12/28/2003                                          My cricketing journey


I think I was born with an obsessive compulsive cricketing disorder and remained something of a cricket fanatic for the major part of my life. On Sundays and holidays during my school years, I would be down in the building compound at 7 am, playing alone till my other friends joined me, hitting the rubber ball against the wall, irritating the hell out of everybody on the ground floor. I was the kind who would stop to watch a game wherever it is being played by whoever as long as it was played with some amount of seriousness. It would take me an hour just to cross over from one side of the Oval Maidan to the other, even if there were only nets going on.


There’s something about this game that is like none other, something so wonderful and enchanting, when played as it used to be. Thirteen players in spotless white on a light green field, the tense silence as a bowler turns at the top of his mark, the fielders beginning to stride in as he commences his run, bodies leaning forward in taut anticipation, the slips crouching, a thousand eyes on the batsman and him alone as his bat starts tapping the ground, tapping, tapping, tapping and then coming up, up, up, the thump of willow on leather and the sudden explosion of sound as the fielder gives chase and the ball crashes into the fence. There is something so beautiful about cricket, so heart-beatingly poetic.


In the early days of television, the most important member of each building was the proud owner of this black and white phenomenon. I remember bunking school for days at a time when Pakistan toured India the first time ever. Come match time, we all used to go to the only house that had a television and watch the match the whole day, on all five days. There were no one-day matches those days, no quick results. I cannot imagine now how anybody could have allowed otherwise complete strangers to sit in his house the whole day. But then those were different times. Things have changed so quickly. I have changed so much. I wonder if I would have allowed it now, even if I had the only television set in the world. A few people even charged one rupee per Test match and stuck notices out on their door, too embarrassed to ask. That amount was the just about the sum of my weekly allowance but was a bargain at twenty paise per day of an entire Test match.


That passion for cricket remained with me through college and into the early part of my working years. It would have stayed with me even longer had it not been for the betting scandals that broke out. Suddenly, my beautiful balloon was pricked and burst. So many of my favorites were accused – Kapil, Azhar, Wasim, Cronjie. All of them my heroes, my idols, my vision of everything that was pure and white in this world. My world crumbled around me, my faith dashed, something very deep inside me violated, lost. If my heroes had stooped to this level, what was the point of it all? Was my devotion to the game misplaced? Was it all a sham, just like those giant wrestlers and their fake bouts and fake blood on television? Suddenly, every match looked fixed to me, every player a hoax, every loss a dive, every win a sham. Like a jilted lover, I felt tricked and betrayed.


For years after that, I never watched cricket, especially if India was playing. By the time the last World Cup came around, some of that anger had melted. And after all, it was a World Cup. With India reaching the semis and then the finals, hope once again began to make a hesitant return. And yet, it was nothing like it was. There were more worldly concerns on my shoulders. The Iraq war had just commenced and shock and awe was in progress. I was toggling between the live score and CNN, alt-tabbing with clinical insensitivity between the two pages on the internet, as if I was watching two world events of equal importance.


As is India’s wont, they played like novices and lost the Cup without a fight. India must be the most excruciatingly inconsistent team in the world. Supreme victors pulling off unbelievable upsets on one day, they are abject clueless losers the very next. You can bet your bottom dollar on India doing everything to lose when victory is just round the corner. Heavy weather specialists, that is what they are.


And here they are at it again, in Australia. Supporting India is like going for a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes I feel they are all playing to some kind of master career plan. I wonder if statistics will bear me out. Each batsman will score a century and each bowler will take five wickets just when there is talk of his being dropped from the team. You talk of a bowler never taking wickets and he will take five. You talk of a batsman being dropped and he will almost score a double-century. You talk of another bowler admitting that he is an overseas flop and he turns around and takes six wickets. There is such a nice pattern to it, such a ‘silence your critics’ orderliness to it that you can’t help wondering.


And then there are the players with injuries. A bowler plays just one test and comes up with a badly damaged finger that we all discover that he has been nursing for the last six months. He then withdraws from the rest of the tour but is allowed to stay back for surgery and treatment. Another bowler plays one test, takes the next off for injury, miraculously recovers for the next but regains the injury after just the first four overs. He trundles through for a day or two till he is allowed to go off the series. There are no questions, no ramifications.


Like a lover drawn to his paramour, I returned to patch up my quarrel but found that the rift runs too deep and too wide. I find myself losing interest again. I think I’ll stick to CNN. As far as India is concerned, they are at least consistently wrong.