They say that you know you are really obsessed with a sport when you start marking life events with events on the sporting field. It might be a bit of a stretch to say that to me, life is a bunch of things that are happening around me while I watch a whole lot of cricket matches, but it would not be miles away from the truth either. So here is my unorganized attempt to examine how cricket and my life are inextricably entwined. Needless to say, this means that this post is going to be rambling, somewhat incoherent, extremely cricket-heavy, with inconsistent tense structure – basically very self-indulgent like this sentence; so consider yourself forewarned!
The early years
I started regularly following cricket on television somewhere around 1989, as a 7 year old, but even before then, I had contracted the cricket bug. I would play whenever I would get a chance, either in school in Trivandrum or while on vacation in Thrissur. It was in Thrissur, on an old Bush television set, that I watched international cricket for the first time. I faintly remember my father pointing out the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Arun Lal (yes, I have watched Arun Lal play test cricket).
The first extended bit of cricket watching on television that I did was while the 1987 world cup was being held in India. I remember watching Kapil Dev running in to bowl. He seems to be in a trance, impervious to his surroundings, so self-assured, such a natural athlete. Dilip Vengsarkar and his duck-like batting stance. Mohammad Azharuddin and his impossibly wristy style. Sunil Gavaskar and his head band. Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh with their classical left-arm spinner’s actions.
India are chasing against Australia. 3 runs or so are needed with something like 2 balls to go in the last over being bowled by Steve Waugh. Maninder Singh faces as the last man, and has his stumps shattered. Game over. Senior Waugh, the iceman has arrived. Dave Houghton almost drags Zimbabwe to victory over New Zealand single-handedly. Chetan Sharma is running in to bowl against New Zealand. He takes 2 wickets in 2 balls. A hat-trick is a real possibility. I keep my eyes peeled on the screen and Sharma actually does it. A hat-trick!!! By an Indian bowler!!! Then India come out to chase in the same game and Sunil Gavaskar bats like he has a 100 plus degree fever. He actually has a 100 plus degree fever. The chase is polished off after Gavaskar completes a century in 90-odd balls. I come back from school one evening and see that India are chasing England’s 250-odd total in the semi-final. My grandfather is at home, watching. I ask him about India’s chances. ‘Negligible’ is the gist of his reply. Naïve 5 year old that I am, I insist that anything is possible in cricket. ‘Maybe, but this is not happening’, asserts my grandfather. As always, experienced realism trumps youthful optimism. The dream is over, and over the next couple of months, I watch Viv Richards and his friends thrash India all over.
A 16-year old going by the name of Sachin Tendulkar makes his debut. Makes an immediate impression on me, but there was no way of knowing then how long-lasting and rewarding my fan-hood was going to be. I don’t remember following India’s tour to England – Tendulkar’s maiden hundred and the debut of a bespectacled leg-spinner, but I remember reading about it later. India tour Australia in the northern winter of 1991-’92. Seminal tour in several ways. Marks out Tendulkar as a truly great batsman, even at 18 years of age. Shane Warne makes his debut. Shastri scores a double hundred. Shares a heart-warming partnership with Tendulkar in Sydney in the 3rd test after India go down 2-0. Sachin himself becomes the youngest batsman to score a hundred in an India-Australia test match, bettering Neil Harvey’s record. SRT scores another hundred in Perth which a lot of people who have watched it reckon is his best hundred, ever. India fail to close out the win against Australia in Sydney. They then bowl Australia out for 145 in the first innings in Adelaide in the 4th test. The golden opportunity is soon wasted. India take only an 80-run first innings lead – that too thanks to an excellent half-century from Kapil at No. 7. Australia practically bat India out in the second innings, and despite Azhar’s hundred, India fall short in the fourth innings chase. Sidhu and Srikanth, the openers, keep getting out to hook shots in the test series, or so I read in the newspapers. I am left wondering why they would keep playing the shot if they were getting out consistently to it. The one-day tri-series follows. Tendulkar shows his wizardry with the ball as he bows India to a tie against the Windies. My family is intrigued by my increased interest in newspapers and television news, little realizing that I was waiting eagerly for match reports. Transition to a new school is made easier for change-hating me thanks to this Australian cricketing summer.
The world cup starts in Australia. India open their campaign against England. I watch Ian Botham in action for the first time without realizing I was looking at a caricature of the real thing. Tendulkar makes an entertaining 50 against Pakistan as India register their only real win in the round-robin stages (The other win was against Zimbabwe, where the stupid rain rules favouring teams batting first allow India to get away with what could well have been a loss). Funny that India’s best performance comes against the eventual champions. India chase 230-odd against Australia. Azharuddin plays an absolute beauty but is run out for 93 thanks to a direct hit from Allan Border – damn the Australians and their fielding! Sanjay Manjrekar hits a six or two (Yes, Manjrekar!) to keep India’s chances alive, but he too, is run out. Kiran More plays a couple of shots which would probably be described as Dilscoops now, to bring India close. Javagal Srinath needs to score 4 off the last ball for India to win. He heaves, the ball goes somewhere towards the midwicket boundary. The fielder (Steve Waugh, if I remember correctly) drops the catch, but fires in the throw from the deep to catch Venkatapathy “Muscles” Raju short while he attempts to complete the third run. Yes, India lose by 1 run – damn the Aussies and their fielding; even when they drop catches they find a way to turn things around. Meanwhile, Jonty Rhodes flies through the air to run a very young, svelte Inzamam-ul-haq out. We didn’t know then that both of them would become household names in the years to come. Martin Crowe churns out big innings after big innings including the big daddy in the semi-final against Pak, but he is powerless to stop a rampaging Haq and a calculating Miandad. South Africa are robbed in the other semi-final to setup a classic ‘professionalism vs. natural talent’ final. Pakistan lose their openers early. Imran & Miandad crawl to stabilize the innings. Gooch drops a skier and watches his team concede a 250 total after they looked good to restrict Pak to about 200. Wasim Akram takes over with the ball and delivers Imran the platform to launch the fund-raising campaign for his cancer hospital.
India tour South Africa during the southern summer. The Karnataka duo of Kumble and Srinath start to make their mark at the international level. Meanwhile, I establish my pattern of studying late at night and waking up rather late on exam days – a trend that was to continue throughout out my student life. The fact that the day-night matches in South Africa go on till really late in the night means that these attempts at studying are severely interrupted. Pravin Amre, another batsman from Sardashram school, makes a debut hundred in Durban. Indian batsmen continue their tradition of folding under pace & bounce. Tendulkar, alone, bucks the trend with 111 (at the Wanderers, I think). Amre continues his successful South African tour with a hundred in the ODI series – added bonus: India win the match. The lazily elegant Woorkeri Venkata Raman also scores a hundred in the only other Indian win in the 7 match series. Even as a 10 year-old, I develop strong cynical tendencies thanks to India’s overseas performances.
(To be continued.)