Three Enemies Who Ruined My Game
I have a fetish for nostalgia, but this column isn't inspired by it. If anything, it is driven by a sense of despair that grips you when a bunch of people conspire to ruin your happiness. It is like going to an old-world restaurant for years and years, and then one day the restaurant is pulled out and a shopping mall springs up in its place. Shoppers will come in hordes, but a handful of people will always mourn the restaurant. In the same way, I mourn cricket.
In those days, it was pure cricket — completely unadulterated by commercials for pesticide-containing cola. Everything happening on the ground was telecast live — cricketers chatting with each other during the drinks break, the facial expression of the batsman who had just got out, the fast bowler shining the ball repeatedly with his spit while walking up to the run-up point. It was like watching the match in the stadium with binoculars.
Then came Enemy No. 1. It had many names: commercialism, commercialisation, consumerism. Perhaps liberalisation and globalisation as well? I don't know; but what I know is that my party has been spoilt. Even before the last ball of an over completes its journey across the pitch, an ad springs up on the screen. And in many cases, the hero of the ad happens to be the man facing that last ball. By the time the cameras return to the ground, the next bowler has already begun his run-up. I can no longer figure whether I am watching a cricket match in between commercials, or watching commercials in between a cricket match.
Enemy No. 2: politics. Traditionally, in an Indian newspaper, Page 1 is reserved for politics and the Back Page for sports. But in the past few years, the papers have been putting cricket news on Page 1 — and the news is not about who beat whom by how many runs or wickets. That's a clear indication that the game has become synonymous with politics. The only saving grace is that the papers haven't put Jaswant Singh's spat with Manmohan Singh over the mole issue on the sports page. In my estimate, the day is not too far when press releases issued by politicians will go on the sports page and when every e-mail exchanged between players and their coach will go on the front page.
The day, come to think of it, is really not far considering that almost every politician save Sonia Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani is now connected to cricket. West Bengal takes the cake: the Chief Minister props up the police commissioner of Kolkata to fight Jagmohan Dalmiya in the elections for the Cricket Association of Bengal. The police commissioner! The man who should be busy guarding Kolkata in the wake of terrorist attacks in Mumbai! Thank God the commissioner lost.
Enemy No. 3: The killer instinct. The Indian team was always said to be lacking the killer instinct. Is that why we are now being treated to footage of our cricketers dressed in Army fatigues, crossing hurdles like the jawaans and trying their hand at sophisticated rifles? Guys, don't take the term "killer instinct" literally: just stick to the bat and the ball and keep off the guns and the grenades. What you actually need is the spirit — the spirit that earned India its sole World Cup in 1983. But then, you guys are too rich and pampered and spoilt. Probably what you need is a Deepak Chopra, not a Greg Chappell. Did anyone say they are now flying down Deepak Chopra?