The incompatibility of religion and cricket

June 26, 2014 • 9:52 am

Reader Tom called my attention to a report in the sports section of the Sydney Morning Herald, which combines our current interest in sports with our constant interest in religion and its malfeasance. According to the report, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the Indian national cricket team, has been issued an arrest warrant for “hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus.”

Now I don’t know from cricket, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to work up any interest in it, but it is the most popular sport in one of the world’s most populous countries, as well as in much of the world. Tom called Dhoni  “captain of the most influential sporting team in the world”; I don’t know what that means, exactly, but perhaps readers can enlighten me. And Dhoni is noted in his Wikipedia article as “widely regarded as one of the greatest finishers in limited-overs cricket.” I have no idea what limited-overs cricket is, or what a silly mid-on is.  I’m happy to be ignorant: soccer fully fills the “sports module” in my brain.

At any rate, the Herald reported:

The case was filed last year against the 32-year-old after the cover of an Indian magazine carried a picture of him portrayed as a Hindu god.

The bailable warrant was issued after Dhoni failed to appear before the court despite three summons. The next date of hearing has been set for July 16.

Dhoni is currently touring with the Indian squad in England, where the team will play five Tests, five one-day internationals and one Twenty20 international.

Yerraguntla Shyam Sunder, a member of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad party, filed the petition in March this year objecting to the picture of Dhoni.

“The court’s move was necessitated as Dhoni did not accept the summons sent previously. These warrants are only to make him accept and appear before the court,” Gopal Rao, the advocate representing Yerraguntla Shyam Sunder, told the Hindustan Times.

Roa also told the Hindustan Times that if Dhoni refused to appear before the court an arrest warrant which did not allow bail could be issued.

Here’s the offending magazine cover:


Now how can Dhoni be prosecuted for that? It surely wasn’t his decision to be portrayed that way.

Dhoni has been slurred before, in accusations of corruption. My Indian friends tell me that cricket in their country is deeply corrupt: both in the betting and in the teams themselves, who can either throw games or even mis-hit balls, since bets are placed on individual batters as well as game outcomes. Nevertheless, the man is enormously popular and rich: $30 million US is an absolute fortune in India:

A fortnight ago [Dhoni] was listed by Forbes magazine as the 22nd highest paid athlete in the world, and the only cricketer in the top 100, with earnings of $US30 million in 2013. The magazine said $26m of Dhoni’s earnings had arrived through endorsements.

The wicketkeeper-batsman is due to lead India in Australia this summer, when they will play four Tests against Michael Clarke’s No.1 ranked team and then take part in a one-day tri-series with Australia and England in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup.

Since the rise of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its Hindu-centric philosophy, India has become more religiously intolerant, with Hindus crying about hurt feelings nearly as often as Muslims. Author Wendy Doniger, (a Chicago colleague) had her recent book about Hinduism (The Hindus: An Alternative History) pulled by Penguin from Indian booksellers and pulped (I wrote about this February) because a few Hindus complained that it presented their religion in a poor light.

And it’s not just Hindus: rationalist Sanal Edamaruku is facing arrest in his country for exposing a “miracle statue” of Jesus in Mumbai (which supposedly produced water) as a case of faulty plumbing in a nearby loo. For that he faced prosecution under India’s outdated blasphemy laws, and is now in exile in Finland, afraid to go back to India.

India is the world’s largest democracy. I love the country and its people, although the increasingly virulent strain of religious fervor scares me.  If they want to keep setting an example of how a democracy can function when it encompasses such a diverse people, they need to get rid of those stupid blasphemy laws. I don’t know about Dhoni’s honesty in playing cricket, but he doesn’t deserve prosecution for being portrayed as Krishna.

