The retirement of Rahul Dravid has brought forth an avalanche of eulogies from all over the world – one would expect no less from the media.
Except that I did, if not quite expect less then certainly feared less, because “the media” is no longer a closed brotherhood of those with bylines on printed pages, but a seething mass of keyboard warriors, phone-in shouters and belligerent bloggers as capricious as any mob Shakespeare imagined. Yet mostly (if not quite always) cricket’s “mob” appears to comprise reasonable people, who love the game more than the men and women who play it, support their own teams but recognise the merits, cultures and histories of others and embrace their passion for victory rather than be enslaved by it. Defeats are more often met with a wry smile than a bulging vein pulsing in the neck and facile demands that every player, manager, director must be sacked.
My friend Phil Sawyer recognised both this facet of cricket’s new media and its fragile, precious quality when he commented on Rob Smyth’s tribute to Rahul Dravid – Sometimes we get into pretty big (and, let’s face it, sometimes pretty petty) arguments on these cricket blogs. Let’s never stop taking a step back sometimes to simply enjoy the game and take pleasure in every team’s achievements. The curious construction, “Let’s never stop…” is perfectly judged.
So what immunises cricket from the poison that flows in the new media of politics and football most clearly, and in internet bullying most insidiously? What protects cricket from the trite solipsism of bloggers keener to promote themselves than the subjects about which they write? Why does one see so many smiles at cricket grounds – as often on the faces of the losing team’s supporters as on the faces of those reveling in a victory?
I’ve seen enough of life to know that wealth, education and the externally applied labels of nationality or ethnicity do not make bullies any less vicious nor the decent any more decent, so the answer must be found somewhere in cricket – a sport that attracts more than its fair share of those who see the bigger picture and choose to explore it. Perhaps the game’s inspiring of a kind of psychological altruism is the result of the duration of matches and series, overlaid with the proximity of instantaneous failure. It’s just not possible to stay angry for five days of a Test nor across two months of a series; nor is it possible to smugly relax in one’s superiority knowing that the next ball may uproot a stump and that every batsman starts on 0 and is more likely to be dismissed in the first ten balls that they face than any other set of ten. The game bleeds humility into its players, but also into its followers. That humility (like its opposite – hubris) will keep poking through the surface, keep revealing itself in word and deed, keep asserting its superiority when challenged by atavistic instincts.
Of course, my case here does not apply to all media, all cricketers nor all cricket’s fans, but it does apply to an astonishingly large proportion of them – a slice of humanity amongst whom I am very fortunate to count myself.