As a boy in the second grade, all I knew then was to come back home promptly from school, gulp down a full tumbler of milk, change to a neatly folded pair of t-shirt and shorts, rush out the door, and jump down flights of stairs so that I wouldn’t be a minute too late in joining my playing group. Playing with friends for those two hours until twilight mosquitoes circled above my head was the highest point in a day. I hadn’t realized yet that there existed an alternate universe where, to be thrilled, all I needed to do was glue myself to a chair and merely watch someone else play a game; live, and on TV.
That was the first time I vividly recall watching a game; any game on TV; Dec 6, 1991.
That was a game of Cricket; the sport that I grew up with, slacked through days for, stayed up through nights for, woke up to during unearthly hours, that which sometimes puts me to sleep, the sport I enjoyed arguing over with friends, family and strangers in shoddy forums, the sport that made me realize there could be that one sport a whole nation could celebrate at the cost of being ruthlessly indifferent to any other sport.
That evening, it somehow happened that I stayed home after school accompanying my parents through the end of the game happening between India and West indies at Perth. I didn’t have a whole picture of the game’s rules then. I just knew they put bat to ball and if they didn’t, they walked back to the pavilion shaking their heads in dismay, sometimes led by an animated, quacking duck. But it was exciting when the ball flew over the fence; when it viciously hit the advertisement boards, over which the buoyed spectators leaned to grab it with pride; when it hit the stumps, which went cart-wheeling; when players chased the ball, pulled stunts, dived on the field, ran across the pitch, or ran into each other; when old yet steady voices delivered high-pitched comments building tension during sensational moments; and memorably, when players punched their fist in the air like a raring beast or when they gathered in a circle patting one another spiritedly. My eyes glowed in amazement and senses were thrilled. I watched the game in the rawest aspect. It was not that easy when I continued learning more about the game during later years. Knowledge can be a killjoy. I realized there was something so cryptically beautiful in rooting for a team, especially when they represented your nation, of course, patriotism and sense of belonging are instilled deep in a child’s mind only to be diluted as it grows. The desperation in losing out to someone who plays against you no matter how superior they are to you in terms of skills or experience is inevitable. You don’t root for someone superior; you root for whom you think you belong to. I had a small brushstroke of that feeling while watching the game. I liked that and have continued to do that ever since.
The game was a ‘ripper’, as the awfully throaty Bill Lawry would say!
It ended in a tie.
India – 126 All Out
West Indies – 126 All Out
The twist showed how two teams desperately tried to prove who the weaker one was. Andrew Cummins, the tail-ender in West Indies nicked the ball and the Indian Skipper, Mohd. Azharuddin dived to his left shaving the ball inches from the ground when all the batting team needed was one run with enough balls to score 300 runs according to the prowess of the current generation batsmen.
In modern day Cricket, this could be an impossible end as players have evolved to be more level headed and cautious, probably because they have seen it all; the truckload of comical twists and bizarre trends of the game over the years. They have material to analyze; professional coaches to extensively train their mind and body and sometimes make them play football during net practice and ground sprinkling. Only those days could you see such impulsive and drastic shots by the players; it was as though they believed in “Live in glory or die with honor” but never believed in “Work from 9 to 5 and retire with benefits” as would the current cricketers; never had to worry about what happened if they went wrong. What could give us more fun in a game than whims and fancies?
And so it began. 23 years of watching Cricket has done more to me than live and relive moments of thrill, fun, tension and exasperation, clasp my face in awe watching someone else achieve great within 22 yards. It introduced me to the gaping obsession of statistical world. I kept a journal for the 1992 World Cup in which I had every match documented with pictures and scorecards cut out from newspapers. The pet project didn’t stop even when India made an early exit from the series. I started following every series, every match religiously. I constantly kept count of things, compared them numbers; bent them to feed my whims; made me even think of becoming a Cricket Statistician in the future. But times changed. Thoughts evolved. Needs grew. Age happened. And now I find myself following Mohandas Menon on twitter.
However, as an ardent fan of the game, I look back a few of the most terrific moments and wonder if Cricket has all these years after all been the unsung companion in my life.
Here are a few of those moments majorly from Indian Cricket that have brought me closer to the womb of the sport.