Dhoni at bat (if that’s what you call it)





48 thoughts on “The incompatibility of religion and cricket

  1. Reposting my comment on reddit. To elaborate The case is just work of few whose “religious sensibilities” are offended at every drop of hat. With a “religion” like Hinduism, it is difficult to determine IMO, what is a “proper conduct” and what is “improper”. We Hindus tend to garland and worship even human beings like Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa. So if a person who has influenced society through his/her social work can be worshipped, why not a sportsperson.

    Here is my comment on Reddit
    I sent this image on my WhatsApp group, and one guy got offended. I did not see any point in entering into further argument about this issue.
    We supposedly worship deities who are supposed to have “supernatural” powers and work wonders. Well, Dhoni has achieved what only few Indians can aspire to do. So why not praise Dhoni? And we don’t have any qualms in garlanding and worshipping people like Ramdev, Sri Sri, Saibaba, Morari Bapu, Asaram and that Swaminarayan guy, who have supposedly no remarkable contribution to the society. If those guy are worship worthy, why not Dhoni.

    And again, Vishnu is supposed to have a whole lot of “Avtaar” – Dhoni could be one of them

  2. Cricket isn’t really that popular a sport worldwide. It’ almost exclusively played in those countries that were once part of the “Empire on which the sun never set”.
    Even in those non-Commonwealth countries where it has a tenuous hold, it is mostly the preserve of immigrants from those countries.
    Test cricket matches take place over 5 days, limited overs cricket takes one day, and twenty/twenty cricket takes about 3 hours.

    1. “Cricket isn’t really that popular a sport worldwide.” There are many sports of which that could be said! What is the measure of popularity? The number of countries playing at the highest level? The number of registered players or teams? The number of clubs? The number of fans?

      In fact the ‘evil empire’ spread a number of sports around the world – Badminton, Baseball (it’s in Northanger Abbey), Ice Hockey (Darwin played it as a child), Rugby, snooker, tennis, squash, darts, table tennis, netball, bowls, &, er, football! Sports often spread by engineers building railways, or other workers.

  3. It seems odd to me that M.S.Dhoni has been singled out for this treatment. The Indian public treat all their cricketing heroes as gods particularly the great Sachin Tendulkar, popularly known as the God of Cricket.
    By the way Jerry, studying the game and learning of its beauty would time well spent.

  4. I hope these are a few loud mouths making a fuss and not the feelings of the larger Hindu group.

  5. Dhoni is noted in his Wikipedia article as “widely regarded as one of the greatest finishers in limited-overs cricket.” I have no idea what limited-overs cricket is…

    I’m going to use baseball jargon to explain it; keep in mind these are not the terms a cricket player would use.

    An “over” is 6 pitches of the ball. Limited overs means a team gets only a certain number of pitches before they must let the other team bat and they must take the field.

    In cricket, there is only one inning. But each teach gets 10 outs (one for each player), and there are no strikes – you must either get caught out, tagged out, or the pitch must hit and knock over some sticks behind the batter call the wicket. Most importantly in terms of game time, the batter doesn’t have to run when he hits the ball; they only run when they think its safe to do so. Combined with 10 outs and infinite strikes, this means a team can literally stay up at bat for days if they hit and run conservatively. Limited Over games were developed so that a game of cricket could be played in 1 day with both teams getting a fairly even amount of time at bat and in the field.

    1. Just to clarify some terms (because I was a cricket player and am still a cricket watcher):

      Pitches: known as balls or deliveries. The bowler (pitcher) takes a run-up (the length of which is dependent on the ball-speed he wants to generate) and may bounce the ball once on its way to the batsman (batter). That’s usually how bowlers do it because (1) you can make the ball change direction very sharply – or subtly – on contact with the ground (as well as making it move through the air like a curveball – aka “swinging”) and (2) because the ball is much easier for the batsman to hit on the full.

      Note: the bowler must deliver the ball overarm with a straight elbow – much like delivering a grenade. Throwing is illegal. Bowlers’ run-ups are utilised to generate momentum which is converted to ball speed and/or spin. Spin-bowling, which is slow but in which the bowler tweaks his fingers/wrist when delivering the ball to produce a bamboozling delivery, is considered a fine art.

