Wisden Sports Writing, £18.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Book review: The Great Tamasha, By James Astill
The rupee rules at the wicket today. But can the old game survive in a new economic era?
Friday 02 August 2013
The Indian word tamasha means fun, magic, live street theatre with totally unexpected twists, all rolled into one. For Indians, Bollywood films are tamasha and so is cricket.
That India should have made cricket a tamasha is a familiar story of the world's great sponge absorbing a product, however foreign, and making it its own. But while it is remarkable that India should have done it with such a quintessentially English game and, arguably, the most structured of all ball games, it is not unique. Brazil, another emerging power, long ago took England's national game, football, and fashioned a very Brazilian version.
The crucial difference is that Brazil does not economically control football. It has to export its best players to Europe which remains in charge of the world game. In contrast, India is cricket's economic superpower, providing 80 per cent of world cricket's income. While English and Australian cricket followers are riveted by this summer's Ashes series, cricket administrators of both countries know they have to kowtow to India to generate the television income necessary to keep their cricket going.
India's rise has been helped by the odd nature of cricket. Unlike other team sports, where international matches provide the icing on a thriving domestic structure, cricket would die if there was no international competition. Even then this rupee take over of a Western sport is unprecedented. China used the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a giant coming-out party to mark the return of the Middle Kingdom to the top table. But the Olympics, like all other sports the world plays were not only created by the West, but remain firmly under Western control.
The Indian dominance of cricket has been reinforced by the Indian Premier League, a tournament of 20-over a side matches. Played for three hours in the evenings, it is cricket's version of a Bollywood movie and, exploiting the insatiable appetite of a youthful country of over 1.2 billion, it has, for the first time in the modern era, created a successful domestic cricket competition.
James Astill, the Economist's correspondent in India between 2007 and 2010, watched the rise of IPL and has used it to tell the wider story of modern India. Much of this story is known but while Astill relies on previously published material, what makes his book exceptional is his first-hand reporting.
We meet powerful Indian politicians from Sharad Power, who aspired to be prime minister and headed international cricket, to residents of Dharavi in Mumbai, one of the biggest slums in Asia. One of the most touching stories is of the railway clerk in Rajkot who, using a concrete pitch and tattered nets, has coached several first-class cricketers, including his son - now a leading light of India's Test team.
But this takeover of cricket cannot hide India's many problems: corruption, crony capitalism, a thriving democracy which has also made politics a family business and the tendency to talk about planning while refusing to plan. It is no surprise that IPL's creator, the businessman Lalit Modi, having fallen out with the establishment, is now in exile in London without a passport, the Indian government having revoked it. The rich Indian board spends so little on developing facilities that on the field India rarely performs like a superpower.
Astill relentlessly highlights all this and comes to the sad conclusion that India may end up killing the great traditions of cricket. The greater worry is that, with Indian politicians matching the short-sightedness of the cricket administrators, the country will never fulfil its desire to be a great power. China may not own a Western sport but it will always have the greater clout.
Mihir Bose's books include 'A History of Indian Cricket' (Andre Deutsch)
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 PlayStation and Xbox hacked by Lizard Squad
- 2 Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
- 3 The Grace Dent Christmas Questionnaire
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
EastEnders Christmas special, review: Brilliant Danny Dyer glues you to your seat
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader