Reflecting life and the society in which it is conducted, cricket is experienced by its players as a system of distributed opportunities.
To play cricket is to be given or to be deprived of possibilities for development, chances to become familiar or practised, chances to realise potential, chances to get better, chances to make progress for self and for team.
Today, more than one club cricketer will ask, “Why am I batting 8?” or “Why am I not in the 1stXI?” “Why am I not bowling?” “Why this end, against the wind?” Those who compete for places and opportunities at the highest level that the game is played are no different.
Common sense suggests that the optimum system for the distribution of such opportunities is by merit. To the best should go the chances, because once those chances are allocated the playing field is no longer level. But that is seldom what happens and advantages are given to some and deprived to others.
The ideal, if fleetingly achieved, seems quickly to morph into some new system of privilege, as power over the distribution of opportunities collects around a different set of unequal relationships.
Be you subject or cricketer, to avoid disappointment, do not look for justice.
Yesterday on the third day of the fourth Test between England and India, Cheteshwar Arvind Pujara, who strangely can call to mind the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, took a long stride forward to the off-spin of Moeen Ali. The ball bounced and turned – this is Old Trafford you see, where bounce and quick turning wickets can be produced as a matter of course, even within a couple of seasons of a comprehensive revolution of the ground’s orientation.
The stretching Pujara was struck on the knee roll, the ball ricocheted into the hands of a close fielder. England players appealed, some for a catch, some for LBW. Umpire Rod Tucker, with little time for reflection, gave the batsman out LBW.
Pujara froze in disbelief, disorientated for a moment, like an intoxicated Lancastrian spectator waking from a deep afternoon slumber and forgetting that things have changed in the old ground.
Any other Test match Number 3 in any match between any set of teams except a set containing India would instantly have been able to rebalance himself and call for a review of the decision. Such a review would have shown the ball turning enough to miss the leg stump and, adding insult to injuring, bouncing well above stump height – remember this is Old Trafford, where despite 35 cm of rain falling on average each year a pitch can be produced that is more akin to one in Perth, Western Australia, than one in Hove, Sunny Sussex.
That Purara could not appeal for justice to a system of referral which is open to every other Test cricketer and indeed was open, within seconds of the event, to everyone who could hasten to a TV monitor, is because administrators of cricket in India have ruled it so.
Like all autocracies, the aptly named Board of CONTROL for Cricket in India fears reason as reason would deprive it of its power.
Why, whatever next? Merit in the allocation of playing opportunities?
This is not the best team that India could send to England, it is the product of strange choices following the retirement of its golden generation, nor, for almost all of this and the last Test, was Dhoni’s allocation of opportunities anything other than capricious. India squanders its talent and subjects those it does select to debilitating inconsistency.
The players looked like those who serve a tyrannical master and, weary of injustice, decided to lay down their tools in protest.
India should take a lesson from Old Trafford, start a revolution and unleash the blue.