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Let Sanity Prevail

June 13, 2009

I am a sports enthusiast. It is clean, upfront, separates men from the boys, tests ones skills and is as much mental as it is physical especially in today’s world where the difference between the winner and the loser is marginal. It is wholesome entertainment, apart from being helpful in keeping fit. Love sports, especially the outdoor ones.

I am also an Indian. And yes, I will concede that I love cricket. I love cricket in all its variations, Test (the five day duel), One day (fifty over per side) and the latest avatar the T20 (twenty over a side). Cricket is also a very technical game and one who can understand the intricacies of the game tends to be glued to the TV screen for hours on end. Football is called the ‘beautiful game’ in Europe and South America and now perhaps in Africa and in the Far East too. But for us Indians there is only one game that can be called ‘the beautiful game’ – cricket. The blighted game seems to be in our genes. This gene was discovered first when we won the World Cup in 1983. We were the David who beat Goliath – the West Indies in a final that many thought was a walkover for the men from the Caribbean. Since then the game has increased in popularity by leaps and bounds. It is interesting that even the Indian Diaspora is as cricket crazy as those back home.

Yesterday, I had the chance to watch an India – West Indies match again on the tele. I was awake till 1 o’clock in the morning. The venue for the game was Lords again, where we had won the World Cup back in 1983. The match went till the last over and thankfully we lost. I was relieved. I was grateful to the team from the beautiful islands that they got the upper hand. That is very unlike me. I am a staunch Indian and hate it when India looses anywhere and sports is as much a test of oneself as anything else.

The reason I was thankful to the West Indies for beating India was that the crowds had gone quiet and the decibel levels had gone down. Indians are everywhere and more so in Britain. And then there are a billion strong back home glued to the TV (including yours truly) and what you get is not a game of cricket but madness. Imagine more than fifty thousand people cheering every boundary, every dot ball, every wicket taken, every six and people in all kinds of fancy dress with vocal chords that can match the loudest and the most vociferous in the world. The downside to this is the quiet and the silence when the opposition hits a six or takes a wicket or saves a run. The bloody multitude goes mum. And that is a lot of closed mouths.

If we were cricket crazy it would be fine, but what does one do when the country goes mad. Witness an India-Pakistan cricket match and you will know what I am talking. It seems that the T20 World Cup is centered around India. There is a horde of scribes following the Indian team and most of them are travelling with the team. An injury to a player gets prime time coverage and gobbles thousands of columns of print space such it seems that the country has come to a standstill. And when the captain loses his cool in the press conference, another million printed words are spewed and thousands of prime time hours spent dissecting his every gesture, his every utterance.  The players are hounded by the press, the TV channels and the innumerable fans. The Indian media persons are so fixated on their own team that they end up asking questions about the Indian team even when they have an Australian or an English captain addressing the press conference.

Like every other game the one last night was also high on decibel level. The few West Indian supporters were no match for the Indian contingent that spawned the Lords. It was a sea of light blue and they supported their team only as they can. I have no grouse against anyone supporting his team. It is the complete lack of proportion that gets on my nerves. It is as if there is only on team playing for the Cup and the rest are court jesters. The Indian Maharajas are back, but this time in cricket gear.  This maniacal baying that rent the air for all of three hours made me shudder to think – what if the ultimate catastrophe occurs and India actually manages to defend the Cup? It’s a doomsday scenario. The kind of collective cricket lunacy that will inflict India will mean that there will be a need to coin another word for ‘an Indian cricket crazy fan’.  Oxford will have a task at hand.

I think that craze for sports is good. It is healthy. But it must be in proportion. I wish some of the love for cricket in India gets transferred to other sports like football, hockey (our official national game), tennis, badminton, athletics, boxing and others. How many people in India know that while the Indian cricket team was losing their match at the Lords there were these lads from Manipur and other parts of India who went by the name of  Thokchom Nanao Singh, Saranjoy and Jai who had made India proud by reaching the finals of Asian boxing championship being held in China? That a Rehan Poncha, from Bangalore had won the Asian freestyle swimming championship in Singapore and that Sania Mirza had reached the semi finals of a tennis tournament in Birmingham, not too far away from where the Indian Maharajas were playing.

I am not blaming the players for being Maharajas. It is the Indian cricket mad public that makes them one. The players would love it if the focus was more balanced and there was some sanity around. For the sake of cricket and being able to watch the game as it ought to be watched, like any other sport, I fervently hope India does not reach the semi finals and there is some normalcy at least in the last and the most crucial leg of the Cup. Then maybe I will be able to watch in relative peace and tranquility and enjoy the intricacies of the game that surely is the ’beautiful game’.

June 15 update: Sanity prevails. India have lost. That is not the end of the world. All kinds of theories will do the round, the captain will the criticized. The reason however was: Indian lads were just too tired. One could see that they were not moving as well as they usually do. These players need rest. They should be sent home – enjoy home cooked food, sleep in their own beds (not in hotels) and stay away from commercial committments at least for a month. And come back fresh and raring to go.  They are still one of the best teams in the world. I think we should be proud of them.

June 20 update: The coach admitted that the boys are tired. The captain said many were carrying injuries. And the news today is that the Indian team has already reached the West Indies for a One Day Series!! I know there is a lot of money in the game and TV audiences must be fed what they ask for at their convinience. If such is the case India would do well to have two teams – India (Red) and India (Blue) with not much to choose between them as far as the quality of players go. That would space things out for the players and they may get adequate time to recuperate.

June 21 update: Congratulations Pakistan on a fabulous victory! Very well played. The moral of the story is that one does not need to play the IPL to win a world class tournament. The other fact is that the standard in the IPL is a few notches lower than what it is in international games. So the Indian team had to change gears which it failed to do. One of the reasons is perhaps the injuries they carried from the 50 day long IPL itenary. So Pakistan players not playing the IPL was a blessing in disguise.

The good news for India is that Saina Nehwal has won a Super Series tournament in Indonesia beating the world number three from China in three sets. The credit must also go to P. Gopichand, her coach who is a former All England Champion. We could not watch the match live as there was no live feed and if there was it was kept in wraps. I guess the TV channels are missing a trick by not buying TV rights to badminton, boxing, field hockey and other sports (they are trying to promote Indian football but the standards are so pathetic that they would do well to channel the money in other sports where India is doing better, or at least competing with the world teams). Buying live feed for badminton matches will not cost them a fortune and there is a huge latent market ready to be tapped here in India. The nation was glued to the TV when Vijender Singh fought his bout in the Olympics. There is a lesson there. And it is good economics too. India could be the hub for many a sport, and not just cricket.

Lastly, people like P. Gopichand, Praksh Padukone and others must be given all the facilities so that they can nurture the vast talent that abounds in India, including modern badminton stadiums, gyms and should have nutritionists, physios, psychologists and  trainers to help them out. They should not be running from pillar to post trying to manage what should be at their command. By the way, P. Gopichand is the same lad who refused to appear in a lucrative commercial of a leading soft drink brand on ethical grounds, after his All England win.

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