Of flannelled fools and other games.

By V Pattabhi Ram and A V Vedpuriswar

First published in Business Line

“Cricket must be banned,” said China. He was biting his pasta and flipping through the latest copy of the Outlook magazine. Wafers, whose love for cricket was second only to her love for CA, almost dropped her glass of coke. “Why?” she screamed. She knew that China wasn’t a guy given to eccentrics. And she wanted to hear out his reasoning for she felt was an absurd statement.

“Indians are crazy about cricket and cricketers. Ditto with movies and movie stars,” China purred. “So what’s your problem?” asked Wafers. His eyes still on the Outlook article, China said, “The silly game has become an industry and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is awash with money”. Wafers blood pressure rose. “So?” she asked. China simply said, “It is not good for India”. Stupid engineer, thought Wafers. He gets subsidized education at IIT, plans to work abroad at a fancy pay package and now talks about what is good for India.

China could read her mind but refrained from being drawn into that debate. Instead he said, “You understand economics. So let me explain in the language of the economist”. Big deal, thought Wafers. She didn’t like grand standing. “Economics,” said China, “talks about negative externalities and market failure. The market economy tends to overproduce goods and services that have external costs. Cricket falls in this category. While the BCCI and the Indian cricketers are laughing their way to the banks, they are imposing costs on society”. Wafers couldn’t digest anyone rubbishing her favourite game. And so asked, “How?”

Stuffing another piece of pasta into his mouth China said, “Look. Work suffers in many offices while matches are being played. In cities like Calcutta work comes to a standstill. Worse still, far too much time is wasted on highlights and post mortems by self styled analysts. The amount of output lost clearly exceeds the value created by the game!” Wafers couldn’t help saying, “Boy, this is a democratic country. We do what pleases us. You can’t play the big brother.” The captain at the table joined the debate. “He pumped for China. There are other issues as well. Today, everyone talks about the need to be globally competitive. But, cricket is neither a global game nor is the Indian team truly competitive!”

“Crap” said Wafers. “Are we not proud of a marauding Tendulkar? Does our sense of patriotism not shoot up when India wins a match?” she asked. China smiled. An angry Wafers was always a treat to watch. “In the developing countries where cricket is played, it is some form of diversion from the more pressing problems of life. When Sri Lanka won the World Cup it was to them a great escape from the socio-economic problems that was ravaging their nation”. The captain nodded and said, “In the few developed countries which play cricket like Australia, New Zealand and England, cricket is not the national game”. China rubbed in. “So, terms like ‘world champions’ are a misnomer when it comes to cricket. Olympic winners are the real world champions. For, they compete against the best in the world”.

China wasn’t through yet. “Why do people play sports? Because it promotes physical fitness. But cricket does no such thing. How many of our test cricketers can really run fast? And the game isn’t strenuous. Only the wicket keeper’s job is physically demanding. That job alone is comparable with that of an athlete”. The captain bringing in a pack of French fries for Wafers said, “And it is not a coincidence that we have failed to produce a good wicket keeper in the last 15 years!” Wafers couldn’t help thinking, “Strangely enough, people responsible for cricket in India have decided that a specialist wicket keeper is not necessary”.

Wafers was beginning to feel converted. She couldn’t help recall what her kid brother had said the other day. “If India keeps winning consistently the way Australia has done in the past many years, it would be great”. Yes, India is some 8th in the test rankings with only the minnows behind it, Wafers remembered. And also that when India finished runner up in the World Cup it had been walloped by a huge margin by Australia. As China had then remarked, “We finished a distant second.”

Wafers couldn’t let down her heroes. She thundered, “You guys are jealous that the cricketers make money. As if you folks don’t like the smell of currency.” Why grudge them? China responded. “Look that isn’t the issue. Cricket is diverting scarce resources away from games which are more appropriate for our country. Take hockey. Many developed countries play hockey. So winning the Olympic gold in hockey is an achievement. Further, hockey is played for about 90 minutes in the evenings. It does not disrupt office work. And it demands tremendous physical fitness.

Once world beaters in hockey, today we are the whipping boys. Reason: Lack of incentives. While our cricketers fly around the world with their wives and drive in imported sports cars (on which customs duty is waived off), our hockey players travel by rail in second class compartments”. The captain at the table said, “Recently, I saw a former Olympics hockey player who had come to inaugurate the sports days at a school. I was pained to see the kind of respect given to him. If he had been a test cricketer, he would have been pampered beyond imagination”.

Wafers was beginning to feel that the China and the captain might have a point. China drove the final nail saying, “If the Indian cricket team were a listed stock, no one would touch it with a barge pole. Reason: The theory of valuation suggests that the value of a stock is the present value of the future cash flows. And neither the Indian cricket team’s present performance nor anticipated future performance is anything to write home about”.

Wafers was stumped. She remembered a Bernard Shaw quote, “Cricket is a game played by 11 flannelled fools and watched by 11,000 fools.” She decided to have her sip and give a quick slip. Disgusted. Disappointed. And as usual confused.


About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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