My tribute to the game called Cricket


All these years you wanted to watch cricket, but you had exams of all sorts scheduled perfectly alongside the matches and all that you can do is peep in occasionally to watch that bottom bar for the score and if you overstay your welcome in to the TV room, you experience a bad feeling about tomorrow’s exam and your legs automatically take you to the study room!

After all the hush and hoopla, IPL 3.0 finally ended after what seemed like a decade. Nevertheless, the tournament that is still ongoing in the Caribbean as I key in this blog post, the World T20, looks like half-cooked porridge! The same set of teams playing every year for a trophy which they’ll eventually lose the next year. A six or four hit and the camera zooms to show the skimpily clad cheerleaders and the crowd roaring, the opposition team captain scratching his head! How much of this do we have to bear?

Back in those days, there was cricket which was played not very often as today. That very feeling of watching your favorite cricketer smack a couple of boundaries, your favorite bowler uproot the stumps was rare! If there was one thing that had urged me to switch on the TV all these years barring the science shows, the animal (esp. snakes) shows, it was cricket. I never supported any particular player. I supported and still support India as a whole. Any player donning the Indian clothes was and is my favorite. Be it Sachin or Hrishikesh Kanitkar.

I started watching cricket during the 1996 Wills World Cup in India, thanks to my mom who patiently taught me why two blokes actually run across after hitting the ball with what they call the ‘bat’ which looked quite weird and why there are two fellows standing on the ground watching the game in the sun (the umpires) while they could easily watch it at home without a sweat. So, this series started everything related to cricket for me and learning about its many complexities wasn’t that hard! Probably I should attribute this liking for cricket to my Indian roots. Everyone knows India is a cricket-crazy country and people here do everything for cricket and actually see cricketers as god. And I’m still trying my best to possess the entire collection of the ‘96 world cup just for the love of cricket. This includes a mail I sent to ESPNSTAR querying the availability of DVDs containing footages of matches from this series. And there is no reply yet! 😦

I still remember the way Sachin played in that World Cup. His exquisite shots through the covers (of course I didn’t know the fielding positions then) or the picture-perfect straight-drive and the way the crowd went crazy made me excited. Going back in retrospection, I really like a lot of from World Cup ‘99. First, it was Jack Russel from England, maybe because of that MGR style cap that he wore with that sunglasses or maybe because I got to know from my dad, why the wicket keeper actually wears pads after I asked him why a member of the fielding side wears pads and gloves after seeing Russel walk out to the ground with his team mates. And there was Dominic Cork, whose nice high-arm bowling action was beautiful to watch. And there were the Dutch, who I think lost every match in that edition. But I liked them for their orange jersey which gleamed in the hot Indian sun. And there was a player called Ganesh Mayilvaganam in UAE. I wondered what this guy with a tamil name doing in UAE. And who can’t fail to notice Jonty Rhodes who was impregnable at the gully region and of course Gary Kirsten for his marathon knock of 188* against UAE. And Sidhu who was really good to watch on the field with that turban; and the spat between Aamir Sohail and Venkatesh Prasad; the explosive batting of a man called Sanath Jayasuriya and an able partner in Romesh Kaluwitharana; The Aussies – Shane Warne who was superb with the leg spin, Ricky Ponting with his french beard and Mark Waugh who was a beauty to watch at the crease; The West Indians – Ambrose, Lara and Richie Richardson, who used to chew bubble gum almost all the time – my mom used to warn me saying that, if I chew a lot of gum, I would get big lips like that of Richie :) ; The ecstatic Kenyans who led by Sandip Patil’s coaching bet the West Indians. Lots of funny names in that side – Tikolo, Odoyo, Odumbe, Chudasama. 🙂 Wah! What a fun series that was? The scoreboard in the TV relay was at the top right corner and was plain and showed only the scores unlike these days where it is always placed at the bottom like a news ticker (I wonder why) showing ads almost all the time! Back then, Cricket was a fun sport which was really addictive and players played for their countries with passion and the will to win. It was the time when Cricket hadn’t yet been recognized as a business/profession as it is today. There were cricketers who actually worked when not playing cricket.

After that the actual fun started. There came out the Big Fun cards, the Center Fresh cards I used to buy. There was a time where I used to get the cards alone. For every series, there used to be new cards released.  There was the Sahara Cup between India and Pakistan which India won 4-1. I had all cards from that series! It was the same series where Ganguly got a 5 wicket haul and one of the matches was washed out and in one of the matches, India was on top as Pakistan was reeling at some 60 odd for 6. And who wouldn’t forget the Sharjah cup which was traditionally called the “Coca Cola Cup”. And that Sachin innings against Australia. Magical.

