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Kiran Karnik

Kiran Karnik is an independent policy and strategy analyst, and Chair, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi

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Kiran's Kontrarian Korner: Boundaries Matter

Yet, even as we cross and erase boundaries, some obstinately remain. We can only dream, with John Lennon, “Imagine….there’s no countries….”

Photo Credit : BCCI


No, this is not about the LoC or LAC; though it would be good to have a linguist educate us about the difference between a line of control and one of actual control. Nor is this about whether Crimea and Donbas are on this side or that side of the Russia-Ukraine border, or about nine-dot and eleven-dot lines marking boundaries in the South China Sea.  It is not even about the boundary which separates “with-us” from “against-us”, and India’s efforts to persuade the US that there is, in fact, a grey area between black and white. Business, of course, has its own boundary concerns: who is a “related party” and who is not, for example. Or the boundary between the Board Chair of a company and its CEO: should the philosophy of advaita (non-duality) prevail; can it be one and the same person? That too is not the topic here.

Having said niti, niti (not this, for those less seeped in philosophical meanderings) let us clarify that this is about another type of boundary: the one in cricket. Regarded at one time as a “gentleman’s game”, the aristocrats frowned at the entry of professional players. However, it is arguably the spectators – rather than players – who needed to be persons-of-leisure: who else could afford to spend five full days watching 13 people run around on a field in a Test match which often ended with no result! Now, women’s cricket requires removing the gender tag, while fierce rivalries of a now-less gentle game require dispensing with the first part too of “gentlemen”.

Other boundaries too are dissolving or changing. Beginning with the bodyline series in 1932, intimidation became part of an attacking approach by the fielding team. In more recent times, sledging too has become an acceptable form of a team’s strategy. Thus, the gentlemen’s game – differentiating it from the rough and tumble of football, leave alone its violent American namesake – is no longer that. Today, near-replicas of the body-armour worn by players of American football (for protection against the opposing team, and not for falls) are common on cricket fields, with batsmen often wearing head-to-toe armour, resembling knights of yore going into battle.

Boundaries between professional and amateur, between gentlemanly sporting-spirit (exemplified by the phrase “it’s not cricket”) and win-at-any-cost have dissolved.  Today’s cricketers are professionals paid handsomely for their abilities, and product-endorsements ensure large additional income. The boundary between sport and commerce was long erased and, today, sport is big business. India’s cricket Board (BCCI) is a large commercial enterprise and a big money spinner. The unipolar world is here, at least in cricket. The popularity of game in India and the huge revenues it generates – mainly through sale of broadcast rights – has made this country the undisputed superpower in the cricket.

In large measure this is due to an innovation. Recognising that a fast-moving world has only limited appetite for long-drawn (in both senses of the words) Test matches, the shorter format was introduced – first as 60-overs each and then modified to 50-overs – and soon gained immense popularity. However, it is the twenty-twenty (an even-more abbreviated form) or T20 that took the cricketing world by storm. It erased more boundaries: between cricket-lovers and a general audience, between a game for connoisseurs and mass entertainment. It also obliterated the day-night dichotomy through high-tech lighting which illuminated night cricket, facilitating huge TV viewership.  

In India, the Indian Premier League – played in the T20 format – became the rage, garnering huge TV audiences and making enough money to attract the best players from around the world, mainly by offering very lucrative payments. Credit for creating the IPL brand is generally attributed to Lalit Modi, now absconding due to a different form of “credit”. IPL continues to grow from year to year, building on its entertaining-cricket formula.

CPM has, of course, long been most popular in India. No, we are not crossing the boundary into party politics; CPM here is the acronym for cricket, politics, and movies: the three top topics for discussion wherever in the world more than two Indians meet. IPL successfully brought cricket and movies together through team ownerships by movie stars and their glamorous presence at the matches. In addition, BCCI had enough politics of its own, to add to the mix. While true aficionados of the game decry T20s (“it’s not cricket”), this innovation and the marketing of the IPL has contributed to making BCCI the dominant voice in world cricket, able to dictate terms to all others.

Here's another innovation for BCCI to think of, one that will further enrich its overflowing coffers: why not a T20 series between the India men’s and women’s teams? After all, women’s cricket too has gained immense popularity, especially after the outsrtanding performances of our team in the international arena.  A more radical move will be to have all-gender teams. India can be a pioneer in crossing this boundary for cricket, long done in sports like tennis and badminton.

Yet, even as we cross and erase boundaries, some obstinately remain. We can only dream, with John Lennon, “Imagine….there’s no countries….”.

* Kiran Karnik loves to think in tongue-in-cheek ways, with no maliciousness or offence intended. At other times, he is a public policy analyst and author. His latest book is Decisive Decade: India 2030 Gazelle or Hippo (Rupa, 2021).