New Delhi 1971. The whole neighbourhood had gathered for my naming ceremony. My father’s side seemed to have a great fascination for Ps. My grandfather’s name was Pundlikrao. My father’s is Pralhad and sister Pratibha. I was to be called Prakash, but the God of Cricket had other ideas.
While the pandit was busy chanting shlokas, one neighbour was in a faraway land. In England, to be precise. India’s new star was batting. Suddenly the neighbour put his transistor down and yelled, “Gavaskar has scored a half-century! Gavaskar has scored a half-century!” Soon the baby was forgotten and there was an atmosphere of jubilation all around. My neighbour walked to my mother and said, “Bhabhiji, now you have to name your son Sunil. Who knows, he might open the batting for the Indian team one day.” Protests were useless and my parents relented. My father is a great cricket fanatic, but little could he have guessed that my skills would be so rock bottom that I wouldn’t even make it to the B team of my hostel dormitory (which had only 26 inmates in the first place). But then a man lives on hope. At any rate, I was saved from having the same initials as my father.
At the age of six, my father got transferred to London. England is a country whose national game is cricket, but national craze football. Cricket was alien to me. Football was home and it seemed the easiest, simplest and greatest of all games.
One Sunday, I saw my father glued to the TV for hours. It was an India-England Test match. I decided to sit down and watch, much to the delight of my father. I sat and sat and sat and sat… Nothing seemed to be happening. A man would throw the ball. Another would block it with the bat. A third would pick it up and give it back to the first. After six balls they would change ends (sometimes you do need an ad break to make things exciting) and repeat the monotony. An occasional “run” would bring about some action. Could this actually be a game? This seemed more like a brilliant cure for insomnia. I kept asking my father for details, but he kept saying, “Sshhk, don’t disturb!” “Disturb!” I muttered to myself, “What is there to disturb? There’s nothing happening in the first place!” I got up and went. My father didn’t even notice.
“What a weird game! Give me a football any day,” I thought to myself, “And I always thought my father was such a sane man!”
Then we returned to India: A country whose national game is hockey, but national craze cricket. So I said, “Let me give a good shot at this game.” I found that I couldn’t bat (even touching the ball was a monumental task), couldn’t bowl (the wide is my all-time favourite delivery) and couldn’t field (falling was much easier than stopping the ball). My friends found the whole story of my naming ceremony hilarious. So I slowly lost interest.
Then India won the World Cup in 1983. Everything changed forever.
I thought everyone had gone mad. This seemed to be India’s greatest event of the year, maybe even the decade. There must be something to it. And we were World Champions after all! So I decided to find out what it was all about. (Off the field this time) I started reading books on rules and followed newspaper reports. I watched matches and discussed them. The complexity of the game started fascinating me. Like millions of others, I became hooked.
I think two things attracted me to cricket. The first is my fascination for numbers, statistics and co-incidences. I think you’ll agree that no other game in the world can offer such a rich scope for figures. Secondly, at my heart I am a chauvinist. For me it’s either India or bust. The Indian football team doesn’t even participate in world cups. I can’t even remotely imagine an Indian challenging Roger Federer and winning Wimbledon. We don’t even exist in the scheme of things of most games on the planet. Where does that leave you? Abinav Bindra’s feat was great, but watching shooting doesn’t take too much of your time. Cricket is the only game where you feel you can rule the world and kill all your spare time to boot.
It affects even those people who don’t watch. My classmate gave one such example. It was Reliance Cup 1987 time. My friend and his father were going through a crowded market. Suddenly the whole place went berserk. There was clapping, shouting and cheering all around. A man came out of the shop screaming, “Chetan Sharma’s got a hat-trick! Chetan Sharma’s got a hat-trick!” Much to my friend’s surprise, his father got carried away and joined the group of revelers. He shouted “A hat-trick for Chetan Sharma,” and danced with the crowd (even on one leg at times, much to the shock of my friend.)
When the din died down, my friend’s father left everyone speechless when he asked, “Who is Chetan Sharma? What’s a hat-trick? And what’s going on?”
The only negative was that by the time I reached college, cricket began to rule my moods. A match day was greater than my birthday. A Test match rest day was unresting. (Thank God they abolished those) If India lost, I was in the pits. A victory and the world suddenly seemed a beautiful place. When we lost to Pakistan for the umpteenth time in Sharjah days, I punched the wall so hard that I fractured my knuckles. I stopped watching cricket for a few years. (Javed Miandad’s last ball six was still vivid in my mind) When I started watching again, match fixing happened. So I stopped watching for a few more years. Actually this trend started when Gavaskar retired and I didn’t watch the subsequent Test matches played by India.
Then I realized that such an extreme approach doesn’t work, especially when one is working and has a wife and kid. The difference in time zones of various cricket playing countries doesn’t help sleep and moods either. So my mantra is: As long as India is winning, enjoy it to the maximum while it lasts. When India is losing, shut off. Totally. Don’t watch the matches or news channels. Don’t read reports and don’t waste your breath discussing it all the time. It’s not worth it and there’s so much to do in our lives today, use the spare time wisely. After all Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble all gave it their best shots. And despite everything, Dhoni is still the best man for the job. But his life depends on cricket while mine doesn’t. That puts a lot of things in perspective.
Thanks to this philosophy, I must say that I enjoy cricket more nowadays than in the past.
T20 World Cup? What T20 World Cup? All I know is that the India-West Indies series begins on June 26. If we lose that, then there’s always the ICC Champions Trophy in September. If we lose that, then there’s always…
Much like that famous line in Casablanca: We’ll always have Lord’s, 1983 and Johannesburg, 2007.
© Sunil Rajguru