10 October 2013

Apples in my garden

The supercilious tone that Ram Guha in his article Serpent in the Garden (or how The IPL is representative of the worst sides ofIndian capitalism and Indian society) uses to rubbish 20-20 cricket and the IPL should have been very familiar to me. I have been reading a battered duct-taped copy of  the Picador Book of Cricket, edited by him – and it is evident from the writings chosen therein, that either there are very few good cricketers in the modern era who can be written about, or that modern writings about cricket are not upto his mark. But it is with me, a copy which was bought by a friend, from the sweaty sale-by-the-kilo Sunday raddi book market in Daryaganj, in Old Delhi a couple of years back, for fifty rupees.

We bought that book because we had read one of Guha’s writings - his article “The Wall”. It was about Rahul Dravid and his intensity and temper, and its interpretation by an advertising firm. It took a fascinating trip through yesteryear stars and linked them up with Dravid’s style of play, and at the end only a lingering image of Dravid as a classical block test batsman should have remained. Fortunately we had tv, and could see the same Dravid scampering around the field, sometimes heaving dirty strokes, sometimes awfully trying to force the run rate. We could see that Dravid was what Mr. Guha made him to be, but also what Dravid wanted to be, which was so much more. Watching him with the young Rajasthan Royals now, you might even have been mistaken: were we reading about the same man. You see, Mr. Guha’s cricket writing had a classic problem – it was based on experiences of watching matches in stadiums - where everything is far off; where even from the best stands, nuances are missed; where even if you have the best angles, facial expressions are lost. Stadium cricket, unless done through and probably even then, a pigeon hole picture through binoculars, is an alienating experience, an experience where you have to start relying on your thoughts of what is happening in the middle, rather than being able to see the high definition broadcasters’ focus on lingering close-ups of players. Cricketers cannot be built up to be something they aren’t on the television.

But this was not a choice for the lot of us. We were not brought up in big cities.

Cuttack, which was my paternal home town, had a game played there every two-three years, and even that was 60 kilometres too far away.  As kids, we had to watch Azharuddin and Sachin in borrowed time in neighbours’ houses, sometimes even going to the extent of stealthily plugging an antenna wire into their cable connections. For us, cricket played professionally in stadiums, cricket played in clubs, that always was entertainment. Our cricket was not the maidan cricket so fondly spoken of by Indian cricket commentators; that was the cricket played in cities, that lead to professional club cricket, and to Ranji representation.

We played our cricket in anywheres - school fields, colony fields, fields in government bus stands and fields in the tehsildar compounds. Wickets were chappals, or in better times, bricks. Tennis balls and duct taped balls, and matted wickets, all these were too costly for us; we played with cork balls which weighed a ton, and would break a bone if they hit us. But they lasted ages. That was our cricket. No structure to it, no coach to it, no club for it. The crooked arm was not a no-ball. Cricket which came on TV was just that, an additive live show, which we could understand and adulate because it was bat and ball. Our cricket was separate from that cricket. So there was not much to worry about when IPL came. We never had the privilege of cricket association memberships, of 5 day gaps in our professional aspirations, club memberships or even players representing our states in the Indian team. We had nothing to lose. For us, IPL brought cricket home in a month that was traditionally dry; IPL managed to allow us cricket at a time and in a format which suited us; for lots of us IPL managed to allow us access to tickets which were reserved only for association members and pass holders, and if anything, IPL helped us glimpse cricketers whom we were not allowed to see earlier.

For us IPL was a sort of democratisation for the cricket experience.


But for all that IPL gives us, we probably have a more objective way of looking at it than Mr. Guha does. That IPL could not have been done without the franchise model – the investment required to pay the players, the coaches, the talent hunters, and to run the team at that scale required private capital. So far this lack of capital produced shoddy domestic cricket, unfit to be broadcast and unfit to be watched on television. If the ownership was handed out after a contrived process, then the competing bidders had our best regards for the legal rights they had; but till the time the cricket was real, competitive and live, being as far removed from the our cricket as any other form of previously televised cricket, there was no reason not to watch it. 

Tendulkar

He has retired. There is no more connect to the cricket of our childhood, so we shall look onwards and see if we (will) like it. 

25 December 2011

Australia!

Cricket’s back to IST+, which means early morning consciousness. Or in my case, very very late night consciousness. Cricket is the only human activity I can voluntarily be awake for at 7 AM. As a largely crepuscular creature, to bed at 6 AM is a normal late-night for me. 8 AM is an irritating but acceptable start to the day. Awake at 7 AM! Only for cricket.

There is nothing on the cricket calendar quite like the boxing day tests, and we have been lucky to play them two years in a row. The fact that it is boxing day adds some intangible bit to the excitement surrounding an always anticipated series.

Watching cricket in Australia is a real joy, some bit of it captured in one of Laxman’s recent interviews, and this nice piece by Monga. You just need a look at the pitch to know where the cricket is happening. It is really distinctive.

Like I did for the England series, I feel we have a chance here. I’m not quite sure what happened there. I think we will better understand in time, but it should not have been a bad as it was. My gut feel is that most of the team didn’t care enough since we had just won a world cup. I hope that it was that, combined with injuries and an opposition that was very skillful in its home conditions. None of it is excusable of course.

For a life-long Dravid fan-boy, England 2011 was a wet-dream ensconced in a nightmare. Everything was exactly as I pictured it when I drifted off to sleep every night. Except that it turned into a FUCKING NIGHTMARE!

