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From Bodyline To Bollywood: The Moral Rot In Cricket

Marketisation corrupts and absolute marketisation corrupts absolutely.

08/12/2016 12:49 PM IST | Updated 11/12/2016 10:22 AM IST

The Ashes series of 1932-33 went down in history as an event that left its scar not just on the history of the game but also on the history of the British Empire.

It was the "Bradman-era". When the English toured Australia they came up with a foul strategy to beat the genius of Bradman—the infamous ""bodyline tactic', devised by the English, was a strategy of delivering at the body of the batsman with an intention to injure or intimidate him.

The strategy paid off. The English won the Ashes; but the fathers of cricket had inflicted an irremediable wound on the spirit of the game.

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The bodyline strategy in action. The picture shows the batsman, Bill Woodfull, evading a delivery directed at him and the aggressive field placement which was typical of the bodyline strategy. (Source: Wikipedia)

Questions were asked about the English team's conduct in the Australian Parliament and reverberations were felt up till Downing Street, London. The incident soured relations between England and its dominion of Australia.

The spirit of cricket has been commodified so that the last drop of monetary profit can be squeezed from the flesh of the game.

What was there in this sport of cricket that it could even shake the familial relations among these members of the commonwealth?

The game of cricket had developed in the delicate hands of the British aristocracy as the game of polite manners, genteel sentiment and honesty, a game played in friendship. Cricket stood as a metaphor for the values British Empire espoused—fair play, justice, morality, respect for rules not just in letter but also in spirit, team spirit, respect for the opponent, modesty in victory and graciousness in defeat. Cricket became an integral part of grooming young colonial administrators and civil servants.

When a sport is reduced solely to an entertainment, it becomes a commodity for the cheap consumption of the middle-class and the profit of the upper-class.

The gentleman's game played in white flannel was one of the unifying bonds of the Commonwealth and a definitive element of the Empire. No doubt the Dominion of Australia felt betrayed when the mother of the Commonwealth family herself subverted the spirit of the game and sabotaged the values that underlay cricket and the Commonwealth. The bodyline fiasco impacted the very perception of the Commonwealth.

Now more than eight decades later, the white flannel is gone and so are polite manners, genteel sentiment, and sacrosanct spirit of cricket. The one-time gentleman's sport is now inflicted with a million wounds—spot fixing, match fixing, frauds, scandals, money laundering, on-field brawls, banning of players, barring of teams, corruption, politicisation, criminalisation, commercialisation, flouting rules, public figures washing their dirtiest linen in stadiums. At the heart of all these controversies lies a deep-seated moral corruption—an ethical rot which has displaced abstract values of the game. Thus we have entered the age of IPL.

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The English team that toured Australia in 1932-33 photographed before the Adelaide Test.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Now players in bright attire are revered not for their abiding commitment to the spirit of the game but for the price tag they bring to the auction and the cost at which they are bartered.

Gone are the days when the game was played in friendship and genuine sportsmanship. Now friendliness is marred with competition in dollars and sportsmanlike conduct is destroyed in commercial acrimony. The spirit of cricket has been commodified so that the last drop of monetary profit can be squeezed from the flesh of the game.

Players in bright attire are revered not for their abiding commitment to the spirit of the game but for the price tag they bring to the auction.

Far in the past are the days when great teams were raised not to earn profits but to exhibit sheer class on the field. Today players and teams alike are but money-making machines owned by professional profiteers.

The idea of IPL had been conceived and sold as a blend of the two greatest passions of India—cricket and Bollywood and this marriage of sports with glamour, of athletics with fashion, of adrenaline with dopamine, was to be held together by the strength of money and profit. Such a conjunction inevitably wrought many afflictions.

The realms of sports and entertainment may touch each other but they do not amalgamate except as a hideous disfigurement of both sports and entertainment. When a sport is reduced solely to an entertainment, it becomes a commodity for the cheap consumption of the middle-class and the profit of the upper-class.

IPL survives on a heart that is pumped by currency. It is inevitable that the abstract moral aspect of cricket will be lost.

Further, when economics intrudes into the life-blood of a sport, like in any other sphere, it drives out morality and abstract values from its heart. The realm of economics and markets begins where the realm of morality ends. After all, Shylock and Antonio were both moneylenders—the only difference is of economics and morality. One has gone down in cultural memory as a treacherous villain and the other as a moral hero. IPL survives on a heart that is pumped by currency. It is inevitable that the abstract moral aspect of cricket will be lost.

There are things that lose their worth the moment a price tag is put on them and values in sports are such things. When it comes to morals, honour, sportsmanship and all abstract values of cricket, marketisation corrupts and absolute marketisation corrupts absolutely.

A bruise to the values of cricket had heralded a storm in the Australian Parliament in 1932. Today the age of IPL has little regard for those values that cannot be measured in currency.

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Bradman photographed during the Ashes Series 1932-33. (Source: Wikipedia)

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