Instant Cricket. Instant Life


- Sundar Viswam


Cricket has changed as much as life has.


I remember the time when one-day matches were unknown except in local club cricket. To be taken seriously, matches has to stretch anywhere from three to five days. Nobody cared if there was no result after that, or even if one of the teams batted for three days out of the possible five.


I remember going to one of those matches with my grandfather, three or four days of some tournament final. Early each morning, we walked a couple of miles to the station, changed a couple of trains and then walked a mile or so again to get to the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay. All that, just to watch Wadekar bat and bat and bat in a Bombay-Mysore match for his colossal 323 runs. We clapped tirelessly as he belted the hapless bowlers to every corner of the field. When he was finally out, he almost passed out, not because he was tired, but because he had failed to beat Sobers’ record of 365 runs!


Those were the days. We loved the game and all it meant. There was a restaurant called Purohit on the other side of the road. We could never talk of the Brabourne stadium without talking of Purohit. It used to serve unlimited Gujarati food on shining stainless steel plates and those ‘watkis’, waiters in white caps serving food out of multiple vessel holders, urging you to eat more with typical Gujarati hospitality. We had to wait in line during the lunch break but service was brisk. We were usually still chewing on the last piece of a ‘poori’, or on the mouthful of exquisite kadhi-baath as we rushed bock to the stadium, not wanting to miss that critical first ball after lunch.


Ah, that first ball of every match and after every break - nobody can afford to miss that, not then, not now. It is as if the bowler cups the entire universe in his palm and rolls it out like dice. Anything and everything can happen in that one play, your whole world could change in that one roll of the arm. The crowd is hushed and silent as the bowler turns at the top of his run, rubbing the sweat of his brow literally into the seam of the ball, the red gash of leather on his trousers looking very manly and rugged. Even the green grass is motionless in the sunlight, the white flannels bright and beautiful, like flowers against the brown earth. Then the clapping begins slowly as the bowler turns and begins his run, then faster and faster, in tune with the pounding of the bowler’s boots as he lopes in like a leopard, his long hair flopping stylishly in time with his feet, thud, thud, thud, thud, the slips crouch, backs taut and coiled like springs about to recoil, the outfielders advance in short, slow steps, bodies bent forward menacingly, the voice of the crowd rising, rising, rising to a crescendo as he delivers the ball and then erupting into a roar as the batsman cracks it to the fence or loses his wicket, the sound crashing to a collective sigh if he presents a dead bat or lets it go. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh”.


Who hasn’t heard the beating of his heart in all that noise?


And then at the tea break, the rush to eat K Rusfom’s sandwich ice cream, a light green, creamy block of pista between two biscuit wafers. The eating was a prestige issue, its narration a credibility issue. The K was critical. If you said just Rustoms, you were lying.


Then television came in the seventies, in all its glorious colors of black and white. Pakistan toured India after a great many years and you had to scrape us off the TV screens in the evening. There was just one television set in our entire building, and people came from near and far to the ‘rich’ owner’s house to see the miracle at close quarters. We bunked school regularly, faking enormous, life-threatening stomachaches till the match was about to start, at which time all ailments mysteriously disappeared. Families divided their attendance out of consideration to the host and to the other worshippers, some simply out of economics – the host usually started charging all of us a rupee per day, a magnificent sum for us school-going kids. We borrowed heavily from friends, relatives and acquaintances, going into what seemed like lifelong debt at the time. Sometimes we weaseled our way into those television homes, haranguing the owner ruthlessly with our heavily embellished sob stories. I still owe people who don’t remember.


The seventies also saw the beginning of one-day cricket and the first World Cup. A couple of years later Kerry Packer entered the game and created a market for it, stripping off its staid white and repackaging it in attractive colors to be sold like a product. Cricket was never to be the same again.


That’s just about when the world started running out of time and began to learn the meaning of instant, not only in cricket, but in life.


Gone was the waiting, the patience for a result that in the end might never be. Gone were the ponderous run-ups and the craft of building an innings. Gone were the great masters who built a house brick by brick. In came the efficient Jacks, the ones who could do everything, bat, bowl, field, in any position, at any time. Perfection was out, effectiveness was in. Art was out, productivity was in. Method was out, result was in. But it was exhilarating stuff, the heart palpitating, hurtling down a different roller coaster at every ball, at every stroke. The game was over in a day, its condensed, power-packed intensity leaving both players and spectators exhausted but enthralled.


And yet, just three decades later, we find ourselves bored by the prospect of watching a whole day of cricket. Our attention span rivals our children’s for shortness. Somewhere around the fifteenth over, we turn to other channels, only switching back when the action romps up again in the fortieth, too impatient to undergo what happens in between.


So now we will have the 20-20 over tournaments. There have been feeble signs of resistance, but the dosages and strength of our fixes have changed dramatically. We need the adrenalin pounding through our veins, in shorter but stronger bursts. We don’t have the patience to let Picasso paint. We snatch the paint buckets from his hands and hurl them at the wall. The riot of colors may not be so beautiful as to bring tears to the eye, they may not remind one of poetry in motion, but they are colors all the same and that’s all we have time for.


I can remember the composition of almost every world team from my school years, because each team had at least four or five of the all time greats. Today, I don’t even know who came and went from the Indian team in the last match.


We don’t wait for the cure. Like those drugs that dissolve on contact with saliva, cricket and life have to blow out our senses in a few short overs. Get rich quick. Take the fast lane, even if you are in no particular hurry. Instant results, instant relief, instant pleasure.


But when all is said and done, 20-20 is convenient for prime time televised marketing. It can be played when the family is at home, at dinnertime, under lights, when everybody can watch the action - and the ads. Player endorsement fees will be so high they will be studied in astronomy classes. Countries can play more cricket too, and the coffers of boards can bloat. Commerce rules.


A few good 20-20 matches and we’ll all be addicts. And the first few matches will be good. They’ll make certain of that.


It’s like cooking. First, we grew impatient with fresh vegetables and meat, so we froze them. Now readymade food takes just tooooooooo long to heat and eat’. We need a pill.