Sunday, February 13, 2011

Was it the summer of '96 ???

Was it the summer of '96 ???






A few weekends back, I was watching the IPL auction. To be very honest, I was watching it with a hint of interest maybe, more than the fact that I actually had nothing else to do and nothing else to watch in the TV. I have seen people go bonkers for some big hitting Indians, people spend obscene amount of money in a blink, I have seen some great players from early this decade get ignored like anything, I have seen well-respected businessmen behave ridiculously and to some extent behave like those slave-trading bourgeois auctioneers, who can't stand the fact that there can be obnoxious crazies on the other table too; and then ... I got bored.

I do not know why I don't like the IPL. Maybe it is the sheer obscene display of money, maybe it is the cheerleaders. Maybe I like to believe that even in 2011, cricket does not come under the purview of entertainment, instead it still should be treated like a gentleman's game. Just like how I feel sad seeing empty parks and blame it on Twitter and Facebook. Maybe I am just not ready to accept the change.

And so, after getting shoddily bored from Set Max's live telecast of the players auction, I switched off the idiot-box and went to my living room, pulled out an old leather-covered box from the corner. Then I went all dusty, and sat amidst all - befitting a war veteran who is rejoicing his victory among the all-quiet rumbles of the bloody battlefield. Even there, after all those papers and every other thing laying everywhere, I saw myself from the typical artist's view as a winner and, might I add, a bit adorable after long. At the end of my endeavours, a rather disheveled scrap book found its way into my callused palms. Lot many stickers of some of the greatest cricketers were all carefully placed in there. The cover page was having a picture of a 23 years old giant of the game - a curly haired Tendulkar, smiling as he completed a brilliant century. The name of the scrapbook is written in curved unsteady handwriting saying - ‘The best of Cricket - year 1996'.

Nineteen-ninety six was indeed a memorable year. It was the year I got the permission to wear full pants in my school, and the year I first got a letter from a girl, only to read it a year later, when she went off to Mumbai. It was the year when I got my first Yamaha synthesizer. It was the year I started wondering why girls are always more attractive than boys. It was also the year my voice broke and I croaked like a frog when I had my first bike ride all by myself. It was the year when Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid first played for India and Lords was the Bethlehem of Cricket.

The 90s was the decade when cable television tiptoed stealthily into Indian households. The sudden plethora of channels amazed us, and we were shocked to know that news channels were allowed to hire pretty women, a fact that Doordarshan, our national channel, always hid from us. When electricity failed on us, which it did with clockwork regularity, we would run to the neighbourhood volleyball ground, which was modified for our need of Cricket accordingly. You see we did not have any YouTube, Google or Cricinfo then. Once there, we would stand hunched along with 10-15 others, with perky ears, submerging as one big family into agony or ecstasy with the lows and the highs of the team's fortunes. We were all national selectors shouting at the top of our voice, and secretly boasting of ourselves as the next Tendulkar in the making.

At that time, none of the Indian players had any fancy hair styles. Neither they spent more time in Gyms or Nightclubs. All of Azhar's ‘boys' as he repeatedly called them at every match conference with a typical hyderabadi accent, were absolute mama's boys - be it Sachin, Rahul, Laxman, Kumble or Srinath. Cricket was the gentleman's game, and our cricketers were gentle to the T. It almost seemed like flamboyance was not allowed to be part of that Indian team character. We loved Warne & Lara, but we never wanted any of our players to behave like them. There was no dude at all in the team, no Kohli, no Yuvraj, no Dhoni, no Raina. No one sledged, no one stared, it appeared as if they were standing in a temple, instead of a ground. Even Sourav was a quiet sober little fellow till he became captain in 2000 and decided to bring in some change.

Supporting that bunch like a mad follower was an entirely different experience altogether. Unlike 2010, when we have been tagged No.1 in Test cricket, we were archaic in those days, even medieval, in our play. Our batting rose and fell with Sachin, our so called "fast bowlers" ticked idli and sambar as their favourite daily diet, Kumble was our one and only answer to the visiting teams and our best fielder was a 35-year old man called Robin Singh. It was inexplicable - the team totally refused to dive on the ground, and Kumble and Srinath became models for a Moov ad every time they had to bend their knees to stop a ball. I would scream at them and call them ‘women' and my cousin sister would glare at me malevolently. The common notion of a cricket match said, switch off the TV set as soon as Sachin is out. And this notion held true for 99 out of 100 times.

It was an era of Sachin alone, and sometimes Azhar, Jadeja, Robin Singh and others. Kumble and a minefield of a spinning track was the way to go in the bowling department. When we didn't win, we still could hold our head high, knowing Sachin is the greatest batsman in the world. We felt the pride in his achievements. In that entire decade, we never won a Test outside the subcontinent. But isn't that why we became obsessed with the team. There is a feeling that comes with being part of an underdog, that impassioned aggressive desire to punch and knock out a better opponent, that one can never understand being part of a champion side. It is heady, it is intoxicating. Ask Hayden or Gilchrist if they feel as bad about a loss as a young Bangladesh side would feel about a win. Watch how players react when they beat Roger Federer and you will have an idea. It is only because David beat Goliath, did the story become romantic. And it was the same with India. With our team, we felt crushed a million times, and ecstatic a few other times, but with that grew our loyalty and misplaced patriotism. It was also why we made Sachin into a demi-god.

But now, everything has changed. Ask a 10-15 years old kid. He will say I want to be like Dhoni or Raina. Obviously the kid will be having some spikes in his hair, and in some cases some obnoxious colours too. These guys won't think twice before deciding that MS Dhoni gives the team a better value addition than even Sehwag maybe. Lalit Modi, Twenty20, IPL, businessmen, cheerleaders, Mandira Bedis have now become an integral part of modern day cricket lexicon. The Indian team is currently at its best. Atleast no other team is better than it at the moment. Today, Bangladesh is threatening New Zealand every now, Zimbabwe cricket team has enlisted as an endangered species and then US & Afghanistan are knocking in the ICC's door. There are some role reversals that are catching eyes too. England for a change are not in the receiving end and are thrashing and bashing Australia in the Ashes, in ways they were themselves scrapped and slapped around by generations of aussies for over a century. There is no Wasim and no Waqar, there is no Donald or Pollock, Shoaib and Lee are still there, but they are way more docile than their heydays; thank heavens for Dale Steyn atleast. Everything has changed, except maybe Sachin Tendulkar. As always, he remains our hero across all ages, across all time, across all hairstyles. Our one constant. And probably our only constant. The super-hero whom even grown-ups follow ardently.



Note - That scrap book, it had its first page dedicated to a set of rules, usually described as an unofficial code of conduct. When I became the captain, my first rule did not allow any members of the Class 6 C section boys, use any of those inexplicable vocabularies while playing. I guess, once upon a time, I was a relatively better man-manager. Today although I personally don't use those vocabs, but I don't mind either. Perhaps in those days I was a much better person than I am now. As I flipped through the pages, an assorted mix of match scores and statistics appeared scribbled in pencil, that most innocent of communication facilitators. Sachin, Lara, Donald, Wasim, Warne, Murali are all showing me rays of hopes from every pages out there. I turn my face away from the scrapbook and try to look towards the window. My laptop lay across the room, proud and superior.

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