In India, we love our cricket, whether as a personification of the national spirit, a spectator sport, permissible escapism, or a cottage industry which translates into the big time for aspiring youngsters. The grey areas of betting and gaming are best kept aside being by designation ill-defined, but with the caveat that reliance on luck can turn addictive.
Proverbial success stories have been crafted out of the ambitions of young parents escorting their children out to coaching camps at dawn. Yet time was when the sheer glamour of a massive spectator sport revolved the turn-styles. An international cricketer's experience was incomplete without seeing Farooq Engineer appealing with a hundred thousand at the Eden Gardens, as one of them (probably Tony Grieg) put it. There has to be a subconscious blend of the three in reality because the glory of winning for one's country is matched by the chronology of past events during which many others watched and remembered comparable feats. The courage, skills and strength of sportsmen do not exactly pass unrewarded either.
Past events watched and remembered with almost reverential respect, in the present writer's case, including the roll call of greats as Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Neil Harvey and Ray Lindwall trooped on to the field. Over the years the connoisseur could indulge memories of the extraordinary series wins against Ted Dexter and Mike Brearley's English teams and Clive Lloyd's West Indians, or South Africa's historic return to Test cricket. Off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna's aerial geometry against the doughtiness of Ian Chappell or Gundappa Vishwanath's picture-perfect centuries against the West Indies pace machine made for chronicles of talent and daring. India's Saurav Ganguli-led victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat saga against Steve Waugh's Australia, complete with a seeming exercise of game theory, was on par with VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid's epic batting. A World Cup final left behind an unforgettable moment when Graham Gooch's humanly impulsive reverse sweep cost England the match against Australia.
Yet the players were larger than life idols. Suddenly all that changed as television brought the Ian Bishop, Mathew Hayden, Kevin Pieterson and Sunil Gavaskar into the drawing room, not just with their cricketing expertise but with their human fads and foibles. Vignettes from the past came alive. Celebrities from home and abroad were enjoying and sharing the game with everyone else.
The irony remains that outside the Commonwealth which created and nurtured cricket, it is still a droll story. Baseball-hardened Americans wonder at the gentility of breaking for "Lunch" and "Tea". An African visitor decided that Indian patriotism was omnipresent because crowds milled around TV sets cheering the national team everywhere. The Chinese are learnt to have hired cricketers to bring themselves up to scratch, presumably curious about the popular culture of more than a billion people, otherwise so diverse. Ultimately, to paraphrase a cricketer-turned-politician, cricket must replace war on the battlefield because it averts collateral damage. The game can also sharpen proficiency in strategizing. Witness the invitations to cricketers from management institutes!
By Uttam Sen
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