Was it George Bernard Shaw who watched a Test match for a few hours at length only to ask when it would begin? He should have been around now. As the curtain rises on MacCricket’s megaevent, grabbing the subcontinent’s collective sports consciousness by the jugular, the refrain will soon be: why should itend? End, it will, like all good things, but only after the glorious contradictions of life (and one-day cricket) have been showcased by the stud of sports over 37 days at 34 centres in three countries from this part of the world for the second time in seven years.
Cricket is life.
There are the parsimonious (Curtley Ambrose, Wasim Akram, Javagal Srinath, Fanie De Villiers), the elegant (Mohammed Azharuddin, Mark Waugh), the rich and adventurous (Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Romesh Kaluwitharana), the shrewd (Mark Taylor, Arjuna Ranatunga), the wily (Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Mohammed and Mutthiah Muralitharan), the agile (Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan), the spirited (Manoj Prabhakar, Michael Atherton), the young (Paul Adams), the old (Javed Miandad, Nolan Clarke), the ageing (Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose), the innocent (UAE, Kenya) and the poor (Holland).
And there will be victory, defeat, agony and ecstasy aplenty as Cricket’s Greatest Year begins. The pitches will be placid, the pressure cooker-tight. But over the next month as the steam builds up, on television, in newspapers, in drawing rooms, schools, colleges and offices, one-day cricket will be all there is to daily life.
Is cricket really an Indian game accidentally invented by the British? Forget the bomb blasts, forget the death threats, forget the TV rights row, forget the long distances, is there any other host country capable of providing such an atmosphere?
Oh, how the purists will baulk at the breeze of free-market economy blowing across Eden Gardens when the event—the consummation of a Marwari’s business acumen and a Sardarji’s enterprise—becomes a tantalising showcase for players and products; a battlefield for the robust and the run-of-the-mill.
And even the Jagmohan Dalmiyas and Inderjit Singh Bindras may have to applaud when every rule will be broken in the shameless pursuit of the championship by Azhar and his men as well as by Akram, Ranatunga, Atherton, Cronje, Richardson, Taylor and their men. Coubert’s cliche on the taking part, not just the triumph, will be laid low. And how.
As naked ambition fuels performances, igniting passions, there will be little time for spectators and viewers—even players—to savour the wins, even less time to brood over the losses. The joy will be momentary, the pleasure incidental. The memories permanent.
In that sense perhaps, instant cricket mirrors the times we live in—frenzied, fast-paced, ever changing and never changing. Win, or out. For, there is lots at stake for players and teams, and all that they stand for. Indeed, as TV screens incessantly flicker logos and commercials, the line between cricket and industry will blur.
But Mammon is not the only God at whose feet the 168 stars will fall. Glory is what will drive them—the pride of representing their country and bringing it prestige. Forget the business. Sports is all about glory. About doing things in style, with a flourish, and beating the others, not waiting for them to die of boredom.
After myriad twists and turns, plenty of close shaves, big hits and near misses, when the last ball at the Gadaffi Stadium—bowled hopefully by a leggie—separates the men from the boys, the victors from the vanquished, the Wills World Cup will have in many ways lived up to its mascot, Googly.
Because life, like cricket, in all its vicissitudes, is much like facing a leg spinner’s most potent ball—it could come your way while seeming to go the other way.
Life is a googly. Life is cricket.