There comes a time in everyone’s life when one has to weigh the pros and cons of exam preparation against those associated with watching a sporting contest.
While yours truly is a veteran of such mental excursions-with the latter emerging triumphant on each and every occasion-one particular instance led to the attachment of disillusionment to a sport once held in such high esteem and regard that getting into a physical confrontation with lifelong friends over who would read the newspaper first to discover the result of a match played the previous day was business as usual.
Cricket, the game for gentlemen, was all that life was about for a good 15 years. While memories of a flying Jonty Rhodes from the 1992 World Cup are rather hazy, the thrill from Kalu and Jaya redefining what opening partnerships stood for while feverishly memorising a poem for the first grade English teacher is as clear as Walter White’s blue methamphetamine.
As one rose from the lows of first grade towards the benchmark that is 10th grade, the memories of great escapes forged by hardened gentlemen accumulated. Scraps of the final few overs were secretly and breathlessly observed from the dhobi’s window. Residential schools may have their advantages, but there weren’t too many if you were a cricket nut. Perseverance with the teachers got you nowhere. Stealth, rubber slippers and being on good terms with the dhobi got you some time in front of the Indian cricket deity that is the television.
From Desert Storm to Donald and Klusener, from Tendulkar’s effortless cover drives to Dravid’s painstaking-but breathtakingly effective-marathon innings, those were the memories of the daily bread and butter for cricket fanatics. The joy of Eden Gardens, the pain of Johannesburg, the disbelief of Multan, and the dread of Wellington, all synthesised into one drug that kept its users asking for more. Even poetry had never been so pure and ruthless, never so unadulterated in its psychological high. Hundreds of paper cuts were endured in the off season as book-cricket became the vent to the build-up of impending action.
And suddenly, it was all gone. The fervent anticipation, the edge-of-the-seat humdingers even with Maninder Singh tattling away at the “behtereen mujaayra” of the batsman, had evaporated. The game had changed in a single day.
Caesar had been warned of the ides of March, but it was the middle of April that dug cricket’s grave as Brendon McCullum terrified Bangalore’s bowlers into submission. The Indian Premier League had arrived, and created a sense of excitement that can only be associated with watching schoolchildren have their own version of Fight Club: seniors fighting juniors, men against boys, the strong against the weak.
The balance that existed between the ball and bat vanished that day in April. Boundary ropes drew further in, pitches flattened, no-balls became borderline criminal and spectators wanted seats closer to the ropes to watch the cheerleaders, and not to catch a glimpse of their favourite players.
The love for a sport goes beyond spending countless hours watching it. It is cultivated, passionately, when one has to fight to experience it. It has to be craved, and when encountered, cherished.
As if the 45-plus days of the non-stop, trumpeting of the IPL were not bad enough, the arrival of the Champions League T20 has darkened the mood further. How does one reconcile with the fact that a player can choose between two teams-maybe even three-when it comes to playing in cricket’s version of the footballing extravaganza held in Europe? What loyalty can be expected from the fans when no one is loyal to the game itself?
Cricket has always been about a battle, right from the 1930s when Sir Don faced Larwood and co. It was a matter of skill and tenacity, not of technicality and theatrics which have come to rule the game today. A famous saying in economics talks about how there is no free lunch for anyone; one has to pay for it. Cricket, unfortunately, has served up free-hits rather ludicrously.
Cricket died in me six years back. A few flashes now and then attempt to reignite the flame that once shone brightly, but it’s merely an exercise in futility.
Being cynical isn’t all that bad when there is very little to believe in.