


  1. Dunno what's up with Stats Guru, but Australia and India also played a 7-match series in 2009 Oct-Nov. The same one in which Tendulkar scored 175 in the 5th ODI while crossing 17000 runs.

  2. Rohit HippalgaonkarDecember 15, 2011 4:51 PM

    he's always been pretty 'establishment', never really outspoken or politically incorrect, hasn't he? pretty much the same as Sachin and Kumble. for more candid views, a Ganguly or a Sehwag are possibly better bets.

  3. How is he pinpointing the fact that all three formats are not equal, figuratively if not literally, a point to grind home to? Or am I missing something here, Kartikeya?
    Also, what are we expecting of cricketers now? To be thoroughly professional orators?

    I don't believe his text was the best or in relative comparison to the one which Sangakkara narrated, but the guy timelined this with sheer nonchalance, if you take the themes he discussed. And let's be honest, ICC isn't having polygraphs, at least for now, just because Steve Waugh and Dravid endorsed them. And even if they did down the road, there would be procedures for it, definitely dealing with the basic apprehensions we are supposedly having right now.

  4. There's a difference between sangakarra taking on the weak,almost ruined cricketing establishment of srilanka and dravid's cricketing establishment which is powerful,rich and which thinks that it is independent of the government.In any case,sangakarra sucked up to his rulers(political)who had a greater say in their cricket than an establishment which cant even pay its players.I dont see anything anti-establishment in a courageous sense worthy of unblemished adulation in sangakarra's speech although his attempt was very worthy coming from a sub continental cricketer.One gets to hear watson talking more honestly about establishment matters than these supposedly respected men.

  5. Indian greats seem to be a victim of their own images.They feel the need to please all and not fall on the bad ranks of any set of people,be it establishment or anti-establishment.Though I didnt expect anything really aggressive from dravid in his speech,his acknowledgement of the role of us fans was pretty good on his part.Cricketers rarely ackowledge their dependence on fans for survival.To dravid's credit,he put forward this point in a typical dravidsque way.Besides,there were the staples to be recited in a bradman lecture.The obligatory references to India-Australian history,adulation of bradman,etc.

  6. Dravid gave a very dravidesque speech, safe,steady and non-controversial. Why did you expect anything else?

  7. The StatGuru omission is simple - it filters by matches played, not matches scheduled, and the 7 ODI in 2009 was completely abandoned.