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But hey, we're making money.

by Bored Guest

But hey, we're making money The biggest thrill in the world is entertaining the public, there is no bigger thrill than that - Vince Mcmahon

Tell that to Shahid Afridi. Afridi is a victim. Of his own intelligence primarily, but also to a lesser level, to the losing battle that sport as combat is fighting with sport as entertainment. Let me elaborate. Pretty much every organized sport in the world is doing what long haired Bangalore metalhead machas refer to in fits of righteous spite as “that Metallica thing.” Put simply, sports administrators everywhere are trying to bring the crowds in. In purists’ language, this amounts to “selling out”. The question of how much the “laws” of cricket allow tampering with the ball is ultimately a particular reformulation of the question “How much should sport be looked at as a form of entertainment?”

Cricket’s doing it as well. A lot of it. In fact they have been so good at this that even KISS might learn a lesson or two from them. The boundaries have gotten smaller, the pitches are made dead to demand, and despite the advent of adequate protection, anything thrown by a fast bowler that the batsman cant hit easily is generally re-bowled, with a free run thrown in for good measure. Let’s face it. The general audience likes to see boundaries. The same argument made in favour of Britney Spears being a brilliant musician because she sold albums by the millions can be made to justify this death blow being served to the art of bowling. On the face of it, the logic seems to be quite unimpeachable. If most people like it, it should be good for the game right?

Wrong. It could very well backfire. And it’s happened before. The 80’s were an exciting time for the NBA. Bird, Isiah and Magic were still fighting it out and the genius that would be soon acclaimed as the greatest of them all had made his appearance in Chicago. The dunk became a highpoint of the basketball game and people thronged in to see it. It wasn’t long before the league realized that making it easier for the players to dunk would increase ticket sales and television ratings. It wasn’t that the NBA was not a moneymaking enterprise. Basketball was already a game that favoured the offence heavily in the rules.

The NBA had already outlawed most tight zone defenses and converted a two half game into a four quarter game for more commercial breaks (those watching the IPL will know what I’m talking about here). Now it introduced another rule called he defensive three second violation by which one couldn’t even stand in own’s own D for more than three seconds. This effectively killed all forms of zone defense, and made NBA much more popular in the short run. But over the years, it’s killed the game. Its become very hard to play good defense in the NBA and as a result, from having a dream team that beat everyone else by at least 30 points in the Olympics in 1992, the USA went to a place where its superstar laden national teams were getting beaten by Serbia, Greece, Spain and even Puerto Rico. They simply couldn’t play against a well organized zone defense. One reason why a lot of people don’t think Kobe or Lebron could have played as well as Jordan did is because these guys haven’t achieved their superstardom playing against the bruising defense of the 80s.

Volleyball, on the other hand, presents a slightly different picture. It also decided to sell itself better and got the table tennis scoring system introduced a few years ago, replacing the service change system to make gameplay faster and more exciting. At the same time, it also brought in the concept of the Libero, which was a player who could only pick and set and not attack. When in the frontline, the Libero could be substituted freely with an attacker. The first rule is almost universally cursed. Instead of making games more exciting, it made it duller. Earlier, each point had to be won on your own serve, and I’ve witnessed rallies of up to 30 service changes without a single point being scored. Now the team which gets a slight lead in the beginning keeps on winning points off the opposing team’s serve till the set is over. The libero rule on the other hand, is widely praised.

It gave a fillip to the defense. Basically, you had a really agile guy on your backcourt who could pick balls better and this made for longer and more interesting rallies. When his turn came for forecourt duty, he could be easily replaced with an attacker, thus not taking away from the game, but also truly adding to it. On the whole, the changes didn’t do as much damage as they could have done.

Cricket that way, is slightly strange. Every other game glorifies the attack, and negates the defense. Cricket is perhaps the only game where the defense (the bastman is defending his stumps from the bowler who’s attacking them) is favoured over the offense by the crowds. But that still does not justify favouring one set of skills over the other. Bowling as an art is being systematically strangled. Look at it this particular example. Technology has advanced enough for a batsman to have all the protection he needs from the cricket ball without materially affecting his freedom of motion. And yet, the short ball is still penalized. The fielding rules in cricket are a direct parallel to the 3 second defensive violation in basketball. What’s the powerplay if not a device to achieve more of the cricket equivalent to the slamdunk in basketball (a boundary)? Smaller fields are effectively making spin bowling an obsolete tactic. When Pakistan came up with reverse swing, the cricketing equivalent to the planned urban settlements of Harappa, there always were “cheater” whispers all round. Perhaps the only bowler friendly decision taken by the ICC in recent times has been allowing Murali to bowl legally. And even that had everyone up in arms.

Where’s the balance guys? What happened to fair competition? A team game in best enjoyed when one team’s offense battles the other’s defense. If I am not horribly mistaken, the 2011 World Cup is going to be a battle between the batting sides of participating teams. It’s going to be such a pity. But hey, I just heard on Sportscenter that Sepp Blatter is thinking of abolishing the offside rule in football. Why not? Lets keep changing the rules till every sport becomes the philosophical equivalent of the WWE. Lots of people watch the WWE. So what if it’s scripted? It makes money, doesn’t it?

By Jian Johnson
Before he grasped the importance of money, Jian aspired to be a professional athlete. Currently, he thinks about sports during cigarette breaks at work. You can read Jian's Live Journal at


Mahek said...

If you believed the commentators these rules are a blessing in disguise as they're forcing bowlers to innovate. Another aspect that's losing its importance is the running between wickets.

As for the NBA, I hate the Celtics because they're from Boston but it's a pleasure to see KG and his unit defend.

Homer said...

Wonderful writeup ... Take a bow!


Wes playforcountrynotforself said...

Blast of a post, one reads that rarely in the blog world. Hats off.
You've been blogrolled here:

~ Play For Country Not For Self ~


straight point said...

welcome on bored jian... what a cracker and how wonderfully put...

tomorrow crowd would also want to see the blood on field... any takers...?

Gaurav Sethi said...

Jian, like to have you write more on Bored. This piece was almost too thoughtful, loved it.

3xsoncalvary said...

Thanks everyone, Though a lot of the credit should go to John, for being the only drunk guy i know capable of philosophical abstraction past midnight. ;-)

@Mahek: The commentators are right. It does force the Bowlers to innovate. but where is the freedom to innovate? Throw open the leg side, for God's sake!! And I totally agree with you on running between the wickets as well. On the NBA, I love the Celtics because of their decades old philosophy of basketball which is defense oriented. For details if interested,

@Homer, Wes and straight point: Thank you guys, you are most generous.

@Naked:Thank you, and would be delighted to.


Samir Chopra said...

Very good post - nicely, thoughtfully put. I love the comparisons with bball and vball.

Alok said...

As a lawyer, I know of far too many instances of unintended consequences to draw simple conclusions such as x rule was changed and therefore y necessarily followed.

I see the point that some rules being so loaded in favour of one set of persons take the fun out of a sport, but I don't think cricket's rules are too batsman friendly. Rather, it is the tools of the trade which have shifted the balance. While all batting equipment has undergone drastic change, the ball remains the same.

That said, I do think there is a case of unwanted nostalgia. Without the two bouncer per over rule, what was to stop all teams from stuffing their sides with fast bowlers who would aim every ball at the head? What fun is cricket if batsmen are not looking to score but avoid a trip to the emergency room? How's that different from Ancient Rome?