Monday, April 30, 2007

Cricket and its spiritual home

I usually watch my cricket in the US. But for this World Cup final, I had the opportunity to see the game in India. And it couldn’t have been a worse environment.

I had spent 16 hours in a direct flight from Chicago to New Delhi. I was about to set up in a shared guest room in the domestic terminal – my next flight was 8 hours away. I had spent 20 hours without a hug from my wife or kids and was another 12 from those I would get from my parents. I felt positively relegated to a dark, loveless corner of the world.

The telecast itself was miserable – I’m not sure why Indian fans don’t protest about this more often. There were commercials inserted in just about every bit of action that didn’t involve a live ball. As soon as the last ball was bowled in the over, I would have to watch an excruciating and rather comical portrayal of a neo-cool pimp daddy by Abhishek Bachchan shilling for Motorola. Then 2 seconds of live feed and yet another commercial or two.

This was followed by a joyless post match “analysis” with Charu Sharma, Mandira Bedi, Tony Grieg and Ian Chappell. It was early in the morning and they all had ‘Please just cut me my check already’ expressions on their faces.

And yet, despite all of this I couldn’t have enjoyed the game more.

As soon as I showed up to check in to my room, I somewhat gingerly asked if there was a TV anywhere that was showing the game. The man in charge of the books and the person handling my bags lit up like Christmas. They both scurried to turn the set on for me in the room and lined up my bed with it. Two wires were carefully poked into the holes of an outlet; an axial cable (that’s the best description I can come up with) was threaded into a dangling cable receptacle – and Viola! Game on!

Both bag boy and bookie regaled me with their versions of the adventures of Australia and Sri Lanka in the World Cup. They told me who their favorites were and why. All sleep instantly left my eyes.

“Which team will win?” I asked.

Both shook their heads and said “Australia inko nahi chhodega”. It was clear who they were rooting for and why that filled them with sadness.

I asked them to sit and watch the game with me. They took up the offer without a second thought. Sleep deprived and grumpy incoming clients were relegated to second priority. They rattled off comments with every ball that ranged from frivolous to incisive.

At the start of the game, I noticed a glum expression on bag boy’s face. What gives I asked. He noted that Gilchrist was his favorite player but he hadn’t put up a big score yet. I told him that I had seen him bat in the tournament and I hadn’t noted anything seriously wrong with his batting. “Perhaps it is just a matter of time” I told him.

Bag boys eyes lit up. It filled me with energy, this setup – in a way no smoky sports bar ever had.

Long after the game was over, I carried it with me everywhere. People at the airport were only too happy to discuss it with me. The newspapers were full of it. The guy at the tea stall told me why he thought Sri Lanka lost the game. Another filling newspapers in bins launched into an analysis of Lasith Malinga’s bowling action. And all of this involving a game that didn’t even feature the home team.

There is a reason India is the spiritual center of cricket. And you have to set foot on her soil to really understand it.


Anonymous said...

Very moving. Written with great depth.

Kalyan said...

Very aptly put...This part of India I miss over here in US.Fans they quickly put Indian team loss behind their backs and will support other teams with their classy analysis.