In the rain-rule ridden match in Brisbane in the 1992 World Cup, Venkatapathy Raju, who looked as though he had just been woken up from deep sleep with a slap on his buttocks, was scampering through for that one final run when Steve Waugh, having dropped a sitter, readily threw the ball to Boon who seemed quite positive about Raju’s high school running race records. Boon ran him out comfortably. India lost by 1 run.
The first time I saw the then teen sensation Sachin Tendulkar in the flesh walk out with a roaring welcome to bat in Chepauk on the opening day of the test match between India and England in 1993. He ended the day still batting at 70. He went on to make 165 the next day.
The Hero Cup Semifinal between India and South Africa in 1994 when Azhar delivered the masterstroke by giving Sachin the last over knowing Brian Macmillan looked like someone who wouldn’t have the necessary patience for his fish to cook, let alone Sachin’s delivery to land on the pitch.
Jayasuriya scooping the Indian pace bowlers for sixes like he picked flavors in Baskin Robbins in that traumatic 1996 World Cup match in Delhi. After that match, the profile cards for Indian bowlers were officially changed from Medium fast to Medium. Prabhakar’s changed to ‘Right-arm Spin’.
Srinath and Kumble who had seldom won matches with the ball came great with the bat after India was down with 164/8 chasing Australia’s meager score in the Titan Cup match in 1996. The world witnessed not only their feat but also the beautiful expressions the game brought in the faces of their family watching from the stands. Srinath’s six off Steve Waugh was a sucker punch.
Azhar, as a wounded animal, came back after being Retd. Hurt and smashed the debutant Klusener for 5 consecutive boundaries in the Calcutta test match. Azhar was a player who would play a magnificent shot and then walk down the pitch like he’d fetch newspaper from the doorstep every morning.
After Sachin’s heroics in Benoni, it was the Dravid n’ Donald n’ Durban. The in-form Dravid put on an aggressive face and took on the South African bowlers, especially the fiery Donald in what turned out to be a brave yet futile chase of an unrealistic target in the Tri series finals. The match ran past midnight until 3 a.m. only to break the hearts of Indian fans.
The name, Rajesh Chauhan has been set in stone ever since that six off Saqlain putting the Karachi crowd to a stunned silence. For all the non-performances in his career and for all the matches he didn’t play, he made clear amends.
Sachin’s 155* in Chepauk where he turned the match around in the sultry heat. Shane had been completely warned since then.
Kanitkar didn’t do much for Indian Cricket but for that Independence Cup final in the Dhaka stadium borrowing light from the football stadium nearby. He swept Saqlain for a boundary and India set the record for highest run chase in ODI. A night to remember!
The famous Sandstorm innings in 1998 by Sachin that stayed as his highest score for quite some time followed by a century (134) in the finals against Australia. Tony Greig had just become India’s officially favorite commentator.
The episode that I am truly proud to be a part of; the standing ovation to Pakistan team that wasn’t exactly in the agenda but it just happened. The overwhelming spirit and crowdsmanship of Chennai delivered a statement to the world that Cricket is a game after all and it’s the spirit of acceptance that counts in the end. Sachin’s 136 in that grueling heat should be one the most persevering innings for a losing cause yet considered greater because of the Indian tail’s uncanny ability in construing that it was a 4-day test match.
Lara’s unflinching 153* against Australia that sailed into the wee hours of the night had ever since made me yearn Sachin play that kind of a knock that carried that finishing stroke. A glimpse of greatness shone back in the Caribbean world much to the hope of those exuberant fans.
Laxman, as a lone warrior, packed a stylish 167 in Sydney springing a sweet surprise not just for the Indian fans but for the entire cricketing world in what turned out to be an evidently one-sided tour at the break of a new millennium.
Laxman and Dravid changing the face of a test series against Australia in Calcutta, 2001. With the Chemistry 12th standard board examination scheduled the next day, I recall taking 5 minute breaks between every lesson to watch their partnership. However, as their partnership grew, I sat and watched the game taking 5 minute breaks for Chemistry lessons thereafter.
Sehwag’s daredevil 195 on the Boxing Day 2003 in which he hit a six to move to 195 and went for another one only to get caught in the deep; sort of a childish move yet it kept the simplicity and exuberance of the game alive.