Cricket sneaked up on me when I least expected it. For decades, my involvement with the sport consisted of yelling at regular intervals at my cricket-mad spouse: “Could you turn the damn volume down!” I can’t say which irritated me more—that despite my best efforts to understand it, the intricacies of the game somehow continued to elude me. Or that I felt so left out of it all—the suspense, the passion, the partying. Each time I watched a match with him, it was the same routine—he was instantly transported from the couch onto the field, breathing with those men in pads and bats. And I, still sitting stolidly on the couch, wondering if dinner was burning on the stove. I was cricket-deaf. And in this country, that’s probably worse than being the fat boy in class who just doesn’t get it.
But that anxiety to belong had long since passed, I can vouch, because I was still myself till the semi-finals—still watching everyone make fools of themselves with the self-satisfied air of one who’s kept her head. Others wanted to go home early to see the match, not me. Fools, all of them—the mechanic who wouldn’t attend my call because of a mere game or the auto-rickshaw driver who refused to give me a ride. Even the usually sober librarian who shooed me out from the deserted reading room early—what had gotten into her? I even bragged the next day of how I wouldn’t even have noticed India’s semi-final win against Pakistan had my dog Cookie not crept under the bed. Outside, the fireworks had begun to go off, much as they do on Diwali. Both Cookie and I loathed the noise and vulgarity of it all.
Which is why I can’t understand what came over me only two days later, on the evening of the final. A moment of weakness, perhaps? What I do know is that one minute I was sitting on the couch, engrossed in a book, with Cookie curled at my feet. There was a hush outside, not a creature stirring. I could not bear the suspense and my hand reached for the TV remote. The game instantaneously sprang to life in my living room. It was touch and go. It was too late to resist. I was smitten.
Clueless about the rules and unschooled in the nuances, I relied on the commentators to navigate me through the game. They were constructing a narrative, but it didn’t matter. I was moved by Dhoni’s strength. I marvelled at his poise. I sensed his intelligence. I wanted him to vanquish the enemy. It was as if my heart and mind had suddenly left me and joined the billion spectators out there, hanging on Dhoni’s every stroke. I was powerless, part of a billion-strong, faceless creature called India. I had fallen under cricket’s spell.
Suddenly, these weren’t just overgrown and overpaid men on the field but powerful purveyors of a dream, our dream. It felt good. That night, with no one to witness my undoing but the dog, I made a proper fool of myself—over a game of cricket. Afterwards, when Cookie crept into the bedroom, I didn’t join her. Instead, I found myself leaning out of the balcony, enjoying the celebrations in the sky.
Was my fling with cricket destined to be a one-night stand? Right now, I can’t seem to get enough of it, especially the team dynamics. How had I missed the parallels—the maestro who lives for the game, the coach who refuses to take the credit, the leader who gives others space, the touching little courtesies, the tensions, the politics, the grace. So real-life.
Here before my eyes, another India—doesn’t matter where you grew up, which school you went to, which side of the class divide. The aggression, the brashness. Willing itself to win with a shot and a shout. The New India.
Next morning, the effect of that victory is all around—boys from the basti furiously at play, moving their limbs like their chosen idol’s. The sense of new possibilities is in the air now.
It’ll probably pass, my first and last love affair with the game. There will come a day soon when the men in blue will once again become for me those overgrown boys—too boisterous, who talk inanities. But until then, I’m revelling in this incredible sense of connection with every little boy in every winding alley of India.