As some readers of this blog might be aware, I write on cricket (the sport, not the animal), at my blog The Pitch, on ESPN-Cricinfo. My first book on cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has just been released by HarperCollins.
The blurb for it says:
Cricket as we know it may soon be no more. Thanks to Twenty20, technology, media, and the sheer financial power of Indian cricket, the gentleman’s game is on the brink of radical changes. Nation-based cups might give way to T20 professional leagues; umpires might be replaced by technology; and professional franchises, not national boards, might call the shots. Could cricket go the way of professional football? Will Test cricket survive in an entertainment-driven field? Will television rights deals determine the nature of the game? This upheaval has been accompanied by conflict between the old guard England and Australia and the new boss, India. If the spirit of cricket is to survive these changes, it requires the balancing of economic, political and sporting imperatives. The game must find a way to remain a financially solvent global sport that caters to the changing tastes of its fans and players by creatively using new media and limited-overs cricket. In ‘Brave New Pitch’, Samir Chopra takes a hard look at cricket’s tumultuous present, and considers what could and should lie ahead.
That’s quite a mouthful, or two. What’s the book about, and why should non-cricket fans be interested in it? Well, among the most important of the changes noted above has been the introduction of a new format, Twenty20, which brings a telegenic and entertaining form of the game to a larger audience, and a new professional league, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Between these two, the game of cricket might be changed forever. They will have this effect because they change the political economy of cricket: they change its wage structure and make possible a brand new labor market.
The first change has already given cricket players an alternative career playing only the shorter formats of the game; the latter change is perhaps the most interesting consequence of the change from cricket being a nation-based sport to a club-based sport. Twenty20 made possible a new professional league and now that league, and others like it, who have noticed its financial success (and its mistakes) make it possible to think about club-based versions of the game becoming predominant. Players and boards have already clashed over their differing commitments to the game; these can only be expected to increase, especially as the current nation-based forms of the game are not as conducive of a growth in the professionalization of cricket and its ability to take hold in new territories. Where and how players will want to play and what and who fans will want to watch will, of course, have the final say in these matters.
These two changes, underwritten by a massive reliance on television rights deals, are complicated by their association with the sport’s dominant financial power: India. India’s influence on the world of cricket is disproportionate, and often, the cause for friction. As a result, the game lurches toward its future, riven by persistent conflict between its stakeholders: the various national cricket boards, the fans, the players, the media. Accusations of greed, incompetence, racism, hypocrisy and bad faith fill the air; when the smoke clears in a few years, things could look very different. This future could be a bright one, if the right kinds of balance are struck.
My book is attempt to examine some of the game’s recent history in order to try to offer my prognosis for the game’s future. Writing a book about a rapidly changing subject has not been easy; my fervent hope is that I’ve captured the most essential aspects of what lies ahead.