With just over a month left to the World Cup, excitement is rising with each passing day and it would reach fever pitch come February 19. Cricket drives our nation and is a common uniting thread which binds our billion plus population. It’s a part of our DNA and Aakash realized it when he was a kid. Here’s an account of the 1996 World Cup through the eyes of small Aakash who was caught in the frenzy and never recovered from it again.
The season was beautiful. After a harsh winter, sunshine felt like pure bliss and the light winds brought pure love of the nature to your face. Aakash couldn’t forget that spring of his life, for it changed him forever. One night sitting in his small dining cum television room, Aakash, all of 7 years old, was mystified, not much by the spectacle folding in the idiot box, but by his father’s histrionics. Always a stout and daunting figure, as envisioned by Aakash, seeing his father so animated and cussing in between was scary, but more than that, infectious.
The game was India vs Sri Lanka at the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium, Delhi and a certain Sachin Tendulkar played a magnificent innings scoring a brilliant 100. But that joy was short lived as Sri Lankan batters in return made a mockery of the Indian score.
Aakash was bitten by the game and enquired from his father what was all this. After getting the ‘gyan’ and, with each passing game of the World Cup, learning the technicalities of the game, Aakash was all draped in the colors of the Indian cricket team by the time of Quarter Final game against arch rivals Pakistan. It spawned so much emotion from the people around Aakash that he too joined the bandwagon and started supporting his national team in full gusto. It was the night of party as India beat Pakistan comprehensively and lifting the cup was a mere two games away. Bat and ball were bought and every evening Aakash used to call out to his friends to play a game of cricket. Sachin, Azhar, Kumble, Jadeja, etc. used to be the monikers of Aakash’s and his friends. We were going to win the cup- that was the dream of Aakash.
But that dream was short lived as Sri Lanka came back to haunt India again. In an emotional match which by the end induced tears into Vinod Kambli’s eyes, Aakash was devastated and refused to eat dinner that night. It was a shock which he didn’t see coming and all the consolation around him wasn’t going to make him cheerful. He tasted the defeat for the first time in his life and it felt horrible, like the end of his world.
Fast forward 15 years and the dream still lives on. World Cup is back in India and Aakash, 22 now, has grown up following Indian cricket. He hears it everyday- “It’s just a game” but he knows that for a game which goes beyond boundaries of caste, creed and color and which has the power to uplift or somber the entire nation, it is more than that.
*This piece has been selected as the Winning Entry of the Day for the ‘Viewspaper Express Yourself Writing Competition’*