STROLL DOWN THE CRICKET PITCH

Thank God I didn’t gave the same treatment to this forward message as I usually do. But instead watched the whole episode of Madrasapattinam in Cricketer Ashwin’s YouTube channel. Ashwin is extremely natural with his Chennai Tamil and he opened up like gushing water with absolutely no stoppage. His passion for Cricket is vivid as he effortlessly transported viewers to Chepauk stadium and made them watch all great test matches again just through his narration.

Personally, he made me take a pleasant walk down the nostalgic lane and brought back splendid sporting moments of my school days. In late 80/90’s, watching cricket used to be a tradition in every middle class family in India. ODI matches used to be a whole day amusement in the living room, with no mobile phones to fiddle or no remote/voice control to swap channels from DD (Doordharshan), though I remember our first BPL TV used to have 12 different Channel buttons ( For unknown reason) with a separate red one for A/V.

My brother and dad will be all prepped up for an eventful day once players enter the field in their spotless white uniform for a coin toss. In a live broadcast, along with a  visual treat, voice over of sports commentators play a vital role in bringing that enthusiasm, excitement, anger or disappointment to our living room. (All these emotions get multifold when India plays Pakistan especially in Sharjah Cricket Stadium.) Harsha Bogle, Tony Grieg, Sunil Gavaskar (in the 90’s) and many more with their profound cricket insights, their voice quality, pace, unbiasedness, sense of humor made cricket more energetic for listeners and viewers.

My favorite part is the commercials played in between the match. The ads today are snazzy and over the top. 90’s TV commercials might look simple and plain today but had a fun quotient and plenty of charm. Cricket commercials to name a few “Boost is the secret of my energy with Kapil & young Sachin, the diary milk girl who jumps in elation and leaps over the boundary ropes and does a carefree jiggle,  various series of Pepsi ads, Seven up Fido dido, Onida devil, Solidaire, beautiful and refreshing Liril girl .. The list goes on… Even now if you hear any of these jingles it brings back the product name. That was the beauty of 90’s commercials which elated, uplifted and were vibrant without any 4K/OLED/HDTVs.

While watching as a family was fun, it was a celebration when my brother brought a battalion of friends, friend’s friend, person you may know, boys who will be a friend only during game time etc…. All the boys used to go gaga about each and every ball and would be recreating the scene in the TV room. They would be so dedicated and glued on to the screen that whole day. Of course no cheer leaders needed then for the audience nor for the players. Coco cola/Thumbs up or Pepsi van vrooms in during ‘drinks break’ and refreshed everyone. For me, there were many simple pleasures other than the sport itself as a schoolkid. One such thing is that cute duck that walked along the score board when someone is out of the game without scoring even a single run (duck out – gold/silver). Cricket fanatics at home will give that dirty traitor look when I enjoyed the duck walk even for an Indian player. But, somehow I felt in those days, it was not about winning or losing, favorite team, player etc., which sometimes took a back seat. Beyond that there was a drive for the sports itself which emerged as a winner. Cricket being the gentlemen’s game, what is most celebrated over those memorable victories and the shocking losses are those small yet powerful gestures of sportsmanship that come out of nowhere, crossing all the barriers. There are many such stories still fresh to share……

Well, the tournament finals day is no different than a festival at home. My dad would take a day off and fasten himself in front of the TV. And those days when he couldn’t stay off from work, he would be constantly on phone (tring tring landline… the only phone of those days but now rarely ever (t)rings except during a Sunday naptime for an Airtel ad) and my mom would do Harsha Bogle’s duty on phone, explaining the score details. Even if mom got held up in the kitchen, she would not miss that last 5 overs.

After watching/hearing the one day match throughout the day, the tradition continued at 9 pm when the highlights were broadcasted.  A brief visual trajectory analysis of ball pitch and bouncing were detailed during the highlight show. Definitely not as very detailed data analysis as being done now in every sports channels.

Test matches used to have break day in-between, my brother and his mates will be on a muddy ground in scorching summer heat taking full advantage of that break day. Now that they have seen some new techniques on TV, they would try and bring back everything on field.  

They would never return home until it becomes dark and they can’t see the ball any more. Occasionally I would be included when they are in short of fielders. I was never allowed to bowl and very rarely got a chance to bat. And whenever I have the bat in hand and dream about my sixer, I will be sent off immediately after two balls saying I was out LBW (the concept I never understood for long time) else to an easy catch. All teenage boys will always have their arms swinging in bowling motion even when they walk on the road to go to school or to a store. None of them carried big cricket kit bag as today. Bat was something that was promised in most families after exam results, and a red color heavy cork ball is only for grownups. Stumps were either sticks, lines drawn on a wall, or bricks stacked neatly. Rudimentary player like me would get a tennis ball to hit and practice.

My grand mom is such a sports lover too. She was great fan of Ravi Shastri, and would stand very close to the TV to watch him bowl. In fact, she passed away in her sleep after watching India losing to Australia, in 2015 World cup Semifinals. My cousins and I still blame Indian players for losing our affectionate Grandma.  Such was cricket as part of our lives.

I am not sure how we lost that family tradition so fast. Why did cricket lose its charm and passion for me? Well, I suppose too many matches, or the market discovered the money-spinner in cricket with many fancy names, including the IPL series. TV rights were sold, sports moved from DD to ESPN and Star Sports – and enjoying those additional channels were not customary in all households. Especially in my family until we all settled in our colleges, the TV size changed but the channel remained the same.  But of all, the gamut of match-fixing- suspicion grew, first in whispers then more loudly. Trust was damaged and that innocence was kind of lost. My dad completely gave up after knowing his favorite players were suspected/involved. My brother went out for his higher studies and so I guess it slowly dwindled at home.

I paid no interest, while cricket pundits debated about ifs and buts of lost matches. Nor can I bring back that one particular spectacular shot on a specific match. But what I enjoyed as a family entertainment, is a treasure to protect in my coffer. I guess I just moved on, like many other Indian families who were once fierce lovers of sports like Cricket and Tennis-just expanded their horizon and included many other sports into their living room due to explosion of TV channels.

I’ve now stopped watching all cricket, except the World Cup matches where India plays. I am definitely not into the IPLs. But now, thanks to Ashwin who struck my cricket chord and made me brood over ……………………. Also, I heard about recent magical win by India in Australia with no big names in the team. I am thinking if I should try the next series and see if I can bring back this childhood tradition of mine with my own family.

—-Lavanya Vel

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