And then India-Australia ‘99 series in India during which one match was held in Chennai. I remember asking my dad to take me to the game. He didn’t though! 😦 And then there was the 99 World Cup in England where Ganguly played really well. There was one game that India lost against Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, they couldn’t make it to the semis and South Africa choked with that Steve Waugh catch drop by Gibbs and the last over debacle in the semis where Alan Donald was run out and the scores read 213. The final was however a one-side affair where Pakistan were skittled out by Australia. The top scorer in that series was Rahul Dravid, I guess but Lance Klusener aka Zulu got the man of the series for his murderous hitting and some really good bowling.

Then, there were 3 years of occasional cricket watching which was followed by the World Cup ‘03 where I started seeing the true color of the media in India. It was during my Standard 10 exams which were supposed to be crucial. I remember how I used to sneak into my grandmother’s house to watch the match as the TV cable connection at my house was suspended to “aid” my studies! India played poorly against Netherlands in that edition and lost their next match against Australia in the group stages. What followed suit was unforgettable. Players’ homes were attacked and the Indian media lashed out at the players questioning their commitment. The team somehow managed to bounce back and reached the finals. The final was the day after my exams got over! Me and my uncle got ready to celebrate an Indian victory. However, there was no power for the first 10 overs of Australia’s batting and my rather over-enthusiastic uncle checked for a fuse burn but forgot to switch on the mains! Alas, we didn’t watch the match thinking that there was still no power, only to find that the neighbors were watching the match after which we realised our blunder! 🙂 I went home and watched the remainder of the match, only to see India losing, notwithstanding an excellent innings by Sehwag and a good series, overall.

What came after that was terrible! The CAS (Conditional Access System)! You had to get one of those set-top boxes if you wanted to watch Star Sports/ESPN. My dad found it unnecessary to get one of them and I never managed to catch a glimpse of a full series after that! Except for matches those were aired on Doordarshan.

Forward to 2007 and there came another world cup! India performed pathetically and all sorts of celebration plans with my college buddies went up in smoke. The BCCI tried to find all sorts of excuses to make up for the Indian loss and they arrived at the so-called brainchild of Lalit Modi, only that it was rather conceived by Zee Sports as ICL, but by BCCI’s backing, it became one-in-the-kind in India. Behold the IPL. In the same year, India managed to win their second world cup, but now it was the shortest version of the game. Dhoni and his men won the 2007 T20 World Cup in South Africa, where all the glitz and glamor started. The IPL unfurled the next year and was a cash raking opportunity for the cricketers. Nevertheless, the IPL gave an opportunity to local boys but the foreign recruits capitalised more.

The year after, IPL was played in South Africa, where the local Indian boys barring a few internationals struggled and yet again the foreign recruits cashed in. This year, it was the same story. And for two years, India has never managed to enter the semis of any world event. One of my friends had exclaimed – “The IPL is actually Indian Practice League where you pay and train foreign recruits only to beat our asses at every world event!”. Harsh as it may sound, it is true and there is no fact denying it!

The media and former cricketers have begun to vilify the current team questioning their attitude. True. There are players who play only for the sake of money and not for the passion, which is really hurting to see! You can’t blame them. BCCI (and ICC) has to share the blame, for they don’t respect the players’ bodies and schedule as much as matches as possible in a calender year only to fill their pockets!

Now – one year after becoming a professional, no exams, no nagging feelings (unless you are committed!), there is too much of cricket that it makes you sick!. The beauty of something lies in how infrequent that happens so that people actually wait for it to happen. A 36-run over happens so rarely that it is revered. If everyone can bat like Sachin, then where is the “uncertainity” factor! How will the world be if there were no Heisenberg principle? Bland!

Wish cricket would thrive as that beautiful gentleman’s game, that beautiful game that kids play in almost every nook and corner, that beautiful game that brings a tear of joy when your favorite team wins the match by hitting a six of the last ball, that beautiful game which makes you sulk for 2 days after your team loses, that beautiful game which you eagerly look forward to, that beautiful game where players play in the right spirit only for the passion, that beautiful game which is worth catching a glimpse even during exams, that beautiful game which is ONLY a game!

पुनः मिलामः (Meet you again),