Directors: Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber, Johnny Blank
First things first: I know cricket as much as I know Greek. Last cricket match I saw was in 2001. An exhilarating India v/s England. India not only won that match but was also exempted from paying the taxes. It was Lagaan. We could have won an Oscar too, but that’s another sad story.
That fictional match aside, it is true that cricket is a colonial gift to Indian sports culture. This Englishman’s, or as they call it, Gentleman’s game was played to promote and expand the reach of colonialism in deeper pockets of India. But what the end of imperialism meant – that the world will now embrace democracy – didn’t really reflect in the game of cricket. Imperialism never left cricket. In fact, it grew.
Death of a Gentleman is about this growing imperialism in the game and the imperialists, viz. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Cricket Australia (CA) and, mainly, the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI).
Two Australian cricket journalists – Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber – embark upon to document stories about the dying form of cricket: the test cricket. But in the process, they find out that the reason of the death of the game is the game itself – in its other form, called T20, and its various tournaments, particularly the Indian Premiere League (IPL).
“The test cricket is a test of skills, test of courage, and test of intelligence,” says one gentleman in the film. But seems like the five-day format of the game is also turning out as a ‘test of patience’ for some of its audiences. They seek instant entertainment. Are sports the place where they should look for it? Not sure. But T20, as a condensed version of the game packed with sixes and fours, does provide some entertainment; IPL, even more… in its raw, visceral yet glamorous form. “IPL does not compete with test cricket. It competes with Bollywood,” says ex-cricketer and commentator Arun Lal.
IPL is giving this 2-min-instant-noodles generation what they want. How does this explain the death of the older form of the sport? Take this case: In April 2012, Australia was on its tour in West Indies to play a test series of three matches other than five ODIs and two T20s. ODIs and T20s resulted into ties, but for the tests, the selectors simply couldn’t pick some of the top players of West Indies XI, including Chris Gayle who recently lead his team win the T20 World Cup Championship, as they were thousand miles away playing for the IPL. As a result, the West Indies faced a severe blow, losing 2-0 (one match being withdrawn due to rains).
Corporates and capitalists are putting monies where audiences’ affinity lies. Players are where the money is. This makes cricket historian Gideon Haigh raise a pertinent question, quite early in the film, which also sums up the film: Does cricket make money to exist or does it exist to make money?
Though the answer is apparent, the film tries to find it in profound ways. As it turns out, the simple looking money investing and money chasing business is a nexus with the then BCCI and ICC head N Srinivasan sitting at its top.
What makes him the imperialist of the game? He signed off a rule that made cricket boards of top three cricket playing countries – India, England and Australia – hold equal shares of revenue upto fifty percent of the ICC grants, thus sidelining poorer countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and jeopardizing their cricketing culture. This economic imbalance also means that there would be countries which could never play this beautiful game. They reduced and regressed the gentleman in this Gentleman’s Game to a crony, oppressive one as imagined in the colonial era.
China, for a population of over a billion, receives only $30, 000 as grants from the federation. It would invest more by themselves if cricket is accepted into Olympics. So why hasn’t ICC pushed for cricket into Olympics? To which, Srinivasan replies, with the entitlement that he assumes, that he has all the rights to put the board’s interest first.
The duo journalists take time to come up on screen and chart out the nexus equations on a blackboard, posing pressing questions. But this technique hardly works in their favor, because 1) they are bad actors; 2) pointing out questions in a staged sequence robs the film of its inherent drama. They finished documenting the story in 2015 before the main villain portrayed in the film, N Srinivsan, was dethroned from both the bodies – ICC as well as the BCCI. So the relevance of this documentary now is again slightly doubtful but it must be seen as a record of the time when the game seemed to be in peril, and probably still is.
Sneaking from the darker alleys of crony capitalism, the film, in parallel, runs into a human tale of Australian opener of Ed Cowan that shows some light. But even that is hindered as we see him going on duck in the first innings of his career’s last test. He is personified metaphor of the game we are talking about.
Death of a Gentleman is a passionate and heartfelt love letter to the purest form of cricket by two of its most ardent devotees who miss not only the gentlemen who played the game but also those who stood with them in the stadium.
This review was originally published on TheW14.com