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Think cricket: Do you think Indy?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 12:01 am

“With the flanneled fools at the wicket or the muddied oafs at the goals. Given to strong delusion, wholly believing a lie.” — Rudyard Kipling, “The Islanders” (1902)

The mayor of Indianapolis (or someone who has his ear) looked down from a corner window office of City Hall and made a decision. Those below, struggling in their varied attempts to get through the day, need to change. They need to do better. Specifically, they need to become players of cricket, the iconic British game of stumps, bails and creases — or at least become its serious fans.

In a line that could have been written for the TV series, “Parks and Recreation,” Mayor Greg Ballard famously proclaimed: “When people around the world think of cricket, I want them to think of Indianapolis.”

While the sheer daring of that vision is being appreciated, let us close a historic circle — a couple of them.

The idea struck his honor on a recent trip to India, where the citizenry was taught to play cricket by our shared colonial masters, the British, shortly after we veered off into the fabulously more successful offshoot, baseball, and considerably after Christopher Columbus first mistook for Calcutta traders the indigenous hunter-gatherers here, for whom our great state was eventually if incorrectly named.

Now, don’t doubt that this can be a cracker-jack promotional campaign. There is a perpetual market in any metropolitan city for exotic sports that the upper middle-class can introduce to its coachable semi-athletic children. These begin as high school club sports where paid instructions is more a factor (at least for a time) than raw physical ability, i.e., soccer, lacrosse, hurling, rugby, fencing, field hockey, bocce. Cricket with its inscrutable rules and expensive equipment more than fits the bill.

The mayor’s comments, however, suggest a plan that aspires to the level of economic development, not mere high-toned sport. It would require Indianapolis to change on a large scale (6 million tax dollars having been budgeted so far). The city would have to change what and even who it is. News reports mention — ominously to the underemployed among us — attracting “talented overseas workers” by offering them a home for their favorite game.

If the game of cricket were such a deal-maker, though, wouldn’t those points on the globe where it is firmly established have the edge? Or, conversely, what do the city’s economic-development experts find so wrong with championship auto racing, basketball, swimming? Couldn’t those famous Indiana sports use a $6 million infusion?

And for that matter, what is so wrong with us, we recession-weary cricket ignorants walking the streets below? Couldn’t we use the $6 million?

A friend in South Bend, Dr. Maryann O. Keating, an expert in cost-benefit analysis, doesn’t believe there is anything particularly wrong with Indianapolis or any other Hoosier city. The most cost-effective way for them to attract economic development, however, is to merely be themselves — that and to keep their leadership from getting too far ahead of the citizenry’s real-life preferences.

“Consider how residents demonstrate their willingness to pay for leisure activities,” Dr. Keating advises the planners. “By attending county fairs, picnicking, shooting hoops at community centers, purchasing tickets to concerts for seniors and organizing adult athletic leagues, residents reveal their preferences for activities that provide benefits. Admittedly, these preferences change over time. However, contrast these activities with the mushrooming growth and duplication of tax-financed economic-development efforts. They often are designed to attract out-of-towners on expense accounts whose tastes reflect those of the planning bureaucracy and not necessarily the community. Cost-benefit methods, by contrast, would require decision-makers to identify benefits in terms of current local residents having standing in all public decisions.”

So, badminton anyone? OK, horseshoes.