Sociology, Sportization and Cricket: Post-WWII

A second overly long blog on the English game – sorry! The Second World War, 1939-45, saw cricket at all levels both as a readily adjourned pursuit and as a way of surviving, even resisting, personal suffering and total upheaval. In its aftermath first-class cricketers who had ‘served’ had to readjust to post-war circumstance. The newly elected Atlee government had little interest in sport, so for the MCC’s ‘men in blazers’ it was business as usual. The captaincy of county and national cricket remained in amateur hands. Some of the younger professionals, like Surrey spin-bowler Jim Laker, voiced their objections. A turning point was the appointment of professional Len Hutton as captain of England in 1952. He had been advised to become an amateur prior to accepting the captaincy (as Wally Hammond had done), but refused. Holt and Mason present him as part establishment, part rebel (he went on to send his son to Repton and Cambridge). Hutton went on to captain England 23 times, never lost a series and eventually received a knighthood (only the second awarded to a professional).

Cricket was slowly evolving, driven not so much from pressure from below as from a growing paucity of amateur talent: the percentage of amateurs in the county game had gone down from approximately 40% before 1914 and 30% between the wars to around 20% after 1945; and the trend was to continue. The amateur was also becoming a progressively more blatant ‘shamateur’. Laker, a Conservative by instinct, leaked that he was thinking of turning amateur to earn more money! The need for change was becoming acute: in 1950 almost two million spectators watched country cricket, compared to barely one million in 1960, and it was a continuing trend. As we have seen, the amateur/professional distinction was abandoned in 1962. The era of amateur dominance through the likes of May, Cowdrey and Dexter was numbered.

One response to declining attendances in the early 1960s was the conception of one-day cricket; but before we turn to this a word or two should be committed to the ‘D’Oliveira Affair’ of 1968-70. It hinged on selection for an England tour to South Africa. South Africa had been a pioneering home of cricket in the 1840s and played its first test match against England in 1889. In 1890 the South African Cricket Association was formed; and this was followed in 1897 by the establishment of the South African Coloured Board. As the 20th century progressed South Africa’s apartheid laws seemed to occasion more personal unease than either political or sporting counter-offensive. In 1960, however, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan spoke of a ‘wind of change’ blowing across the continent of Africa in his address to the South African parliament in Cape Town. This politically expedient and scarcely veiled attack on the state racism of the white Afrikaner government tacitly acknowledged a growing fear that ‘Western’ support for an openly white racist regime might cause former colonies to look to the Soviet Union for support. Under apartheid of course, South Africa’s huge black African majority was severely restricted in its capacity to earn, travel outside designated areas or associate with whites. English cricket administrators, their international game rooted in the white dominions and their sympathies reflexively with the planters and mine owners of southern Africa, were tardy in acknowledging these developments.

In 1960, Basil D’Oliveira, who had been born in Cape Town in 1931 and categorized as ‘coloured’, migrated to England, took out British citizenship and was selected to play for England in 1966. Playing in the final test against Australia in the summer of 1968, he scored 158, apparently securing his place on the forthcoming tour to South Africa. In the event he was overlooked, causing a furore in the press. He was only selected to tour when another player dropped out. On hearing of his belated selection, the South African government intervened to cancel the tour. This did not stop the MCC inviting the South Africans to tour England in 1970. A pressure group called ‘Stop the Tour’ was formed and in May of 1970 Labour Home Secretary James Callaghan requested that the tour be called off because public order could not be guaranteed. In the same year it was decided that South Africa should be excluded from test cricket in protest at its apartheid laws (and it remained excluded until 1991).

To return to the issue of dwindling attendances at county cricket matches, in 1963 a one-day limited-overs alternative was introduced in England. A single ticket and visit now guaranteed rapid scoring, tension and, above all and rain permitting, a result. Named the Gillette Cup after its sponsors, this knock-out competition consisted initially of 65 overs per side, subsequently reduced to 60 overs. To my immense pleasure the format ideally suited fast-scoring Sussex batsmen Ted Dexter and Jim Parks, and Sussex proved the outstanding early side, winning the trophy in its first two years. One-day games helped to re-stock county coffers. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, the Gillette Cup was to have several offspring.  In 1969 the John Player Sunday League was born: this was a 40 overs season-long competition for the counties. In 1971 the first one-day international match was contested by Australia and England in Melbourne. In 1975 the first one-day World Cup was won by the West Indies. In 2003 twenty20 cricket was born, again in England, leading in 2007 to the inaugural twenty20 World Cup. This format, 20 overs per team, was to prove more revolutionary than was suspected even a decade ago.

