“Cricket is like religion”.
All die-hard cricket fans will readily agree with that sentiment. Just like a religion, to those who take it seriously, cricket can spark an intense discussion amongst its followers. Like any faith, cricket too has gone through trials and tribulations over the past hundred years and now finds itself divided into three sects (Test, ODI and T20s).
Followers of the three types of cricket, true to fashion, behave like followers of real religions. It's no longer about being a fan of cricket but being a fan of a specific format. Supporters will vehemently argue for their favored brand of cricket and will show their support by disparaging the other types of cricket and their followers.
Having observed these disciples over the years, I offer you my take on the three sects.
Mind you, please take this with a grain of salt as I am mostly dealing with the vocal and extreme viewpoints of each group. The comments here do not necessarily reflect my opinion on actual religion and definitely are not targeted at any particular religion. It's important to note that there is a large casual fan base out there that couldn’t care less about the debate concerning formats. They like/love/respect the sport and enjoy it as their life permits. This is not about them.
These are your purists. The majority of the extremists lie in this group. Just like those that believe they are the true followers of a particular religion, Test cricket followers believe that their format of choice is 'the one' and that they are the true aficionados of the sport. It is the original faith and to speak ill of it is blasphemous. Even to engage a follower in conversation requires conceding that this is the true and pure format and must be preserved and respected, whether you agree with that sentiment or not.
Just like fervent followers of any religion, they believe the format to be untouched and has withstood the vagaries of time despite ignoring obvious developments (the eschewing of 8 ball overs, unlimited time to complete a match etc.). Any changes draw ire, whether it be allowing colored jerseys or changing the ball or even playing the match under lights. The followers will routinely challenge the shortened version(s) to point out that the shorter the game, the higher the chance of 'poorer quality' teams succeeding. It’s a valid argument to point out: "why 20 overs and not 10 or one for that matter?" Well, what about the argument: "why 2 innings and 5 days per team? Why not 3 innings and 7 days or 4 innings and 10 days?"
Some believe its their mission in life to diminish other formats and see anything other than what they believe in as a threat. Almost any comment that doesn’t include praise or a positive reference to Test cricket is seen as a personal attack on the format and leads to an argument geared at de-crediting the opinion holder instead of the opinion. And just like you have extreme groups that are louder in preaching than in practice, there are those Test followers that get sucked into the other two formats but somehow find an excuse to lambast them and pretend that following ODIs or T20 is really not their choice and that they are merely succumbing to the evils of the day.
These are your more modernized religious followers. They state that they believe in the core but don’t live a rigid life as prescribed. They may use various logics to justify their actions. They believe in modernization but only to a degree. They consider themselves to be traditional fans but are not as loyal to the original format as others. They believe that the ODI structure meets the need of the times but are relucant to accept the same logic and justifications for T20.
Just as the vast majority of people claim to believe in religion and acknowledge the basics but at the same time practice based on real life needs in order to separate themselves from extremists, this group will also just fall short when it comes to acknowledging the next step in evolution (T20) as a viable denomination. However, they do keep an open mind to it and like to monitor its progress.
This is the more pleasant group to have a conversation with as their biases are not as strong and they are willing engage in a more civilized back and forth as compared to the other two.
These are your agnostics and atheists and those that aren’t sure if they believe anymore. If you feel you believe in the core but the practice doesn’t make sense, then this is the denomination for you. Some started as Test or ODI believers and some just enjoy the sport of cricket. Some are newcomers to the sport with little regard for the history and tradition that exists.
One thing they are, however, is as vocal as the Test denomination. They are quick to point out what they believe to be the hypocrisy and flaws that exist within the beloved format of the ‘true followers’. At the same time, they see the tie-ins of reality, that the sport is not purely a sport but a business and a livelihood for many. They can watch a session or two of a Test, enjoy the ODI world cups but just as easily find beauty in a domestic league filled with the world’s best talent.
They find Tests outdated and see ODIs as an unnecessary middle ground. They believe in globalization and expansion as opposed to the cricket being a privilege for the selected few.
Although vocal and passionate, truth be told, they are more secure with their beliefs and take attacks on their beliefs on a less personal level than disciples of the other two.
Now if cricket is to continue as a religion and remain successful, all three followers need to coexist. It’s the purists who hold on to tradition and the naysayers that help bring about much needed change. It’s the middle group that keeps things level by not letting one side get too powerful in the process. Each side can benefit from the other as long as everyone is open minded and understands the value and importance of the other groups.
As much as one may oppose or even despise the other, the reality is that one would not exist without the other and one could not survive without the other. The parallels can be found not only between followers of religions and cricket fans, but also between the evolution of religion and the sport itself. However, that’s a conversation for another day.