When you first discover cricket — in the same way that Columbus discovered America — you see it as this alien sport, untouched by the relentless American capitalist machine. But then as the years go by, you see the Americanism that you were trying to get away from start to creep in around the edges of the game. Rock music between overs, cheerleaders, shouting commentators, brute strength rewarded over nuance.
And the latest sin: names and numbers on the backs of kits in Test cricket.
The always astute James Morgan of The Full Toss blog calls the move by the ICC an attempt at even further Americanisation of the Test format:
What concerns me is that the move is based on two recurring and flawed assumptions: (a) that test cricket as it is isn’t good enough and must change, and (b) that the Americanisation of the sport, for want of a better expression, is the answer.
Personally, I am of the opinion that the ICC just wants to sell more replica kits. No one — no one — gets blood from a stone quite like the ICC does. But James’ point is still a valid one: why do European sports see American sports as some sort of mentor to emulate? Playoffs, silly nicknames, camouflage ball caps, fireworks, rock music, basically everything that makes the game not about the game but about the atmosphere. It’s about distraction and $150 replica kits and getting seen on the jumbotron, and very little about what is happening on the field.
And that’s a shame. And so it boggles my mind that the people who run soccer and cricket and rugby look to America and say: we should be more like that.
Now, the main reason — at least the public reason — behind changes that can be described as Americanisations are that they will attract younger audiences. Fine. That’s a good reason to make changes. But I don’t think the changes the game is making will actually accomplish that goal. Cheerleaders aren’t going to fix what’s wrong with cricket, because there was nothing wrong with cricket in the first place. This relentless need for changes in cricket — especially in Test cricket — has always confounded me. It’s a great game with great pacing that still gets great crowds and great ratings. Stop messing around with it. It’s fine the way it is. And this goes for the other formats, too. The T20 didn’t need even further shortening, and the ODI is just fine how it is, thank you. Let the games breath, let small rule changes happen organically, and stop forcing changes down fans’ throats.
And, most importantly, and I can say this with some authority as I have watched American sports my whole life: Americans don’t do sport better. They simply don’t. The only thing we are really, really good at is creating superstars who dominate games and seasons and decades, who change the face of the sport they play. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant. Americans are great at that, but I don’t think superstars that are light years better than everyone are good at much other than selling a lot more tickets when they come to town.
Keep what makes you different, cricket, it’s the only way you’ll survive.