Compounding the changes following the innovation of one-day cricket was the initiative of the Australian media-mogul Kerry Packer who, in 1977, established ‘World Series Cricket’ (WSC) to counter what he saw as an establishment caught in a time-warp detrimental to cricket’s (and his) interests. His intervention was applauded, castigated and much in between. The Packer initiative was the culmination of a boom in Australian cricket in the early 1970s, during which television coverage was key. TV’s potential had become obvious during the 1970-71 test series between Australia and England. While the series drew very respectable attendances at grounds, averaging 20,279 daily, the TV audience for the later tests was one million per day. Colour coverage was available by 1975, plus slow-motion replays. The introduction and popularity of one-day cricket was another important factor. The cricket Boards in Australia and elsewhere were slow to pick up on the commercial ramifications of these changes, with the result that player disenchantment grew even as cricketing salaries rose sharply up in the years immediately preceding WSC. When Packer offered players a more attractive salary deal, significantly including the security of a fixed annual contract, leading cricketers deserted their Boards en masse.

Owner of Aussie TV Channel 9, Packer felt that he as well as cricket had been short-changed by the Boards; his bids and negotiations had been unceremoniously and often angrily rebuffed. When the International Cricket Council (ICC) banned WSC-contracted players from test cricket Packer went to court. The English High Court found in favour of three ‘Packer’ litigants, Tony Grieg, former England captain, Mike Proctor and John Snow, ruling that the ban amounted to an unreasonable restraint of trade. Australian courts were less decisive, but by the time news of the WSC went public, in May of 1977, 35 leading test players had been signed up by Packer. A series of WSC ‘Supertests’ and high-profile one-off and one-day contests took place, part of a ‘cricket war’ for what would now be characterized as consumer favour. Sociologists were as divided as cricket journalists on the pros and cons of the ‘Packer revolution’.  Harris, for example, argued that the WSC had turned cricket into a form of soap opera entertainment. Others demurred, contending that the media tycoon had breathed new life into a fading and commercially troubled game.  With the wisdom of hindsight Packer was more catalyst for than innovator of change. It certainly helped strip away many of the clubbish accoutrements of the game. The WSC led to improved salary and working conditions for cricketers, and to an enhancement of ‘player power’. It delivered an archetypically postmodern version of an old pastime/sport: night cricket, a white (rather than the traditionally red) ball, coloured (rather than the traditionally white) clothing, fielding restrictions, hot-house pitches, and a host of giveaways and gimmicks. The rapprochement announced on 30 May 1979, terminating WSC cricket, was tacit recognition of its innovations and accomplishment.

This heavily annotated history of cricket from pastime to sport concludes with a consideration of the offspring of its new superpower, India. Parsee (Indian) cricket teams toured England as early as 1886 and 1888, and a Board of Control for cricket in India was established in 1927; the first test match between India and England was contested in 1933-34 (and the Ranji Trophy competition set up in 1934). Majumda is not exaggerating, however, when he refers to India as the new nerve centre of world cricket:

‘without exaggeration, Indian cricket is a mirror in which nations, communities, men and women now see themselves. That reflection is sometimes bright, sometimes dark, sometimes distorted, sometimes magnified. Cricket for a billion plus Indians is a source of mass exhilaration and depression, security and insecurity, pride and humiliation, bonding and alienation. In fact, for many in India, cricket has replaced religion as a source of emotional strength and spiritual passion and, since it is among the earliest of memorable childhood experiences, it infiltrates memory, shapes enthusiasms and serves fantasies’.

For the purposes of this account, what matters is the formation of the Indian Premier League (IPL), an innovation that to Majumdar symbolizes the ‘decolonisation of Indian cricket’ and here announces its character in financial capitalism.

The birth in 2007-8 of the IPL for Twenty20 cricket smacks of Packer. Even factoring in a postmodern spin, Majumdar’s take has a ring of authenticity:

‘one billion dollars in TV rights for a ten-year period, 12,700 advertisement slots on Sony Entertainment Television (the host broadcaster) for the fifty-nine games between 18 April and 1 June 2008, all sold, hitherto unthinkable players’ earnings, $3 million in prize money, $5 million for title sponsorship rights for five years, unprecedented television ratings and capacity crowds in practically all the games in its first year of existence – what the IPL has unequivocally driven home is that the shift of the nerve centre of cricket to the subcontinent is now complete’.

The early IPL successes were replicated, even when in 2009 the League had to move at short notice to South Africa because the government could not promise security during the Indian elections. The IPL became India’s first truly global sporting event, an achievement that resonates with Maguire’s fifth or post-1960s phase of sportization heralding the end of Western sporting dominance.

During Maguire’s phases 1-4, cricket remained quintessentially English, whether played at home or overseas. It was a sport that seemed to bring together otherwise structurally segregated amateur aristocrats and paid peasants-cum-proletarians whilst remaining entirely in the institutional hands of the former. Matches came to be contested over several often rain-interrupted days by cricketers who, culturally, knew their place. These personnel, neatly kitted out in ‘whites’, have been replaced in phase 5 by pros, like England’s ‘KP’ Pietersen, straining for celebrity status and remuneration, playing under floodlights for unimaginably high stakes and wearing what crustier members of the MCC to this day describe as ‘pyjamas’ (that is, coloured outfits). A point of ultimate absurdity was reached on 1 November 2008 when, courtesy of Sir Allen Stanford, England played a West Indies Superstars XI in a one-off contest with each player in the winning team standing to win $1 million. England lost; but so did Stanford, who was in 2012 imprisoned (for 110 years) for defrauding investors of $7 billion (Prior, 2013). But it is IPL Twenty20 cricket that epitomizes Maguire’s fifth phase.  Luke Wright of Sussex, a member of England’s World Cup winning T20 team and ever since a marketable, globetrotting, short-game specialist, epitomizes the ethos of early twenty-first century cricket.

