Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The importance of cricket to place

Image above: Just a bat and cap, but meaning much more to those in a place.

 As a cricketer, you're part of a wider family. The cricket family. You automatically have a connection with others without even meeting. The passing of Phil Hughes has proven that, we are all shocked by it and genuinely feel for his family and friends. He was what we all hope to be, a genuine person and dedicated to what he wanted. This was never the way it was supposed to end, too soon. Sean Abbott, the entire cricketing world is also behind you. You are an innocent who never meant for this to happen. You have no reason to feel guilty. Rest in Peace Phillip, you were a once in a generation player, who touched the world.  
Manning McInerney

More than a game for many Australians

The geography of sport has been a recurring theme on this blog over recent years. Sport is an important cultural phenomenon and has geographical relevance in terms of the concepts of place, space, interconnection and change. Sport can be studied in cultural geography in relation to sense of identity and place and many aspects of sport can be mapped to show diversity across space. With the tragic events of the past week and the funeral of Phil Hughes today I thought the time was right to do some geography on cricket. 

The dedication above to Phil Hughes was written by my 22 year old son on Facebook last week.  I could not have said it any better and it shows the raw emotion the event exposed in many of us - people we never see cry were overwhelmed by emotion. Raw emotion which many of us find hard to explain. The rational side of us says that all those dieing in accidents is sad and deserve a similar emotional response but this one really hit home. Such a reaction is a complex amalgam of cultural importance of cricket, identity and meaning attached to place, hero worship, the tragedy and irony of the timing, the Australian love of the battler, his bush and fun loving quality and the waste of talent and potential for the future - they all combined to create an event many of us will always remember. Interestingly Michael Clarke in his eulogy at the funeral talked about spirit and attachment to a place such as the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) - a very real and heartfelt expression of the importance of place at this stage of his and others grieving.

This posting tries to unravel the geography of cricket. For example, to non-cricketing countries, the magnitude of Australians' and Indians' love for cricket is as incomprehensible as its feverish intensity. 

 A typical scene in cities and villages all over India, this one in Agra.

On February 4th India awarded the Bharat Ratna, its highest civilian honour, to Sachin Tendulkar, a recently retired batsman. Millions in India, a country of 1.3 billion people and only one nationally-popular game, celebrated wildly. When India's national side plays a big game, an estimated 400m watch on television. Yet cricket's take-off in India is a highly improbable development. The game is demanding to play properly, requiring space, a good turf pitch and expensive equipment—which only a relative handful of Indian cricketers have access to. Most will never strap on pads or bowl with a leather ball. The attached article asking "Why Indian's love cricket so much" is an interesting discussion for cultural geography. 

 A map showing the most popular sports around the world. India, Pakistan and Australia are the major countries where cricket dominates.

As the map above shows, the overwhelming majority of countries see cricket as a minor or even non-existent sport. The historical geography answer to its distribution is very much tied into cricket being a legacy of the British Empire. However even that explanation is not comprehensive when we realise that cricket never took off in Canada or Hong Kong for example. The environmental determinists will argue that these countries did not embrace cricket because of their climate or scarcity of land for open fields. If that is the case, then why not the United States of America? The USA has a  perfect climate for cricket and plenty of land - was it just a hatred of the English after the American Revolution and a general mismatch of the game to the America culture that stopped them embracing cricket when all the other Anglo culture/British Empire nations were doing so in the 19th Century.  

The map above shows the distribution of cricket playing countries according to International Cricket Council (ICC) membership and the map below shows the most popular spectator sports. Maps that indicate the distribution and popularity of cricket on the world sporting scene. 

Regardless of crickets paucity of spectators across the world, it is undeniable that cricket has a very special place in the hearts of those living in many places. The depth of emotions surrounding the death of Phil Hughes over the past week has made me realise how irrationally important the game of cricket is to the Australian culture. Cricket is a game played in every state of Australia and plays an important role in the development of young people, the recreation and identity of young adults and the meaning of life for many of us. Yes, cricket means nothing for many Australians, especially migrants from non-cricketing countries, but it is part of the cultural fabric of the place called Australia (as is the case for India and Pakistan). The importance of Don Bradman during the tough times of the 1930's Depression in Australia also highlights the importance of cricket to Australians over the past century. Interestingly, only in India and Pakistan is cricket the most popular spectator sport, with Aussie Rules dominating that aspect of Australian life. However many Australians feel engaged with and passionate about cricket by reading game reports, viewing statistics, watching TV or listening to the radio - but they never see it played live!

Cricket by nature is a very spatial game with a plethora of established and named positions on the field. 

The map above of a cricket field showing fielding positions, features and terminology is often seen as a confusing map for those not initiated into cricket. The captain of a cricket team is certainly an expert on spatial matters, manipulating angles, reading patterns (of shots) and changing locations (fielding positions) in response. In response to the spatial fascination of cricket fans, spatial technology has certainly been put to good use through programs such as Hawkeye (showing the trajectory of a ball or shot), Wagonwheel (the distribution and path of shots) and Pitch Map (where the balls land on the pitch). The images below are applications of spatial technology which we have come to expect as we watch cricket on television. In fact, the technology originally just to augment the TV coverage is now being used by cricket authorities to adjudicate on-field decisions. You cannot but think spatially when looking at these visualisations in cricket.

Pitch Map

For this blog posting I searched for resources on the geography of cricket. Other than the maps and reference to technology discussed above, there was little on this fascinating cultural geography study. When one considers the importance of a game such as cricket to place, I am somewhat surprised that there has not been a lot more geographical thinking on the topic. Maybe there is and I have not found it as yet! I will continue to look but if anyone has more to add on the topic, please feel free to make a comment.

Finally on this sad day for many of us, RIP Phil Hughes, you have been a marvelous role model to many young (including my son) and older Australians and your name, talent and demeanor will not only live on amongst cricket fans but also become a part of the ever developing cultural identity of this place called Australia.

1 comment:

Penny Sinclair said...

Thanks Malcolm. Thoughtful comments and good ideas.