Millennium Post

IPL has extinguished Cardus’ legacy

First who was Cardus, Neville Cardus? The famous cricket correspondent of Manchester Guardian, Neville Cardus is considered the most celebrated writer on cricket with some of his match reports even prescribed in the grammar and public school texts. I was reminded of him when during the evening meeting in the newsroom of Millennium Post last week, we wondered reporting on Indian Professional League (IPL), affiliated to the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), was whose baby – the sports desk or the crime bureau?

No wonder the last of the celebrated bylines of the sports pages have preferred to become experts on television and radio, in order to make themselves heard. The graphics and gore of the sports pages today certainly have no space for the spacious analysis which Neville Cardus did of cricket matches on the pages of The Guardian, the most famous being that of the Australia tour of the English team led by Douglas Jardine in 1932-1933. This tour was to become famous as the Bodyline Series.

In his classic piece on Bodyline series in March 1933, Cardus came out in defence of Donald Bradman, who was reduced to be an ordinary batsman during the series by English pace attack bowling on leg stump with a packed leg side field. Cardus wrote, ‘Bradman is reported to have fallen from grace because his average has fallen. His stroke play has plainly been dazzling. Yet such is the modern conception of batsmanship, that a cricketer is supposed to be playing badly if he takes a chance and cracks the ball in the manner of JT Tyldesley (John Thomas Tyldesley was an English cricketer who played first-class cricket for Lancashire and Test cricket for England). Bradman was the only Australian, I gather, really to counter-attack (Harold) Larwood. He moved away to the leg-side and hit the ball audaciously to the unprotected off-side. As a consequence of this piece of superb resource, even his best friends accuse him of recklessness; indeed they say he ‘ran away’.

But how on earth is any batsman going to tackle fast leg-side bowling (to a crowded leg-trap) unless he hits it to the off? And how can you hit leg bowling to the off-side unless you do move away and get on the proper side of it for the stroke? Against Larwood, Bradman was beginning to reveal his genius in a more gallant light than it has ever been seen before: given a few more innings, he might have mastered it. And for all his pains and imagination he is called ‘reckless’.

For Cardus, the IPL would have showcased audacity of not just a Bradman ‘moving away to the leg side to hit the ball audaciously to the unprotected off-side,’ but of a Killer Miller, a Brad Hodge, a Chris Gayle and so on doing it match after match. But would Cardus comparing the strokeplay of these batsmen to that of Bradman made have impact. The answer would be never and to know why, one would have to read the classic in detail. Cardus in the same article refers to a dispatch by Sydney Referee, which mentions, ‘Nobody objects to fast bowling and nobody objects to legitimate leg-theory, but the Larwood-Voce attack is a planned attack by means of short pitched kicking balls aimed at the batsmen with a leg-field.’

IPL with scandals like match fixing, corporate battle over franchisee purchases and even functioning of prostitution syndicates have all overtaken the discussion over the strokeplay by say a Killer Miller or a Brad Hodge. A non-performing cheat like S Sreesanth has hogged more limelight than say his Team India compatriot, pacer R Vinay Kumar who took 23 wickets from 16 matches in just 58.3 overs. It would have been very demanding on Cardus to follow in his time the confabulations of George Lansbury, the Leader of Opposition, with Lord Irwin, the minister responsible for sports in the British cabinet. My heart goes out to the sports journalists of today who are reduced to be on the trail of players and administrators involved in illegitimate gratification or follow Arun Jaitley and Rajeev Shukla holding meeting with Law Minister Kapil Sibal on the formulation of a new law to deal with cases of betting and match fixing rather than write on cricketing skills. Incidentally when the Bodyline series took place in 1932-1933, England was ruled by a national government headed by Ramsay MacDonald with the Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberals as its members. The IPL is today being managed by a BCCI, which looks no less than a national government. It’s though unfortunate that these politicians have seldom come together to break bread on matters of greater national concern.

With political luminaries like Sharad Pawar, Arun Jaitley, C P Joshi, Farooq Abdullah and Rajeev Shukla on board and lightweights like Anurag Thakur of the BJP and Ranjib Biswal of the Congress forming the B-team, the BCCI is capable of weathering any storm which the nation’s wealthiest sporting body may face. They did so in coming together to thwart move by erstwhile Sports Minister Ajay Maken to bring them under some kind of government control. But such achievements can seldom spur the quill of those who decided to inherit legacy of Neville Cardus as their profession. Such strong regulatory body as the BCCI is certainly capable of restoring the sports to its lost glory – where the skills of a player on ground than his tucking towel in the waist would make news.

Cricket the game still has huge followers, it’s for the custodians of the game to bring true sports back to the cricket oval.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.
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