Of Balls, Bats and Everything Else

The excitement is palpable. Bunty takes his guard, using his bat to to further enhance the already furrowed crease. The sweltering Indian summer is taking its toll on the players – the fielders look tired yet their sweaty palms can already feel the soft tennis ball in strong anticipation of a catch. I stand perspiring and exhausted from my previous overs yet getting the best batsman clean-bowled motivates my lactic acid-laden muscles. The ball, after having been hit all over the park, seems meek as I grip it firmly between my two fingers where a seam would have been on a leather ball (even though there is hardly any chance that a tennis ball will swing in the conventional sense). I look up and our eyes meet; we glare at each other like two gladiators about to battle. I start my run-up, and I can see as Bunty readies himself, his arms flex as his grip on the bat becomes harder like a rattlesnake coiling before its strike. I gather top speed and reach the bowling crease, and let go off the ball in one fluid and energetic motion praying that it does not go over my head as fast as it leaves my hand. All eyes are on Bunty as he lunges and swings as hard as we have seen him all day – he does not want to miss an opportunity to strike the fastest bowler for a six. Then there is a loud clang and we know that today is not a metaphoric repeat of Sachin hitting Shoaib Akhtar for a six in the 2003 World Cup. Bunty looks back in shock and watches just as the ball ricochets off the metal tree-guard (like all neighbourhood matches, our wicket is anything but the orthodox three wooden stumps). Jubilant fielders run in to congratulate me as we realize that we have almost won the match and subsequently the bet which means a treat from the
losing side at the nearby McDonald’s. We can’t wait for the taste of victory, in this case, literally.

A personal anecdote, undoubtedly, but this is how most of us were introduced to cricket, growing up in congested neighbourhoods where galis make for perfect temporary cricket pitches. Over the years, being an Indian, how many times does one see the following slogan on banners, placards (and often painted on a fan’s body) – “Cricket is my religion; Tendulkar is my God”? The question is rhetoric but probably it’s half of the matches that figure India and Tendulkar. And some of these people are not kidding around, turn on some 24×7 news channel and they’ll probably be showing some people in some city writing hymns and performing pujas for Bhagwan Tendulkar on the eve of some important fixture.

That is the mania, the fanaticism and the sheer madness cricket engenders in every Indian’s heart – some choose to exhibit it publicly while others are a bit less theatrical and expressive. Now I don’t really like statistics a lot but given how much I admire Tendulkar and how often he breaks records, I am becoming more accustomed to them. So, here are the numbers (and some facts too) – around Rs. 700 crore would be spent on ads alone during the 2011 World Cup. A ten second slot will make you poorer by upwards of Rs. 50 lakh. ESPN and Star Sports paid US$ 2 billion for broadcast rights, (for perspective, that’s the amount the US government spent on the Manhattan Project, development of the first nuclear bomb). More than US$ 8 million will be spent on prize money.

Now that’s some serious moolah. But it is justified considering that cricket is the most popular sport worldwide after soccer and that the Cricket World Cup is the third biggest sporting event. Moreover, did you know that there are today over 104 Associate nations under the ICC? Yes, cricket is truly going global and elephantine (a bit like the 2011 WC mascot, Stumpy). But those are the generics, what I want to highlight particularly are my personal experiences when I was living in Singapore. For any diaspora, anything that reminds them of home is invaluable. For our overseas brethren, it’s usually Bollywood, the expensive curry houses or the homely achaar. But for me, it was cricket. In Singapore, (like a lot of other places with significant Indian or subcontinental communities) cricket invariably meant somewhat of a connection with India.

I had some friends from India who were living in my hostel. We used to play cricket after a hard day, I still remember how often, as I stood at the beginning of my run-up, I would almost forget that I was in a foreign country and it would seem as if I’d been transported to my neighbourhood park and I’d ask myself, “Did I get Bunty out today?”. Moreover, it didn’t matter if you were from Calcutta or Bombay, spoke Tamil or Punjabi, cricket united us in our love for the sport and our country. After my first year in Singapore, I was the only Indian on my campus since my friends had shifted away. I distinctly remember how it was very exciting back home because the newest and most exciting form of cricket had hit the scene – a multi-million dollar cricket T/20 league had started. But here I was, I could not watch the IPL over the cable TV (hostels aren’t meant for luxuries like that) but I followed it online voraciously. It gave me great pleasure to read of Delhi Daredevils’ victories.

Now that I am in India, I can’t wait for the 2011 WC – it’s everywhere from TV to newspapers to even the Delhi Metro (the other day I met this group of boys discussing India’s chances on the train). And the best part is that our very own Men in Blue have a decent chance of lifting that coveted trophy (I don’t want to jinx them by calling India ‘favourites’).

From its humble beginning in the idyllic countrysides of the Old Blighty, cricket has grown to mesmerize over a billion people across continents. The bat and the ball stand as strong as ever before and the biggest celebration of the sport is here, right in our backyards. So, what are you waiting for?

De Ghuma Ke!

Sainyam Gautam

Image Source: [http://www.procricketgear.com/store/images/cricket2.jpg]