Why do I love this game?
Its a poignant moment again for Indian sports nuts assuming you are one of the cricket fans. The match fixing allegations has raised its ugly head again involving some of our favorite heroes. In these days of unscrupulousness, reprobates trying to usurp the game, what does cricket signify in the life of a common man like the writer. Why do I still love the game and my eyes light up when in the middle of work someone sends me a link to the latest book about Rahul Dravid or youtube link to Sehwag’s Multan 300 highlights?
Being a middle class Indian kid, lower middle class by today’s standards, had intangible advantages. You tend to grow up in a cricket or football loving neighborhood. Both these games’ paraphernalia are suited to the pecuniary disadvantaged. Cricket especially needed just a Rs. 2(in the 80s) rubber ball and a piece of wood that more or less looked like a bat . The wooden bat with Kapil paaji or Sunny bhai’s name on it did not cost much too and my father was gleeful to see my set of teeth in full display on getting one of those. Bangalore had the vataara(match box like houses closely knit together) concept and usually the richest, which is pretty much a one eyed man in a kingdom of blind, among the vataarites had a TV. I could watch my heroes in action from the kitchen window of one of those houses. I usually had few others for company and we watched Paaji trying to get Graham Gooch out. That damn obstinate batsman. For sure I was rooting for Aussies against England in the 87 world cup. Underdogs are still my favorites. I still hope whenever Zimbabwe plays even against India, may be they will pull off a shocker. Nowadays, this of course is mixed with the new unsavory emotion post Azhar days, “I am sure this game is fixed”.
The summer holidays meant, leave home after breakfast at 8:30 am, hit the cricket ground with the cricketing gang. Then play till 12 pm and darken the already dark skin further. Then come home to my mother yelling at me for how ragged I looked and no way resembled a typical Tamil Brahmin boy and resembled a ragamuffin. Then have lunch, get some sleep, hit the grounds by 4:30 pm again and play till the sunshine lasts. With frequent power cuts in the neighborhood, it was so much more fun in the dark. We boys got together during a power cut, either played I Spy or postmortem-ed the earlier game where we lost badly to the other area or vataara boys. Lifetime friendships were forged on the cricket ground and what was thought to be a lifetime friendship was broken off on the cricket ground when that friend let you down by either cheating or not playing well or sometimes as silly as supporting Pakistan even when it was for plain admiration of Imran Khan’s leadership. Hating Pakistani cricket was a common trait but I have to admit Javed Miandad’s last ball six, as heart breaking as it was, spurred a whole new never-say-die attitude. Mood swings were synchronous with the fortunes of Indian cricket team. Every series had some twists, every game had its own charm.
I never considered test matches a waste of time. I was up watching Paaji get to 400 wickets in Australia though we were thoroughly bashed in the test series. Srikkanth’s style of walking in to the ground with a glance towards the Sun god is still stuck with me. I look up skywards towards the ball of fire before I drive my car off in to the metal mess we call traffic in India. Without realizing, it had become part of my persona. I won cricket commentary competition at my school consecutively till 7th grade. It usually was Eden Gardens on a bright sunny morning with Imran bowling to Srikkanth and Srikkanth smashing it to the square for a four. The competition was bring as much drama in 1 over with 5 minutes per person. India vs Pakistan opening day test match on a bright sunny day at Eden Gardens. I think I still drool over such a prospect. The love for the game was unadulterated. I played for Hanumanthnagar cricket club that boasted of Ranji opener Shyam Chandra Bhat. If you were a Tamilian living in Bangalore during the tense days of the Cauvery issue, the Tamil Nadu vs Karnataka Subbiah Pillai game in 1994 was almost like a India vs Pakistan game. SC Bhat was awesome in the game but was ultimately won by TN. Rahul Dravid probably doesnt even remember that game. At the cricket club, we hosted an inter bank tournament and all the stars, Kumble, Prasad, Dravid, Srinath were playing for banks at that time. I carried water with Glucon D for drinks and remember Carlton Saldanha drinking that with relish. India were just back from a disastrous South Africa tour and I was sitting behind Srinath and listening to him gossip about the failure. They are human beings after all. They feel a pang of pain when they lose.
Nowadays cricket failure is dismissed with utter contempt for the players quoting the money they make, a natural allegation about fixing the game, spot fixing, blah blah.
With too much pecuniary gains, the game was bound to take the path of corruption by a few. An Indian captain being corrupt was too much to digest. A player whom I mimicked by sticking the tongue out to the left side while flicking on the leg side, who played like a God against Australia in the 1992 world cup, being corrupt was like realizing a friend you knew all these years is actually a criminal. Cricketers arent just some players, they are part of life, the person I am today has cricket’s contribution too. Thats the reason I connect with the game just like a person connects to the thing he or she loves most. When it becomes a part of your psyche, it takes a lot more than a few corrupt people, few corporate honchos, few politicians to erase it. May be a fan like me is what cricket needs at this hour of test. I am too insignificant to make a difference but millions like me become a significant number. May be thats why Rahul Dravid stopped on his way to boarding a flight to sign an autograph for me or Srinath obliged for photographs in the middle of lunch with friends or Robin Singh accepted with great humility that they had played badly when I mentioned I flew all the way to Colombo just to watch them play or Venkatesh Prasad asked the person at the airline counter to give me preference over him for assistance. They need lovers of the game to keep them going as much as the people with money.
Hope, as they say is a good thing. It questions status quo which looks bleak at the moment for cricket. Hope comes in different forms. An Anil Kumble bowling with a broken jaw, a Sachin Tendulkar scoring century after father’s death, a Pakistani team patching up all their differences and performing beyond anyone’s expectations, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid putting up a brave front for one whole day against the best attack in the world, a Javagal Srinath bowling despite rotary cuff tear for the country, a Rahul Dravid being the most ideal sportsman. The swan songs sung by great cricketers have always brought tears to my eyes. When I look back at all those years of my life so far, not a year has gone by where cricket hasnt affected my life in some way. Wish Morgan Freeman could lend his eloquence, I hope cricket gets back to its unadulterated form that has given people like me so much joy, I hope cricketers become role models like they used to rather than advertise sleeping around for a watch product, I hope my kids are affected by the game I love as much as I am, I hope cricket is a setting where people bury their differences and just love watching it together and celebrating it together, I hope….