19 March 2007

Just a game? Just a game, are you kidding me??

It has not been 48 hours since my last entry, but what a couple of days it has been. People say a week is a long time in politics. Cricket has succeeded in scripting two days of such emotional engagement that the Ramayana could struggle in comparison.
1. India is walloped by Bangladesh - comfortably and finds itself in a situation where it can only go through if factors outside the influence of the team also work in their favour.
2. Pakistan exit the World Cup, beaten by the Irish on a greentop.
3. Fred Flintoff was stripped of vice captaincy and suspended for the match against Cananda, reportedly for partying too hard after the defeat to the Kiwis.
4. Bob Woolmer found unconcious in a hotel room and dies in a Jamaican hospital.
5. Hours after his coach's death, Inzamam forgets all about sweet timing, and announces his retirement from ODIs
6. And then things returned to normalty as the Aussies walloped the Dutch and England limping to a win against Canada.

Bob Woolmer died a disappointed man - but he would have shaken it off. Inzamam was quoted as saying that Woolmer tried his best to cheer the players up after the exit from the world Cup. A revolutionary coach, right up there with Bob Simpson and Dav Whatmore in the pantheon of modern greats, Woolmer was a consummate professional till the last. Capable of endless innovation and completely convinced of the virtues of discipline and professionalism, Woolmer was also acutely aware that cricket was "just a game". His death puts the hungry pursuit of the World Cup in stark relief. The defeat against Ireland means nothing if it came at the cost of human life. If.

But that side of the story does not reflect subcontinental reality. Woolmer tried to understand Pakistan, but it was clearly a losing battle. Discipline and professionalism do not easily permeate into a cricket culture steeped in intrigue where decisions are often influenced by exterraneous factors, and when the reaction to almost anything is to cover it up and pretend nothing happened. But even more sadly, Woolmer - despite his confidence on accepting the job, did not have much of an idea, exactly how thankless a job it is to coach a team from the subcontinent. Why? Because in the subcontinent, it is "not just a game"

When "people" destroyed Dhoni's property, it was so predictable. Equally predictably, all of us Indian fans will watch tonight's match against Bermuda, and in all likelihood will be in front of the TV to catch Extraaa Long Innings as well. The relationship between the crazed Indian fan and the Indian team is like a marriage that has lasted thirty years. You can't just decide to follow another team, or another sport, can you now? And we will wish with all our useless might that India wallop Bermuda, and then go on to wallop Sri Lanka. And until the match begins our optimism will remain. Just a game?

"Just a game" cliches refuse to account for the big bucks our cricketers are making. "Just a game" cannot explain why people will sell kidneys, slap Chappels, hound cricketers till they cannot appear in public, and leak emails. "Just a game" will not explain why Mandira Bedi is more recognizable than Kiran Bedi. It will not explain why a huge section of the Eden Gardens crowd threw 'missiles' on to the field in 1992 (or when Tendulkar was run out by Akhthar three years later). Not why cricketers try to hide injuries so often and not why a friend of mine who has refused to speak to his mother for a good two months will discuss Saurav's chances with her. Nor explain why so many people rememeber where they were when they watched Aamir Sohail get out that day.

Fact of the matter is for us, it is not just a game. And all I can hope is that someone across the border did not take their loss a little too seriously.