      The playing surface itself is also known as a pitch: it’s a rectangle 22 yards long (or one “chain”) with a wicket at each end. A wicket is a set of three sticks with two cross-pieces sitting on top of the sticks in grooves; these are the “bails.” A batsman’s chief concern is protecting his wicket; secondary is scoring runs. A single run is scored when the two batsmen (there’s one at either end of the pitch; each end is identical) swap ends and place themselves (or usually their bats) behind what’s known as the “crease”. The crease is a line across the pitch just under two yards in front of the wicket. If the wicket is broken (that is, if a bail is removed by a fielder who’s holding the ball in the hand that does the removing) before the batsman makes ground behind his crease, that batsman is run out.

      Note: the pitch – always a carefully prepared section of turf in the professional levels and also at many local clubs – is also known as the “wicket”. The phrase “sticky wicket”, meaning a difficult or unfair situation, is a cricketing term and refers to a wet or moist pitch which are notoriously difficult to bat on.

      Outs: wickets (that word again) or dismissals. Run out (as described above), bowled (the bowler’s delivery breaks the batsman’s wicket) and caught (any fielder can catch any ball hit into the air by the batsman – there are no fly rules or foul balls as cricket is played in 360 degrees with the pitch in the middle of a large oval) are the most common. There are others (such as stumped, hit wicket, leg before wicket and the provision for being “timed out” if a new batsman takes more than two minutes to go from dressing room to pitch), but let’s not complicate things 😀

      Note: there are no double plays so no, you can’t catch a batsman out and then run out his partner. Once a batsman has been dismissed, the ball is considered “dead” until the next ball is bowled.

      Inning: innings.

      In Test cricket, each team gets two of these, with 10 wickets (outs) required to dismiss a batting team. There are 11 players in a cricket team but you must have two batsmen on the pitch in order to score runs – hence only 10 wickets are needed. Test cricket matches go for five days, maximum (they used to go as long as it took to dismiss each team twice). Test cricket is a long, tactical, psychological war and regarded by many purists as the gold standard of the game. A full five-day Test may still end in a draw but it’s still awesome, if for no other reason than you can block out an entire week in summer and say “no thanks/sorry, can’t do it – I’m watching the cricket.”

      Limited overs games:

      A one-day cricket (aka Day/Night as they’re often played under lights) match gives a team fifty overs (300 balls) to score as many runs as they can and then try to defend that score by dismissing their opponents in the next innings. Faster than Tests but still has scope for tactics.

      Twenty-twenty (also “T20”) is as it sounds: same as the above, only twenty overs (120 balls) are allowed. It’s a new variant, very popular and very exciting to watch with batsmen trying to score from every ball and bowlers trying to dismiss batsmen with every ball – no room and no time for nuance or mindgames! Its other name is “Big Bash cricket.”

      Aforementioned purists often pooh-pooh the limited overs variants, but those people (as well as being wrong) can not deny the effect they’ve had on popularising the game. The 50-over variant has consistently been the most popular thing on TV during the summer since its invention in the early 80s (thanks to Kerry Packer!) and the T20 leagues, especially the Indian league, are hugely popular and highly-paid competitions, with teams paying fat stacks for top players from cricket-mad nations like Australia, England, the West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa.

      Infinite strikes: nope. There are no strikes at all. A batsman can attempt to play a shot or not, as he sees fit, with no penalty for missing (unless of course the ball then breaks his wicket, at which point he’s out “bowled” – or if the ball strikes his leg when it’s in line with his wicket, at which point the fielding side must appeal to the umpire for a “leg before wicket” or LBW. The most common method is to ask the umpire, very loudly, “How was that?” which usually turns into a raucous chorus of “OWZAAAAAAAT!!!”).

