Saturday, April 2, 2011

Watching Captain Cool in Zurich

Watching the final in an Irish pub,Zurich
In the cricket-agnostic Switzerland, the barbaric land not yet converted into the worship of the willow, I had watched the quarter final and the semi final at a colleague's place. I had seated myself in one particular chair, dressed in one particular suit, following every delivery on livestream, holding my bladder ever since the second innings of the match against the Aussies when Sehwag had skied Watson down the throat of Hussey, while I was blissfully taking a leak.

We started the Big Saturday at my colleague's place, cricketing acumen honed over thirty years of watching advising us against changing our winning combination and field setting.

However, when the Sri Lankan innings was coming to an explosive end, we decided to move to Paddy Riley, an Irish Pub in Central Zurich, which was screening the  Sky Sports telecast on High Definition television.

Cricket fans had gathered from all around the town and some from well beyond it. Maybe some had slipped in from the neighbouring Italy and Germany as well. When it is cricket mixed with India, stirred in the cauldron of the World Cup, anything can happen. The atmosphere was that of the Wankhede in a small microcosm. Only, here we had to cluster around two television sets while the rest showed Football and Rugby. Such is the way of the ignorant Europe, full of people who have never felt the thrill of the sound of bat striking the leather, a ball swinging in late or soaring over the boundary. 

What followed is now history, and will be documented in detail by countless many. 

Captain Cool, a billion feet raised to stomp mercilessly on his head at anything remotely close to failure or even stopping at semi-success, walked into the ground at number five and played an innings which can be best described as ethereal. 

To be unfazed and without any visible emotion in an amphitheatre of simmering tension is an phenomenal feat. The team was in trouble. His every move was being criticised in an increasingly atrocious media. He was struggling with self for elusive batting form. Losing no longer remained as an option within the scary transformation of the virtual national sport from fun to fashion to fatalistic fanaticism. Yet, Mahendra Singh Dhoni stood firm, resembling an immovable iceberg - although not remotely as warm.  

That he has led India to a World 20-20 victory, to the number one ranking in Test Cricket, to a World Cup Final; that his win loss ratio is better than any other Indian test captain by several multiples, that never before has India been blessed with a wicket keeper who averages more than 40 in both forms of the game - facts quickly erased from the proverbial time-challenged public memory of all the supposed connoisseurs. His so called blunders were brought under the scanner by millions of FB Status Updates, thousands of newspapers and hundreds of television programmes. 

The six that finished the match answered it all. Along with the ball did disappear all the critics who had snapped at his heels like rabid, stalking hyenas all along the road to the finals. For a while these legions of vilifiers in urgent need of a life of their own will hide in some of their despicable holes before poking their heads out again at the whiff of another champion whom they can tear down with caustic criticism.

Such is the face of cricket followers in the country where the World Cup will remain for the next four years. That is the unfortunate, but undeniable, truth. I will probably write in detail about this phenomenon in some other post.

However, cricket etches itself on the landscape of our society in different ways. Let me enjoy the day of this great victory by recounting a little anecdote depicting how the delightful patterns of the game emerge on every fabric of the society.

As mentioned, we had left for the pub during the final overs of the Sri Lankan innings, leaving our wives and daughters together to hold fort and follow the live-stream on a small laptop. As we watched on the flat screens with drinks in our nervous hands, our partners conspired to win it for India in their own way. 

Minal, my colleague's wife asked my better half to station herself in the same chair in which I had sat unmoving against Australia and Pakistan. An exercise in causal analysis made it clear to them that Sehwag and Sachin had succumbed not because of the Lasith Malinga's slinging swinging deliveries, but because ten month old Meera had been sleeping in the next room. So, she was brought into the playing arena, kept awake with distractions, danced with at boundaries - while my wife, Rumela, sat there very much like me, on my favoured chair, unable to visit one WC in the fear of losing grip on the other. 

Cricket means so much more to us than a game. In the success and failure of our team, life becomes meaningful or otherwise. Every heart of the nation, tied together by the common thread of cricket, throbs in a single resonating thud when India is at the wicket. Be it on the stools of an Irish pub or the wooden chair in front of the computer table at home, in the revolving chair of office or in the driver's seat on the road.  Around the unlimited passion, we develop laughable rituals and superstitions.These underline that it is indeed a religion with one or five day long festivities marking our calendars in red, the rest of our lives revolving around these milestones, reshaping itself to fit around the schedule. For when it is cricket, life stops still.

And, somewhere down the line, we forget that the gods we create are mortal, with frailties and faults that are very human. More and more frequently we get caught up in the morbid mix of corporate hoopla, national fervour, Cassius like abhorrence at the success of another,  fanaticism disguised as sports following and linking our own dreams and hopes to the team. In this entrapment, we take away the option of failure from the heroes that we worship, leaving them to battle opponents and fate while bearing the burden of our expectations.

As so happens in fundamentalism, we have lost ethics and humanity in the potholes of religion. We have forgotten that the true spirit of sportsmanship lies in enjoying the game and being equally gracious in victory and defeat. Thus, by creating the gods, we end up more and more subjecting them to pressure that is inhuman - the same dead-weight of a billion hopes that  Sachin Tendulkar has been carrying on his shoulder each time he has walked out to bat in the last twenty one years. When Virat Kohli said "Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years, it was time we carried him," it touched thousands of hearts because it summarised a phenomenal career. I hope the exceptionally mature words of the youngster will help fans realise what it is to play under expectations and the respect the true ambassadors of the nation should be rendered.

With the last six, Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have stroked his way into a new realm for the Indian team. I bow to his way of staying unmoved under the relentless scrutiny of a nation of supposed fans, for playing one of the greatest innings under unprecedented pressure. But, I wait to see what this is going to do to the expectation levels that the team has to play around.

No comments:

Post a Comment