Byline by M J Akbar: The batter is the matter
The batter is the matter Take a guess. What would be the answer to this question in an India-wide opinion poll: which has upset you more, India’s early departure from the T20 world championship or the toxic wars against Maoists raging across the heartland of the nation?
No prizes for getting the answer right.
The spoilt brat of Indian cricket used to be an individual who had better be left nameless since he has finally departed from the team. He has been replaced by a collective noun. The utterly spoilt brat of Indian cricket is the cricket fan. This silly idiot has come to believe, for no worthwhile reason, that cricket is a game with only one result, a victory for India. All of us want our team to win more than it loses. But the fun of sports lies in unpredictability. No one can be sure what the particular chemistry of a set of men will be on any given day, or when luck will bend its momentum in one direction or the other. The part that media plays in publicising stupid tantrums following a defeat convinces me that this is not the work of genuine sports fans. They are publicity-seekers. If television cameras did not hover around their stupid protests, there would be no protests.
No one expects a captain to celebrate after his team loses, but the grovelling apology by Captain-Commander-General-Admiral-Marshal-President Dhoni strikes me as well-planned humbug of the sort encouraged by PR agencies. If you depend on the fans to buy all the products you advertise, then it makes sense to pamper even the most petulant with a pre-emptive apology. An apology costs nothing. Ads bring big bucks.
Media is clearly desperate for anything to fill the page or occupy the screen. We do want to know why Ravindra Jadeja was sent up the batting order when the tic in his eye is sufficient evidence to prove that he will not be able to see a rising ball, but do we want the answer from Aamir Khan or John Abraham? Their terribly inane reactions were turned into news stories. I just hope we do not see the day when Dhoni and Virender Sehwag are expected to double up as literary critics.
A panoramic sports championship has one undisputable merit: it reveals a great deal about any national frame of mind. The churning point of the cricket fiesta in England, at least for me, was when a British master-of-ceremonies (face unseen on television, but accent unmistakable) asked everyone to stand up for the national anthems that were played before the start of the match. “Be upstanding!” he boomed. That the English language is subject to various forms of torture, many of them unknown even to Dick Cheney, is a recognised fact. But this was murder of the language at home, matricide at its worst.What the chap meant was “Please stand up”. “Upstanding” means something else altogether. It is a synonym of honesty and virtue, a definition of morals. To deepen my anguish, an advertisement followed, trying to persuade me to buy a cellphone in “deep black”. What on earth is deep black? Have you ever seen “shallow black”? Blue or green or red lend themselves to variations of deep and light, but black is black. A paler shade of black is grey, not light black. This may not be on the scale of matricide, but it is a wound nevertheless.
In an effort to make the 20-over form of the game more American, the organisers have decided to change the language of commentary into American English. Hence the prolific and nonsensical use, in reportage, of “batter” for “batsman”. To begin with, “batsman” is perfectly adequate. The change does not add anything to meaning. A clever lawyer might argue that a change was needed to make the term gender-neutral, particularly with the growing popularity of women’s cricket. That would not be the truth, but it is an argument. If change is essential then you cannot usurp a word that already means something else. “Batter” is an existing term. It can be a verb, meaning “to hit repeatedly with hard blows”, derived from the French batre. Or it could be a noun, “a mixture of flour, egg, and milk or water, used for making pancakes or coating food before frying”. The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary does not recognise, as yet, a third meaning for “batter”, but it is possibly only a matter of time.
If it were elegant, there might be some aesthetic justification for murder. But all that is happening is that English is being battered to death. Can’t the Americans be content with taking over the world? Must they take over the English so completely? Or is it a case of mere subservience? Americans do not play cricket, and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future, so why should they care one way or another?
I had planned to end this column with a handsome flourish, a grand solution to the problem of finding someone to play in place of Ravindra Jadeja. Judging by the manner in which most Indian batsmen were getting battered by the rising ball, the coach, Gary Kirsten, could have summoned someone from the Indian women’s team to bat for the men. Alas, the women’s team also lost in the semi-finals. But at least its captain did not apologise.
(Byline for June 21, 2009)