The thing about stereotypes is that they are often true. And if you are to ask for one about India, even before Bollywood and the “fearless” traffic, I think of the ubiquitous love for cricket. And even though I can’t quite remember my first swing of the bat, I distinctly recall losing touch with the game when I went to university and altogether abandoning with my move here a few years ago. But I feel it’s coming back, and just in time as the World Cup is less than a year away.
In the words of Freddie Flintoff, “it lasts for five days, we break every now and then for food, and we spend a lot of time rubbing our balls on our trousers”. He isn’t lying about the five-days part (or the other bits either), but there are in fact shorter versions of the game; the World Cup matches, for example, are about eight hours long, short enough by cricket standards.
(Pointless trivia: The longest match on record, called the “timeless test”, ran for nine days between England and South Africa, and only stopped on day nine because the English team had to catch its boat back).
Like many kids back home, I too grew up trying to knock a tennis ball (an official cricket ball weighs an unsafe 160 g) with a 30-inch long bat, and to send it cruising in a direction where it wouldn’t cross paths with neighbours or worse, their windowpanes. Rules were improvised on the fly in what was called gully/street-cricket which was played in streets, garages, parks, classrooms, balconies, and any place that wasn’t a designated cricket pitch, but this quasi-legal creativity that guided children and adults alike was half the fun anyway.
Important matches for the national team meant a gathering of friends and family sharing the TV (and a moratorium on soap operas), with pseudo-expert critique continuing into the next few days at least. Harsha Bhogle, a cricket broadcaster for as long as I can remember, once said, “If Sachin Tendulkar bats well, India sleeps well.” Indeed, cricket was as good as any religion, an all-consuming force with its own supreme power and just as many converts as critics.
Zillion silly rules
But after missing out on the preaching these last few years, thanks in part to sterile surroundings here (even though previous World Cups have seen players in orange), things have been looking up recently. Since a year ago, I share office and lab spaces with fans of the so-called gentleman’s game, the obvious Brit and the unlikely Belgian, and in the last several months, discussions over lunch have splashed out many a times to other colleagues, who would rightfully scoff at the sound of five-day long matches but nevertheless allow to finish the elocution of the zillion silly rules that govern the game and why it can still be a tie after five days.
The general environment is still not exactly cricket-friendly yet but that’s a dream that shall remain one. For now, I’m enjoying this little isle thoroughly, and I figure sneaky Google knows it too as I now receive regular updates on the latest matches, even if it is the great cricketing nations of The Netherlands and Nepal battling it out on the 22-yards.
Now to plug in, here’s a short video, if you find yourself at O’Sheas during the World Cup next summer and wish to avoid the phrase “looks like baseball".