The Game that ‘Bowls Over’!
An overview of cricket in South Asia.
With Sri Lanka winning the T-20 World Cup in a thrilling final against India, the frenzy ignited among cricket fans has ebbed. As usual, the play offered many nail-biting moments because with 20-over limit, the players have a hectic time within which to bring out their best. Even its sister, the One Day International, (ODI) is a 50-over game that allows some respite.
Because of their shorter duration - just a few hours, often from late afternoons into the evenings - the ODI and Twenty-20 are very popular because people can throng to the stadiums after the day’s work. This factor has also lent these an edge over test matches, which are played for five days during daytime and require the fans to sacrifice many working hours.
Cricket started in England in the 16th century. It was a gentleman’s game, played in a relaxed fashion, with even old people sometimes taking part. By 1725 it had among its patrons some nobles and businessmen such as the 2nd Duke of Richmond,
Sir William Gage, Alan Brodrick et al.
Instantly popular, by the end of the 18th century, cricket had become England’s national sport. The British introduced it in their colonies, - South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India and the Caribbean islands (West Indies). However, it never caught on in the United States and Canada.
The Laws of Cricket were codified in 1744. Originally it was played with a four ball over. The five-ball over was introduced in 1889 and the current six-ball over in 1900.
Some exclusive features set this game apart from any other. It even has its own idioms. For example, “having had a good innings” means having had a long and successful life. To be “hit for six,” means being shocked. Being “bowled over” stands for being left speechless; an awkward situation is called a “sticky wicket.” To be “stumped” is to be clueless about how to solve a problem; to “catch out” means to outwit and “hitting off one’s own bat” means acting independently. And the piece de resistance that reminds one of the game’s noble origin is to call an unfair dealing as “not cricket.”
Cricket is also a game of records. Who played how many matches, runs scored, including fours and sixes, number of wickets taken when and where is all faithfully chronicled. Further details include the highest number of consecutive wickets taken or consecutive sixes or fours made, and much more. Some of the records include Prince Ranjit Singhji’s 2780 runs in a season in 1899 - “which was the highest aggregate ever made!”
Other famous names are Don Bradman of Australia and Sachin Tendulkar of India. Bradman had a Test average of 99.94 and an overall first-class average of 95.14, records unmatched by any other player. Sachin Tendulkar was rated by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac in 2002 as the “second greatest Test batsman of all time, behind Don Bradman.”
Gambling in cricket is nothing new. Only match-fixing and balltampering are new. Otherwise, even in the earliest times there used to be heavy betting on the game.
The traditions of luncheon and afternoon tea introduced by the gentlemen cricketers of 18th century England are still observed in Test cricket. The game is played between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. with a 40-minute lunch break from 1 p.m. and another 20-minute break for tea at 3:40 p.m. besides short breaks of about 5 minutes for drinks, usually after an hour's play.
Though cricket started in India in 1721 it was granted official status in 1932, in which year India played its first Test cricket match from 25th to 28th June against England at Lords’ in London.
Prince Ranjit Singhji a.k.a. Ranji was the first Indian to play Test cricket with his Test debut for England in 1896. India’s most prestigious firstclass cricket tournament – Ranji Trophy was named after him. The competition was launched as " The Cricket Championship of India" in 1934 and is still played in India.
Parsis took to the game first, followed by Hindus and Muslims. Each established their cricket clubs in Bombay in the 19th century. At first, cricket matches were played among Europeans, Hindus and Parsis, which was called the Triangular tournament. When Muslims joined in 1912, it became “Quadrangular.” In 1937, with the addition of a new team called the Rests, it became the Pentangular Tournament but was abandoned in 1946 due to political unrest.
Some of past Indian cricket legends such as CK Nyudu, Lala Amarnath, Merchant, Manjerekar, Mankad, Umrigar, Nawab of Pataudi and Maharaja of Vizianagram, still stir happy memories of first class cricket. Among the present lot are, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag. Virat Kohli is another promising batsman who gave some thrilling performances in this year’s T-20 championship.
Pakistan has taken long strides in the game since its debut with a five-match Test series in India in 1952, producing some famous cricketers. Abdul Hafeez Kardar, who had been playing test cricket in India before partition, was the first captain of the Pakistani cricket team. In the 23 matches he captained, Kardar won the distinction of leading his team to victory over all the Test playing countries of the time, except South Africa with which Pakistan did not play. It was under his captaincy that Pakistan won a stunning victory against England at the Oval in 1954 with Fazal Mahmood, taking 12 wickets at the Oval.
Javed Miandad is another player who made history in 1986 in AustralAsia Cup final in Sharjah, with his last-ball victory when he hit for six - only four runs were required off one ball.
Imran Khan led the Pakistan team to World Cup victory in 1992. Hanif Mohammad became the first Asian cricketer to score a triple hundred in a match with 337 runs in 970 minutes against the West Indies in 1958. This was also the longest innings in Test history. Shoaib Akhtar is reputed as the fastest bowler in the history of cricket and has bowled his fastest delivery officially recorded at a speed of 161.3 kph. Zaheer Abbas, Waqar Yunus and Waseem Akram are among other well-known Pakistani cricketers. In the limited over games, Shahid Afridi has already become a sort of a legend as a batsman. Among others are Hafeez, Akmal and Ajmal. But, alas, international matches are no more played within Pakistan since the Sri Lanka team was physically attacked in Lahore in 2009.
Bangladesh became an Associate Member of the ICC in 1977 and a regular member in 1997. The same year it won the Sixth ICC Trophy in Malaysia. In 2000, it attained Test status. Within this short span, it has thrown up some promising players such as Mushfiqur, Ashraful, Tamim and Habibul Bashar, while Shakib is regarded as “the best cricketer that Bangladesh have ever had.”
In Sri Lanka, the first recorded cricket match was played as far back as 1832. In 1905 it was playing first class cricket. Sri Lanka made its international debut in the 1975 World Cup inaugural. It won the ICC Trophy in 1979. On July 21, 1981, Sri Lanka was admitted to full membership of the ICC and was awarded Test status. In 1996 it won the Cricket World Cup.
Lasith Malinga became the first bowler, ever, to take four wickets in four consecutive balls in the 2007 World Cup match against South Africa. He also took six wickets in his very first match in 2004 against Australia. Among other famous Sri Lankan cricketers are Jayasuriya, Muralitharan, Dilshan, Sangakara and Jayewardene. The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia