Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 11, 2012

In praise of… praise

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.

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Responses

  1. An interesting piece, Gary, and I’m glad my comment struck a cord. Part of my reason for posting it, though, was precisely because some of the shouting, agenda driven blogging you mention has started to seep into the Guardian cricket blogs, mainly through the World Cricket Forum but on others too at times, and I felt it was time to reaffirm one of the things that I see as an important part of for the game that we all love.

    However, I’d suggest that this is because the anonymity of the crusading blogger allows them to bring outside agendas into the cricket debate. Put those arguing in the electronic world together at a cricket match, even one between the teams they support, and the result would, I suspect, be very different, and the entente cordiale that you identify as central to the core of many cricket fans would win the day. A failing, then, of environment rather than a sign that cricket supporters are changing.

    Oh, one last thing. “Nor is it possible to smugly relax in one’s superiority knowing that the next ball may uproot a stump”. It didn’t feel like that when those bloody Aussies were at the crease in the Nineties and early Noughts!

    Phil

  2. Thanks Phil – I certainly felt like that when the ball was in the hand of McGrath or Warne!

  3. “It’s just not possible to stay angry for five days of a Test.” If I had have forced myself to sit up all night (here in Germany) watching the last Ashes series, I (an Aussie) might just have managed that.
    ….

    To add another perspective, the way football is covered in much of the mainstream media here in Germany is similar in tone to the best cricket coverage (present blog is exemplary!). So I suspect that as well as the remarkable way that cricket itself imbues humility, there are also some general cultural factors at work. (That is, football by its nature lends itself to passion and aggro in a way that cricket doesn’t, but it’s not compulsory for journalists to jump into that boat as well.)

    Whenever I catch a bit of football from the English media, I am always a bit shocked to hear presenters trying to speak like the lads down the pub, like loud mouth obnoxious know-it-alls with a fake working class accent. In Australia, the coverage of Australian rules football is even worse in that respect. (Add in racism and open brutality.)

    Here (Germany), sports presenters always speak calmly and sensibly without being high brow, but always being woman-friendly, novice-friendly, child-friendly and football-history-buff-friendly. There is virtually none of the hype, hysteria and general loudmouthery that surrounds English football. With cricket administrators and promoters trying to emulate football, they should at least realise that even football doesn’t need to be promoted by hysterical appeals to baser instincts.

    Another thing cricket administrators could learn from German football is that the DFB (German FA) places great emphasis on getting children to play the game simply for fun and fitness. After their disastrous showing in the 2004 Euro, they wanted to make changes, so they started building small enclosed football pitches in playgrounds and parks throughout Germany and started all kinds of youth programs. Apart from promoting public health, a side effect is that it also breeds football fans. (Poms and Aussies will also have noticed another side effect in the last World Cup!)

    Cricket administrators might be slapping themselves on the back for promoting the game to new markets who have never played the game, but if they forget to get kids playing it, the standard of the game will drop drastically. They will be failing to build a fan base – a loyal and informed fan base that doesn’t need to be constantly screamed at to keep it interested.

    • That’s very interesting to hear that about German footie coverage. Is it the same with the papers? German tabloids have always seemed to be just like British ones.

      • There seem to be some strange differences between German and UK tabloids. German ones will occasionally print racist opinions that the UK press would never allow itself. But my own impression is that that I’m always a bit shocked by what I see of UK tabloids compared to what I’m used to here. Their headlines are always in huge print and always assaulting readers with emotionally charged hype. German tabloids would never publish things about a married football player visiting prostitutes, for example.

        It looks to me like the whole UK press – especially with sport coverage – tries to emulate Murdoch style emotionally charged scandal mongering. Of course the English FA’s incompetence is an open invitation to such non-stop drama. I know German football has its fair share of fights and scandals, but not even the tabloids particularly care who is sleeping with who’s wife, etc.

  4. Reblogged this on Like a Tracer Bullet and commented:
    Gary Naylor does what he does best….


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