That tour has made me a little reluctant to make predictions, including ones of competitiveness. But for most of our stalwarts, wining a series in Australia is pretty high on the list of priorities. Since we have never done it before, it might be the highest for some. Motivation should not be an issue here.

For us, I am looking forward to Ashwin, Yadav, and Kohli. This will be a proper test for the three of them and an opportunity to earn real respect. I think we will miss PK, and the selectors might have missed out on a trick by not picking Irfan when Aaron pulled out.

And of course, as always, I am looking forward to our creaking terminators.

For them, I am looking forward to Warner, Cowan and Pattinson. I don’t want any of them to do well, but if any of them are going to (as I’m sure they are), it would be nice if it was these three.

So merry Christmas to one and all, here’s to a great series.

And oh yeah, fuck you Ponting.

26 November 2011

Hysteria, and its effect on a cricket enthusiast.

This post is not about Sachin Tendulkar (OK, it might be a little, but he is really a metaphor for a wide variety of things). It is definitely not about some nonsensical milestone that anyone who has to produce a few time-bound-bullshit-words for a living has so much to say about. It is about the popular media, and the effect that unrestrained commercial motivation, a largely unsophisticated viewer base, and a complete lack of imagination have on an intelligent cricket fan.

For the record, I love Sachin. I started watching cricket in 1994, when he was all of 21 years old and I was 9. My granny, whom I watched all my cricket with then, loved him too. But that’s because she thought his trademark grimace when he fronted up was a smile. She liked the way he smiled.

Through the years, my craze for cricket has only grown, as has my respect for Sachin. But he has never been my favorite batsman… never the guy I get up at 3AM to watch in New Zealand or stay awake till 5AM to watch in the Windies. As a batsman, I have always considered him a class apart. I don’t enter into debates about him v. someone else because he is, clearly, a class apart.

He has never been my favorite because of the hysteria. Because his worth is devalued by the excess of nonsense that occupies the public space by the hangers-on… the once-were commentators, the word-for-money sports journalists, the downright-stupid newsreaders, and the rabid and unintelligent dickheads that populate bars and comment-spaces on the web.

Sachin is the greatest batsman I have ever seen. He is also my countryman. And yet I cannot find the joy I should in his feats because of these hangers-on. What fucking assholes! As an extreme comparison I think of what an intelligent and sensitive German might have felt about Luz Long v. Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics… When sport ceased to be about the sportsmen, but rather about their damn following.

For an informed cricket enthusiast, the nationalistic fervor, the rabid fanaticism, and the unrestrained commercialism that always surround Sachin are good reasons to not invest emotional energy in his achievements. And this is a real pity, for he is such a great batsman.

For my part, I love the way he scurries around the outfield these days, like the familiar ragged teddy bear that you just don’t want to give up. And for that grimace-smile as he strokes his way to ninety-something.

What’s that? Ninety-something? Not thirty four short of something else?

Stupid Fucks.

08 August 2011

The truth about Dravid's LOI retirement

Rahul’s relationship with the BCCI, and for that matter a large section of ungrateful Indian cricket fans has been kinda like being extremely in love with a really shallow bitch.

Rahul loves cricket. Rahul loves playing for his country. And he is very good at it. One of the best ever, in fact.

If Indian cricket was Rahul’s girlfriend, he got up early, made breakfast for her, drove her to work, spent lunch listening to her banal bullshit, picked her up in the evening, flew her to an exotic locale just for dinner, made crazy-passionate love to her, spent more time listening to her banal bullshit, made crazy-passionate love to her again, and cuddled her to sleep.

And cleaned the house after.

Every single day.

But shallow bitches are exactly that, and your relationship tends to revolve solely around their needs. If there is a potential replacement on the horizon, you might stumble upon her sucking his cock in a closet at some party. They derive happiness from you when they can, and use you as release when they aren’t.

Rahul always knew he was good enough for her. So when she chose to switch loyalties to some trophy-fly-by-night operators, he didn’t bother saying that he was leaving, or saying anything for that matter. He would announce it himself when he felt he wasn’t good enough. Not for little quickies or long extended sessions… when he wasn’t good enough, period.

When she ran into trouble, she asked him for help. He came along, helped her out of it, and took it with typical dignity when she asked him to fuck off later.

And typically, she ran into trouble again, and she asked again.

And this time he said “Of course my darling, but you can fuck off after.”

With typical dignity of course.

Fuck her Rahul. You are way too good for her.

05 August 2011

What is Stuart Broad saying?

This has been troubling me for some time. According to cricinfo, Broad said: “I actually had a cheeky feel of his edge when the ball went past, but there's no Vaseline or anything on there.”

This has pissed off some, who feel that it is thoroughly inappropriate behavior to be doing such things. Others of slightly more fundamentalist leaning have raged at Broad having the gumption to doubt Laxman’s unquestionably virginal morality.

I on the other hand, am thoroughly confused. What exactly is Broad trying to say?

a) That he has the ability to feel what the ball feels and therefore felt the edge of the bat as it went past and concluded there was no Vaseline on it;

b) That he went up to Laxman after the ball went past and asked him (cheekily) whether he could stroke/lick his bat. Laxman said yes, and such stroking/licking yielded no Vaseline;

c) That he went up Laxman after the ball went past and pretended to be asking him out on a date while surreptitiously stroking his bat, only to find no Vaseline on it;

or

d) That he went up to Laxman after the ball went past, grabbed his bat and rammed it up his ass cheeks. It hurt like hell and he concluded that there was no Vaseline on its edges.

Will someone please help?