A Caribbean lawyer friend of mine, a very perceptive gentleman, occasionally sends me pieces of writing on this subject or that on the basis that they will interest me. It’s on a wide variety of matters, some large some small, but frequently they have to do with cricket in some form; he’s a fanatic cricket fan, in the league of Ian McDonald and Reds Perreira, the genuine article, and one of the pieces he sent me recently was a long well-written column by an English sports writer bemoaning the decline of interest in Test cricket and speaking with great nostalgia for “the slower time” once experienced in the more leisurely nature of that version of the game.
The article dwells on things other than cricket to be found in that form – reminding one generally of the famous aphorism from CLR James, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” – by someone who is trying very hard to show the reader what he/she is missing by not sitting in the stands for six hours a day, over five days, being immersed in the various beguiling aspects of the longer form. But while the delineation in the piece was impressive, and the case very well put, that call back to a “once upon a time” was ultimately verging on the comical.
As I said to my Caribbean friend, the writer of this piece is inadvertently identifying all the evidence for the decline of Test and domestic cricket and the rise of T20; he’s citing it in his how-it-used-to-be descriptions. In effect, he is longing for something that has changed in the same way as so many aspects of our lives have changed or disappeared altogether. The scenario is right in front of him and he seems blind to it. It’s a changed world, in every sense ‒ just look at how we communicate, for example; an instantaneous experience in so many ways ‒ and that world wants those shorter, faster, more entertainment ingredients, not the slower more contemplative or subtle aspects of something; that’s the reality. You can regret that as much as you want; the folks flocking to the shorter game could not care less, and their influence is everywhere, not just in cricket.
Boxing is languishing, MMA is booming. dramas are dying; reality shows and porn are booming. Instant messaging and viral bursts are the order of the day, not long ruminative columns that require 15 minutes of your time. Music for quiet contemplation is dying; energetic dance music is the rage. Singers used to come on stage with just a microphone; now they have to come with at least six dancers behind them, smoke effects, pyrotechnics, hydraulic stages.
Those are the realities. The American writer Thomas Friedman, author of the best-seller The World is Flat, has written a new book Thank You for Being Late in which he delves into these today realities in a scholarly and persuasive style. Described as “a making us see things in a new way”, the book’s essential point is that we are living through “one of the greatest inflection points in history” and that the pace of this one is particularly dizzying because of the exploding technological and digital revolution where the forces on the planet are all accelerating at once, and many aspects of our societies, of how we behave and live, are being speeded up and dramatically reshaped at a dizzying rate. Friedman refers to this time as “the age of accelerations” where everything is faster, more compressed, and more immediate and, if you think that’s bad enough, what’s worse is he emphasizes that the rate of change is speeding up as well, as shown in the famous change graph showing the curve in the shape of a hockey stick, with the bent blade indicating the almost vertical rise.. Articles like the one by the Englishman aren’t going to reverse things; that’s Friedman’s point.
The cricket fans going frantic in the sold-out stands at the last-minute win in the recent IPL final, and in front of television sets around the world, are demonstrating what they want. The purists who shout that T20 fans don’t understand the longer game, don’t understand the world they live in.
Or perhaps they do understand the difference but they see the shift as retrograde, and they want things to go back to how they once were. Unfortunately for them, that is wishful thinking. In the lexicon of today, it is, what it is. This is how we live. We’re about What’s App, and robots, and computers that think, and cars that drive themselves, and stoves that turn themselves on, and, yes, the form of cricket known as T20 where in 3 hours, you’ve been truly excited, there is a winner, and everybody is heading home more or less sated. It’s truly the now world.