      Scoring: as mentioned, batsmen must swap ends in order to score a run (they may do this as they see fit, whether a shot has been played or not – a mis-field by the wicket-keeper [catcher], for example, can provide an opportunity for a quick single). They may then judge whether to run again, say if the striker (the batsman who faces the bowler) has hit the ball deep into the outfield, or stay where they are, at which point the other batsman now faces the bowler.

      Boundaries: four runs are scored when a batsman hits the ball to the fence. Six are scored when the batsman hits the ball over the fence. You don’t need to run when you score a boundary. Batsmen love boundaries – so do fans.

      Bats: rectangular, flat-faced clubs made of willow. Capable of hitting a ball over 100 yards.

      Balls: two hemispheres of hard red leather stiched together around a core of cork, around which has been wrapped several zillion yards of string. The thick seam down the middle is frequently used to generate a change of direction on contact with the ground and bowlers always polish one side of the ball and leave the other to get roughened up, making it possible to curve – “swing” – the ball through the air. In a Test, two balls are used per innings (one per innings in the shorter variants); only if a ball is lost (say, if a batsman hits an epic six onto the roof of a grandstand or into the carpark – yes, it happens) do the umpires call for a replacement. The dynamic condition of the ball (influenced by pitch condition, outfield condition, weather, humidity, number of shots by the batsmen etc) is often a significant factor in the tactics of a fielding side.

      A cricket balls weighs 155-165 grams (4-5 ounces) and can be delivered to you at over 155kph (95+mph). Something travelling only 22 yards at 95mph gives you very little time to react, which is why batsmen and wicketkeepers wear pads that cover their shins and knees as well as thighs and forearms, cups (“boxes”), helmets as well as protective gloves, forearm guards and rib protectors. I can tell you from personal experience that they are valauble, because even at the level I reached, cricket balls bloody well hurt, wherever they hit you.

      Well! That was longer than expected. Consider it a Test comment 😀

      1. Explaining baseball to cricket fans:

        Its like T20 cricket except that you score runs as in rounders, the bowler can throw it, every ball has to be a full toss outside off stump and the only shot allowed is a cross-bat slog in front of square.

    1. Well…I kind of like the cover. Art is in the eye of the beholder but IMO its an amusing play on religious imagery. So in this case, Hinduism is responsible for the joke, and the poisoning of the joke. IMO what would be best is if we could figure our way to a world that contains Hindu God social commentary covers, Jesus n’Mo, cartoons, and Allelujah choruses but leaving out the arrest warrants for blasphemy or hurt feelings.

  6. Then there’s the other extreme — at least one English journalist was upset that a member of the English cricket team has a beard–

    There was one Australian batsman who used to scratch a small cross in the ground, and nop one complained about that, even though it could have potentially caused some difficulties for others (too complicated to go into!)

    Plenty of Sri Lanka players could be seen crossing themselves in their recent (excellent) defeat of England. This journalist said nothing about that either…

    1. Ugh that is terrible that the journalist wrote that. Like the player should give up his religion!

        1. Yep, looks like a useful player too, or could be if his various talents are utilized – far from guaranteed in the current set up!

          I should perhaps note in fairness, that it’s probably easier for for those with non-Anglo Saxon surnames to get a game in England than in Australia (where I grew up).

          1. Very surprised in relation to…???

            (If it’s surprise that someone who grew up in Australia would praise a pommie cricketer, then join the club. I’m a bit shocked at it myself.)

  7. Cricket IS the national religion of India ! Seriously. It is one of the main glues holding a very disparate country together.

  8. As a Christian (English so OK on evolution) this may explain why I loath cricket. I suffered it at school seeing no point dressing up in white just to roll in the grass. I do not even know who England are playing this summer

  9. This is why a properly secular government is needed in India: because then, there’d be no excuse for petty laws like any against blasphemy.

    “Offended” religious people are as unimpressive to me as unrepentant arachnophobes: they should get therapy to control themselves or otherwise just grow up. Most spiders can’t kill you or hurt you, and blasphemy is harmless. Get over it.

