Out hit wicket!
While still a national pastime beyond reproach, for some, cricket is no longer the same
I have a confession to make. The Indian Premier League 2020 is over and I did not watch a single match or even a minute's play either live or in highlights! I am not sure if that puts me in the league of anti-nationals or other such gangs. After all, I have turned my back to a national pastime patronised by both Bollywood czars who fund and own IPL teams and the unemployed and homeless for whom IPL is the real opium of the miserable masses!
It's not that I was always so indifferent to India's national game. I have sweet memories of whacking a few boundaries in the inter-class matches. I particularly cherish seeing off a ferocious fast bowler of a senior class who was known for treating batsmen with the same contempt as the West Indies bowlers did during the 70s. Two quick flicks over the short boundary remain till date the crowning glory of my cricket career and the sound of willow meeting leather still reverberates in my ears whenever I tell the story to whoever is willing to listen to it!
But my interest has waned over the years and now, except for a quick glance at the score when India is playing, I display little or no emotion towards the game. It may have something to do with the fact that the gentlemen who played the game earlier have now been replaced by street thugs who think bats are swords to be twirled and thrust in the face of opponents. Rather than defeat your adversary with guile and skill, today it appears that unless you can spew some foul-mouthed abuse or take off your shirt to reveal a bony chest which only a tolerant mother would have fawned over, you could find it difficult to get past a coach! Young men posing before the camera with starlets and peddling Rolex watches and car tyres are now making more money per game, sorry endorsement, than what past cricketers earned in entire careers! In the past, a good stroke or an unplayable ball would have been followed up by a mere shake of the head or a wry smile or even an apology! Bedi may have responded to being hit for a six by applauding the batsman with an appreciative "Well played" or a Vishwanath would have looked at the bowler after being beaten in the air and said, "Good ball, sir". Nowadays, the fall of an opponent's wicket releases base emotions ranging from ape-like war dances to battle cries that would have stopped Genghis Khan and his hordes in their tracks. The wickets and the bat have also become handy weapons to intimidate opponents and umpires with if not actually murder them!
I think my disillusionment with cricket also had to do with the fact that my wife never showed any interest in the game. As an Indian I considered it my patriotic duty to comment on and tick off every Indian cricketer for missing a shot, bowling a full toss, dropping a catch and other sundry crimes on the pitch accompanied by voluble advice and expert tips on how I would have done it. After all, if TV news anchors just out of college can advise seasoned politicians, judges and bureaucrats how to run the country, why couldn't an experienced tennis ball cricketer like me with two boundaries to his credit lecture international players? But all this requires instant validation and endorsement from the person sitting on the neighbouring sofa. Otherwise one may just be talking to oneself!
A conversation with my wife a few years back finally put an end to my obsession with the national game for good. I was watching a live Indo-Pak one-dayer and the wife, already a little peeved that the TV had been monopolised by me, queried sharply, "Weren't they showing this a few days back?"
"This is the third one-dayer, "I explained.
"You mean this is the third day they are playing?" she asked.
"Yes and no. This is the third day they are playing but this is the third match of the series which consists of a total of five matches, each of which is played for one day," I pointed out quickly not wanting to be distracted.
"If it's a one-day match, why are they still playing on the third day?" she persisted with a Madan Lal type of tenacity.
"It's not the same match. This is match number three, different from match number one and two which have already been played on two other previous days which is why this is the third match being played on the third day of the series and all matches are played with a break between match days except if it's a five-day match where there is no break ever since they did away with the rest day," I replied in one breath like Richards hitting successive fours.
"Oh," said she and the tone and tenor conveyed that the interrogation wasn't over and more testing deliveries were on the way. "Who is winning?" She demanded to know with a Shoaib Akthar beamer.
"No one", I replied.
"You mean it's a draw?" She bowled a Kapil yorker.
But I stooped to the occasion and dug it out. "Yes and no. the match is still on but both teams have a chance depending on who scores more at the end of the day."
"You mean no team has scored so far?" She bounced one on me like Holding.
But before I could explain, she delivered a Murli googly on a pitch that was turning venomous," How many goals has Pakistan scored?"
I took a deep breath and prepared to conclude the debate without further ado. "Runs are scored and wickets are taken in order to win. You score runs by running and take wickets by, well, taking wickets, if you know what I mean. Nothing could be simpler."
"Oh'', she said again and cleaned bowled me with the last unplayable delivery a la Warne. "What is Anoushka Sharma's boyfriend, that model fellow, doing in the game?"
Cricket is neither discussed nor watched in our home anymore.
Views expressed are personal