It’s been a few years since I watched any kind of serious international cricket, the sport I grew up around while in India. I guess I should have expected my interest in the sport to wane when I left the shores of Madras (now Chennai) for New York close to 20 years ago.
While there are so many popular sports to play or follow in the US – football (NFL), basketball, baseball, ice hockey, soccer and tennis, unfortunately cricket isn’t one of them. The primary reason why this sport hasn’t taken off here in the US is the investment of time that’s needed from a cricket fan. While almost all of the afore mentioned sports take on average 3 hours to complete, the short version of cricket – the one day international or ODI – requires an investment of 8 hours, or an entire day. Now, who has that kind of time to spend on a couch in front of a TV, huh?
Out of sight usually means out of mind, and that’s exactly what happened with me, as I got to see no cricket on TV at all. My love for sports meant I now had several sports to choose from, but my interest in cricket slowly waned, despite me being connected to the country of my birth. Sure, my Indian born friends would talk cricket every now and then, but that wasn’t enough to prevent my cricketing muscle from atrophying.
…And The Reconnect
The ICC World Cup of Cricket, the biggest event in the sport comes about once every four years, much like the FIFA World Cup of Football, is being played in the Indian subcontinent, jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh. This time around, my interest in the sport and in India’s fortunes have peaked, close to the levels that they were when I lived in Chennai.
So, what’s different this time, you ask? Quite a few things actually…
1. Social Media
Unless you live under a rock, there is no escaping the power and impact of social media. In years past, I would’ve had to go look up news and information about cricket. With social media however, I don’t have to do that. I have interesting, and just the relevant information being delivered to me, by my friends who share the same or similar interest, in this case cricket. As the event drew closer, I sensed the excitement all across the blogosphere, and my friends from around the globe via the magic to social media.
2. The Television Coverage
Despite all the excitement that Facebook and the rest of the social media was generating, I wasn’t quite sure if I would want to spend time in front of a TV for 8 hours at a stretch, especially starting off at 3.45 in the AM. My buddy (we’ll call him G for now!) however was sure as he ordered the whole event on Willow TV, and invited me over to watch one of the first matches, between India & England. Reluctantly, I joined him, albeit much later than the start time. The first thing that struck me was the great quality of the broadcast in HD, and the use of cool technologies to make cricket watching a pleasure, a far cry from years past.
3. Sachin “the God” Tendulkar
God, you ask? Yes! Really, you ask? Yes, really! Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, the little genius – who might as well be waving a magic wand, instead of a cricket bat – is the greatest batsman the world has ever seen, period! With the adoration of millions of people, the respect of his peers, the extraordinary ability to seemingly slow down time, and most importantly the ability to create a spiritual experience in people who watch him play, it would not be sacrilegious at all to say that he is an incarnation of “God” in human form.
He transcends the game of sport much like Roger Federer does in Tennis, Michael Jordan in basketball, Pele in Soccer or Wayne Gretzky in hockey. I know friends who have named their son after him, and I know people who worship him alongside the countless other mythological gods that are part of the Indian culture.
Years ago I had, much like the rest of the world seen a small, scrawny 17 year old make his debut on the international scene, after breaking all kinds of records in school cricket. With bated breath, the world watched to see if this young man had what it took to translate that success over to the major leagues. With the complete annihilation of all and every batting record known to man, I’d say he has done just that and a lot more, showing no signs of slowing down. At 37 years however, despite his youthfulness and the face that belies a veteran, you have to think that his career is closer to the end line, and I wasn’t going to pass up on an opportunity to see the great man possibly for one of the last few occasions.
4. The Nail Biting Finish
India batting first, had piled up a total of 338 runs in their 50 overs, with the afore mentioned Tendulkar blunting the English attack as he made 120, his 98th international hundred. To lend some perspective, his nearest rival is about 30 behind!
Now, 338 is a very good score, and I saw no reason to be concerned about England getting to that target. Boy, was I wrong. Between the great start, a captain’s knock from Andy Strauss, England not only survived but figured to make a match of it. With about 60 to get in 42 balls and 8 wickets still in hand, it looked like India had pretty much blown this one.
With a quick few wickets however, things changed and it looked like India would wrap this up when a flurry of sixes by the tail brought them right back into the match. A nail biter of a match fittingly came down to the last over. With 14 needed in the last over, this was anyone’s match for the taking. Whoever took it would leave the other utterly devastated. It’s cliché to say that there are no losers, but in this case it wasn’t as England managed to level the scores off the last ball, leaving them tied with India… the best possible result for both teams! What a way for me to reconnect with cricket after a long time. I was fully in now, and I have to thank my buddy for getting me to go watch it.
5. The Virtual Sports Bar
I quickly realized that I wanted to watch cricket again – who wouldn’t after that one huh? However, there was no way I could wake up at 3 in the morning, drive over to my buddy’s and watch the whole match. So I went ahead and decided to reconnect at home (sorry G!), and while I’ve caught up on some of the other matches, I’ve been focused more on India’s fortunes.
My Indian friends in the US and I have been lucky that all of India’s matches have so far been on a weekend. With nowhere to be (when there are no birthday parties to attend of course!), what better than to plop yourself on the couch, watching cricket. I’ll tell you what could be better… watching it with friends of course. It’s no fun to watch any sport alone, and cricket is no exception. Now, where the hell was I going to find company, especially in the hours before sunrise? Facebook, of course!!!
While it has been a lot of fun to reconnect and watch cricket, it’s been even more fun to do so in the company of friends, old and new. Sure they are all virtual, but the wit, the sarcasm, the bickering, the joy, the relief, the silence and the excitement in the status updates make it a blast, and for me it brings back memories from years ago of – waking up early and watching the world cup with my friends!!!
6. Hope For The Little Master
I’ve bravely predicted that India will win this edition of the World Cup, which is bound to piss off all of the other cricket fans, and oh, I’m sure I’ll hear about how Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are better teams and one of them is more likely to be holding the cup.
There isn’t any sound logical analysis to me picking India to win this one. Sure there is a little bit of a bias towards the nation of my birth, but call it a gut feel that makes me call this for India, much like I called the Super Bowl for the New York Giants in 2007, and the Green Bay Packers this season.
I know the billions of Sachin Tendulkar fans would love to see this prediction come true so he could win the one thing that’s missing from his expansive resume before he rides off into the sunset!