    1. Especially with corrupt bookies and punters betting on things like the next no-ball or whether a six will be scored in an over.

  10. If Australians are ever forced to choose between sport and religion, religion will certainly lose. Sport IS the religion of most Australians.

    1. I think I agree. My sample size might be small and somewhat biased, but literally everybody I know would rather go to a game of anything than go to church. And that includes the religious people.

  11. This is a very sad trend that is happening a lot of late. Many people who were generally religiously indifferent seem to be slowly becoming sensitive to “Hindu” causes. See the controversy over the famous Muslim painter, MF Hussain’s portrayal of another Hindu God, a line drawing that provoked so much anger that he had to get into a self-imposed exile to live in peace. Quite ridiculous and unnecessary, and not even supported by whatever tenets one can gather, if they’d like to give the impression of a Hindu”ism” as one coherent religious faith. Tch.

  12. You may have missed mentioning Mr. Narendra Dabholkar.( Sanal is the one who ran away while this great man lost hs life here for a cause.

    Dhoni is the captain of Chennai Super League, a team owned by Mr. Srinivasan. Mr. Srinivasan was also the head of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). He was asked to step down by the Supreme Court of India for his corrupt practices. So what does he do? He gets himself elected as the head of International Cricket Committee (ICC) which controls world cricket! And the ultimate suckers are the cricket watching people though they wouldn’t agree judging by their vast numbers:-).

  13. Having watched the last few Indian Premier Leagues, I have to agree that MS Dhoni is, indeed, God. He’s a great wicket keeper, and batsman, and captain.

    I also agree with poster above that time spent learning to appreciate cricket is time well spent. Cricket is a very “deep” sport strategically.

  14. So, looking at the magazine header, I thought that it doesn’t even look particularly positive. It’s about his side income from endorsements.

    And indeed, I’ve read the article – clearly more than the people who filed the lawsuit did! – and it is just a (fairly balanced, far from reverential) background write up of how he got really rich from endorsements.
    MS DHONI IS NOT EVEN INTERVIEWED. He has nothing to do with the piece!

    How typical of those people that take offence lightly.

  15. When it comes to cricket and religion I only thought of George Bernard Shaw’s, “The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity”

    I’m bored to tears by all sports but cricket especially so.

  16. Here is a quick and easy explanation of cricket.

    There are two teams of 11 players each. They toss a coin to decide which team is in. The team that is out then goes out (on the field) and two players of the team that is in goes out (on the pitch). The bowler then bowls and the one batsman who is in, takes guard and tries to hit the ball, until he is out (bowled, caught, stumped or run out). He the goes in and another one of his team mates comes out to be in. When ten of the team are out they all go in, and then wait for the other team to come in and then the team that was in goes out and the team that was not in is now in and two batsmen goes out to be in. When all of team B are out, everybody goes in again and then Team A is in again until they are all out. Then team B goes out to be in until they are all out. The team with the greater number of runs wins the match – unless of course when it rains – which is usually about an hour after the match started.

    In the intervals tea and biscuits are taken for refreshments, except the spectators who usually drink beer the whole day.

    To conclude: Cricket is very muck like baseball, only much more different.

    Thanks for the attention.

    South Africa

  17. I do not hold with any kind of religious intolerance nor any ‘nationalized’ government religions or theocracy of any kind. In this particular case, however, I don’t know that I can disagree with the complaint very strongly. Dhoni surely had to approve the magazine cover and should also have been aware of how his society and government would view this sort of thing. The cover definitely ‘deifies’ him and I’m sure he also knew that this would be decried as blasphemous and offensive ‘back home’. I don’t think this should be a capital offense by any means, but it looks to me like he very purposely tried to offend any devout Hindu. I don’t think a fine and an apology would be our out order, especially since he is something of a celebrity and could be seen as a representative of India to the sports world.

    If he had no say nor knowledge that this picture would be published and portray him as it did, then of course none of the above applies and the publisher should be the target of this ‘outrage.’

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