I am no expert on cricket. I cannot tell outside edge from inside. I don’t know who broke whose record in what year. I have never experienced the thrill of watching a live match in a jam-packed stadium.
For what it’s worth, I once set foot inside India’s legendary Eden Gardens — so what if it was only to take a picture — and stood outside Wankhade eavesdropping on the highest decibel of crowd euphoria.
But, hey, don’t feel bad for me. I love the game (And Sachin Tendulkar). I am what you call a dime-a-dozen cricket fan — a commonly found specimen in admirers albeit the most indispensable too.
My type exists in heaps — millions really — cheering, cussing and calculating from the comforts of our living room as if the television screen can magically convey our woe or wisdom to the player. Except without our frantic cheering, irrational logic and infectious gusto, the sport would have half its appeal.
It’s an emotion that resonates even more effectively since the invention of Twitter and other social networking platforms. Now I can instantly share my frustration or felicity, unmoved idiot box notwithstanding, right away on Twitter and exult in the company of fellow fools. Thanks to these cue-perfect gifs, my timeline is a sight on match days.
My preoccupation with cricket began in the 1980s and hit its peak in the 1990s. Some early motivation was provided by one of our family friends, Navbharat TimesSports Editor Keshav Jha.
Jha Sahab Uncle, as I addressed him, kindly lend me cricketer biographies and Sportstar issues from his enormous library of countless books and magazines. Sadly, he passed away long before I could figure my growing interest in the game.
I have fuzzy memories of the 1983 World Cup, the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, mostly Ravi Shastri and his Man of the Series prize — a swanky Audi, my first introduction to the German automobile giant. Part of this nostalgic montage includes rooting for a fading Sunny Gavaskar before he announced his retirement and a fascination for buying notebooks with bowler Chetan Sharma’s face plastered on the cover.
Perhaps I still have Sharma’s autograph tucked away somewhere in my unopened cartons, one my brother helped me obtain when we accompanied our mother to an Indrajal Comics event, where he and Buniyaad sensation Kiran Juneja played star attractions.
This imagery pales when compared to the glorious 1990s or what for me is the golden age of cricket. I can barely wipe the smile off my face as I pen down my highlights from that decade.
That proud ‘humari building ka ladka‘ entitlement every time a fresh-faced Sachin Tendulkar marched towards the ground or raised his bat to acknowledge a century or a half and, sometimes, getting stoked over the delightful breakthrough he’d offer as an occasional bowler even more than the centuries.
That unquestioned belief in former skipper Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja’s score-boosting middle-order partnership as well as the indescribable heartbreak that followed on learning about their alleged roles in a match-fixing scandal.
Take your pick between Navjot Singh Sidhu’s superlative 80 against Sri Lanka or all-important century against Pakistan, his sublime display as the man of the match and even fewer words. At that point, his jokester avatar was unthinkable.
The priceless expression on Anil Kumble’s mum and grandma as he and fellow tail-ender Javagal Srinath led India to a rousing victory.
Or instinctively picking The Wall over Dada when young guns Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid made a promising debut in the world of cricket in the tradition of a Karan Johar launchpad.
And, of course, nothing says ‘pwned’ better than the ultimate demonstration of the gaming expression in Venkatesh Prasad’s triumphant, telling gesture after he dismissed a smug Aamir Sohail during the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal.
My response isn’t limited to home turf. I’ve loathed the likes of Waqar Younis, Shane Warne and Damien Fleming every time they bowled to India with their characteristic cockiness.
There’s admiration too, truckloads of it. Like marvelling at Michael Bevan’s Flash-like running in between the wickets or Arjuna Ranatunga’s ability to run at all. Or spending hours looking for my jaw every time I witnessed god’s most nimble creation — Jonty Rhodes — in action.
I’ve had my share of cricket crushes. Few would recall the South African bowler Richard Snell. Boy, was he a treat for sore eyes!
Later, in my teenage years, I stumbled on the gorgeous all-rounder Christopher Lance Cairns. That spectacular, radio-smashing six hit by the controversial Kiwi cricketer while touring the West Indies in the mid ’90s is a visual I’ll take with me to the grave. Because when someone demolishes an attack spearheaded by Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, you do not forget.
All my quietly harboured enthusiasm could barely contain itself when I joined Rediff.com
Here I tiptoed around legends like Prem Panicker, paying little heed to his ‘sheesh’ expression while flocking his television-equipped cubicle to catch a glimpse of my favourite Cairns on a roll.
Here I’d be indulged by the exuberant Faisal Shariff — he called me “Choti” — and whose juicy anecdotes and clever insights about the cricketing world would make my day.
Here I’d take the significance of commentator Harsha Bhogle for granted because his presence then in Rediff‘s office was a regular affair.
Here I would bully one of my best friends Ashish Magotra to bring me a New Zealand jersey while covering the 2003 World Cup in South Africa along with a photograph and autograph of Chris Cairns. The kind soul obliged with Allan Donald’s as a bonus.
Does it matter? A great deal. I am a better fan because of these experiences. The more personal it gets, the more adrenalin I pump. My knowledge of the game is sparse, but my sentiment is profound.
When I sit with crossed fingers for sixty minutes straight or sacrifice a personal wish for Team India’s triumph, I am a small but significant speck in snowballing unconditionality. Exactly why I have earned every right to express my displeasure on being let down too.
If not distasteful, it’s this very hyper and humorous art of cheerleading prompting Virat Kohli to go wild with the bat, activate M S Dhoni’s Finisher mode or propel Carlos Brathwaite to nuke England’s almost certain win with four forcible sixes in the final over that reinforces the cult of the living room-confined spectator and renders the unremarkable cricket fan into someone of value.