Why cricket is an art

The famed Greek thinker, Plato, once recorded a conversation between his teacher and Gorgias, a ‘rhetoric’. In it, Gorgias claims he practices the art of rhetoric, but Socrates argues that he wouldn’t even consider rhetoric a craft. Rather, he gives rhetoric the title of knack.

The difference? This he explains using a chef and a pastry maker. Both have skills sets which are branches of culinary, but one of them has a craft and the other a knack. When one has a craft, he does his job for the sake of people, such as a cobbler, who makes his shoes for people. The other, who holds a knack, has a set of skills but doesn’t do his work in regards to its effects on people.

In the case of this example, the chef is the one with a craft while the pastry baker holds a knack. But amongst this conversation between Socrates and Gorgias, another caste emerges: art itself.

England’s Steve Harmison bowling against New Zealand at Lord’s. May 20, 2004” by Peter Meade is licensed under CC BY 2.0

So why is art not necessarily a craft? Well going back to the chef, the skill sets he holds can be applied at any time, granted he has the right resources. If you tell him to make rice, for example, if he follows the same process every time, the rice will always turn out the same. But for artists, this may not always be the case. The way artists perform their skills can be different based on factors not in their control. The time, events which inspire, emotions all play into effect, which obviously fluctuates and are never static.

A writer may not write with the same emotion at night as he would in the morning. A writer may not display the same emotion in his writing every night. His poems will surely not always be the same. The events which happen to him, the feelings he responds with, determine what this writer would write.

But the door of art is wide open. Who is an artist can come from any mind, any soul. Meaning, the range of which activities can be considered art would be a very wide range. Perhaps even in the realm of sports.

Now sports are usually followed for entertainment purposes, but for most of its history, cricket was different. Before the World Wars, playing cricket was a sign of prestige, and typically, only the wealthy in England played. Towards the close of the British Empire, cricket had become popular in regions where the British had previously occupied.

The way art is expressed has always changed when interacting with new people or new ideas, such as the European floral designs in the Taj Mahal or the presence of Islamic-style architecture in Spain. As cricket spread, the way cricket could have been played was changed, along with the cricketers themselves. The same way cricket was played in England was not to be the same way it was going to be played in Australia, Sri Lanka, India, etc.

In England, where the ball swings much more and much later, the country has always had famed swing bowlers, from Freddie Flintoff to Stuart Broad and James Anderson. That is their art, to swing the ball. But those same bowlers won’t swing the ball as much in Pakistan or Sri Lanka, for example. They have the skills to do so, but the factors aren’t right. Just like how a writer can’t write with the same emotion whenever he wishes. In both cases, cricket and writing here are types of art.

Jimmy Anderson bowling at the WACA during the 2013-14 Ashes” by Dan Heap is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Outside of England, other places will produce other types of cricketers. The spinning pitches in Sri Lanka and India have given cricket greats like Rangana Herath, Murali Muralitharan and Anil Kumble. It would be really difficult to get cricketers to become successful in the art of spin from a place like Australia or South Africa. Speaking of Australia, famed cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle said after India’s first ODI vs. Australia that Australia had pitches which produced great batsmen, “flat-track bullies”. The kind like Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Steve Smith. The other thing he said was that Australia had a “fertile” line of fast bowlers. The kind of fast bowlers Australia can produce, the ones which fearlessly bowl bouncers, who bowl no less than 140 km/h. The kinds like Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Brett Lee and Dennis Lillee. Surely if these bowlers were born elsewhere, they wouldn’t be famed for their scary, pace bowling.

picture of the ‘guard of honour’ given to Muttiah Muralitharan by his teammates when they came of the field in Harare after Muralitharan broke Courtney Walsh’s record. Zimbabwe 2004.” by Ajithjay is licensed under CC BY 3.0

In all these examples, cricketers possess the skills to do great things. But just like any artist, that skill cannot be replicated exactly wherever, whenever. The way Yasir Shah bowls in the UAE, he can’t be as marvelous in Australia. Many factors which are outside of cricketers’ hands affect the way cricketers play their game, just like how emotions or events affect poets and writers. Therefore, cricket is art.


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