There may be no cricketing parallel to the emergence of Usain Bolt. Sachin Tandulkar has accomplished as much or more, certainly over a longer time period, but outside of India and cricket his brand is inferior. Beckham, ambassador of the global sport, easily outranks both. At this point it will suffice to ask how the nine properties of contemporary society listed in a previous blog might relate to cricket. The pertinence of globalization is clear, even for cricket, a neo-imperial sport that never gained acceptance in lands beyond the fifth of the global landmass subdued and exploited by the British through the reign of Queen Victoria. As Maguire’s notion of a fifth phase of sportization recognizes, cricket no longer ‘belongs’ to a Britain dominated by England; India is the new kid on the block. That cricket is part and parcel of a financialized form of capitalism is no more contentious, although a fuller, or sociological, appreciation of why and how this is so will have to wait until later in this book. It has much to do with TV and other forms of corporate sponsorship, as is implicit in the summary account of the profitability of the IPL.

Hyper-rationalization refers on the one hand to commodification, and on the other to bureaucratization or ‘juridification’. It might be argued that the price paid for the commercial survival of county and even test cricket has been its re-invention or re-packaging, via Packer and a growing adjustment to TV-sponsorship and the limited-overs game, in the form of the Twenty20 and ultimately the IPL. A corollary of cricket’s commodification has undoubtedly been its further bureaucratization, not only through the refinement of its statistics, after the fashion of American football, baseball and basketball, but in the guise of the ‘Duckworth-Lewis’ formula for determining the results of matches fore-shortened by rainfall (crucial on any ground in Britain) and the use of technology to adjudicate on umpires’ on-the-spot decisions. That the emergence of financial capitalism and the hyper-rationalization of sport is primarily down to a new class/command dynamic is a less obvious contention and one requiring a good deal more empirical support. For the time being two questions might be posed: who stands to gain most from the recent changes to cricket, the cricketers or those who invest directly or indirectly in their performance? And is Tendulkar better off than the owners/sponsors of the IPL?

The overriding emphasis on consumerism can be linked here with the putative postmodernization of culture. Intrinsic to the selling of a product like cricket is the passing of ‘grand’ narratives in favour of ‘petit’ narratives. The ‘modern’ adherence to county and test cricket, sustained by something of a grand narrative of sporting accomplishment, has been displaced by a plethora of competing ‘postmodern’ petit narratives, amongst which the IPL is proving especially seductive. The past counts for little compared with the immediacy of the present. What will thrill now is what matters; and of course what thrills now is bound up with what pays now.

Even in the relatively staid, middle-class world of cricket a new form of networked individualism is apparent. Not only is the social world of a Bradman or Hutton very different, but there is a discernible shift from that of Flintoff to that of Pietersen: such is the determinacy of the moment. The rewards of proactive commitment can be exponential.  It seems that the impetus to gamble that – historically – has always been associated with athletic competition is now integral to its very rationale. It is every man for himself, or increasingly, but at a price, every woman for herself. ‘KP’ is marketed against his rivals worldwide, like Flintoff was but more so. Bolt may be KP’s role-model, but Bolt follows in the footsteps of Michael Jordan or, more globally, David Beckham.

The significance of celebrity is indisputable. Even a non-meritorious winner of ‘Big Brother’ can qualify, let alone a cricketer of sustained achievement. But achievement is no guarantee. Any cricketer’s agent of repute would promise an international or otherwise ‘notorious’ cricketer a transition from cricketer of note to celebrity. If cards are played well, celebrity can underwrite a future of material comfort and enduring status, maybe as a quiz or game-show protagonist: Phil Tufnell  on ‘Question of Sport’ springs to mind. Cricketers  now need to be reflexive or to buy into reflexivity via agents in order to cash in.

The English ‘barmy army’ and its song-sheets apart, cricket’s historical anchorage in the upper- and middle-classes mitigates against its usurpation by supporters prone to alcohol-induced physical violence. As yet there is little evidence to support a de-civilizing spurt in cricket.

References:

Harris,I (1990) Packer, cricket and post-modernism. In Eds Rowe,D & Lawrence,G: Sport and Leisure: Trends in Australian Popular Culture. Sydney; Harcourt,Brace Jovanovich.

Maguire,J (1999)  Global Sport: Identities, Societies, Civilizations. Cambridge; Polity Press

Majumdar,B (2011) The Indian Premier League and world cricket. In Eds Bateman,,A & Hill,J: The Cambridge Companion to Cricket. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.

 

 

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