Theory, opinion, analysis...

We have convenient theories about players; top stars are slotted into categories, seen and judged through a set perspective.

What is it that makes all of us analyse cricket endlessly, debate and dissect every move, view what happens on the field from a million angles? There is no easy answer to this, but let us look at possible reasons.

Observers feel the structure of cricket, the format itself, encourages opinion. Cricket is intrinsically complex, one guy up against eleven, and he could be dismissed without facing a single ball. Add to this the impact of external factors (weather, clouds, breeze, drizzle, dew, grass, footmarks, light) and you know why it is so difficult.

As cricket lends itself to subtle nuances and uncertainties there is a great scope for theory, opinion, wild conjecture and measured analysis. To make sense of cricket and correctly grasp its subtleties, to figure out the profound effect of an improperly fried egg at breakfast on the performance of the lead player, we need pundits to dispense `gyaan'.

Cricket's 200-year history and strong tradition also encourages theory. And given our fondness for statistics, a delicious cocktail recipe of gossip, social conversation and intellectual debate is created.

This was demonstrated when Sehwag announced he was unfamiliar with certain past Indian greats. Experts launched into overdrive to explain this miss, one put it down to cricket's democratisation process which has taken the sport out of big metros, and the emergence of players from smaller cities. This is a neat theory, but why should we assume players from Mumbai or Bangalore are steeped in cricket tradition and history? Plus, a troubling fact: Sehwag is from Delhi, which is a small city only when compared to Beijing!

We also have convenient theories about players; top stars are slotted into categories, seen and judged through a set perspective. Sehwag's success, for instance, is attributed to an uncluttered mind, natural gifts and an awesome technique that allows him to stand beside the ball and whack it through the off-side. Sehwag's failures are attributed to his carefree `kya farak padta hai' attitude and an awful technique which prevents him from getting in line!

Rahul Dravid is always portrayed as `Bharat ka sipahi', a professional who is both a student of the game (unlike Sourav, if you believe Mr. Raj Singh!) and a teacher, a role model. About Sachin Tendulkar there exist so many theories he seems to support an entire industry. Much is said about him, maybe because he says very little himself. When he scores, which is often, everyone gushes about his genius. When he, occasionally, fails there is a flood of stories about his fading skills and some vague inability to win matches. Indians are masters at manufacturing theories because we love cricket, are devoted to stars, completely fascinated by their paisa and performances. Indian fans are cricket PHDs who analyse every angle, discover every hidden agenda. Cricket is a social glue, a sport and a religion, and a hot, spicy conversation tool. If this means creating simple theories about complex cricket issues, how does it matter? `Chalne do'.

Another favourite topic for spinning theories is the spirit of the game. On this, the ICC, committed to preserve cricket's unique character, has a lot to say, Cricket Australia also makes plenty of noise but continues to smile benignly as their players indulge in gamesmanship/ sledging/ so- called mental disintegration and their crowds direct racial taunts at South Africa and behave boorishly with Murali. South Africa has set standards for its players, as part of the save-cricket's-spirit campaign, and instructions exist that they behave properly, dress decently, not refuse autographs to kids .

But protecting cricket's spirit is an uphill task, mainly because it is difficult to define or identify the spirit in the first place. In broad, actually very broad, terms the spirit consists of unwritten laws, convention and tradition which cover how the game should be played. In a way, not bringing the game into disrepute is the essence of the spirit but there are other components as well. One of the unsaid provisions is players should refrain from abusing opponent or umpire, even if the two are difficult to distinguish on some occasions. Bouncers should not be bowled at tailenders; excessive or intimidatory appealing directed at opponents or umpires is not on; claiming a catch after grabbing the ball on the bounce is a serious sin.

However, regardless of noble intent, sharp practices continue on the field, as they have since the playing days of Ranji. Cricket exits in a society that is competitive, success is everyone's goal and winning counts more than anything else. With much at stake, both monetary and others, goodness is secondary, and concern for the spirit for many is an irrelevance, an outdated concept from the past.

That is why pace bowlers will hurl a beamer and pretend the ball slipped, appeals are shrieked when the ball clearly goes off the thigh pad, and batsmen dance on the pitch to scuff it with spikes. Knowing that fervent appeals to uphold traditional values won't work, match referees have been appointed to impose fines, hand out bans, to make sure things don't deteriorate beyond a point. It is nice to see players applaud hundreds made by batsmen from the other side, and shake hands with someone who hit you on the head with a bouncer.

But their main task is to get the other blokes out, and win. The spirit of cricket says you play fairly, not that you play for the other team.