On a Sticky Wicket

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Note: I wrote this in the summer of 2007 for the inaugural issue of Windows & Aisles, the in-flight magazine of Paramount Airways. However it wasn’t published at that time, so here I present it in all its glory.

Indians claim expertise in a number of fields ranging from Bollywood to IT to remixed songs, but there’s really nothing we’re quite as good at as… you guessed it – cricket!

Not playing it, of course, but discussing it, wrecking TV sets over it and obsessing about it as if they were no tomorrow. When Team India triumphs, fans, media, BCCI officials, sponsors et al stumble over each other in a haste to perform one or all of the following tasks – (a) lift the cricketers on a pedestal, (b) decorate them with garlands that positively weigh them down, and (c) bless themselves for being born in a country which has produced such astonishingly brilliant players!

This is all very hunky dory, but what happens in the opposite scenario? What happens if – God forbid – we don’t win?

No! No! I hear the cricket-lovers roar in defence of their beloved team. That is not possible – not with a batting line-up as strong as ours!

But once in a while this catastrophic incident does occur, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. The captain is sent to the guillotine, the foreign coach is sacked for incompetence, and parliament had better establish some new laws prohibiting cricketers from appearing in more advertisements than matches!

So what really makes this game larger-than-life in our country?

The Players

The cricketers are having the time of their lives. They earn so much that even Swiss Banks are finding it difficult to keep up with the demand for new accounts. One billion people routinely shower them with love and adoration, and even though the media can at times be harsh, the players may still find themselves at the receiving end of a jolly limerick or two: 

There was a boy called Ganguly,

He grew up to be a Bengali,

His cricket was crackin’

So they made him the cap’ain

And that’s when he got all unruly.

The only drawback of their otherwise illustrious career is that they have to be so multi-faceted that sometimes it can get very stressful. For instance, they must always have a stock of curse words ready to attack the opponents with, they must prepare earth-shattering speeches in pleasant anticipation of their Man of the Match awards (called MoMs, taking their cue from the corporate world), they must possess tremendous acting skills (for both advertisements and in matches where the result is ‘fixed’), and above all this, they must be able to wield the willow as well!

The other problem with their accumulation of wealth is that it doesn’t last a lifetime – they need a little something set aside for later, like after retirement. Accordingly some of them invest in a match-fixing scheme, taking guidance from a former captain. A few may try their hand at bawling their eyes out on live television, preferably on a channel such as the BBC. But the most popular profession for cricketers after retirement is, without a doubt, commentary.

The Fans

Take any employee hard at work in his company, and tell him about an ODI scheduled the next day at 2 pm.  Almost immediately, the employee will visit the boss clutching his stomach, claiming to suffer terrible abdominal cramps. The Boss glares at him with bloodshot eyes in an attempt to petrify him, but reluctantly grants permission for sick leave. Employee is subsequently seen returning to his seat doing the boogie-woogie. 

The domestic scene is slightly different. Many a divorce originated when He and She embarked on that fistfight about whether to watch Oprah or the India-Australia contest.

He: I am going to watch our team beat the Aussies to a pulp!!

She: You don’t want to see us win – you only want to ogle that woman in her noodle-straps!

 She is absolutely spot-on in her judgement. In fact, a few enterprising channels have even taken advantage of this singularly chauvinistic trait of men, and hired fair maidens to join the commentary team. The task of a fair maiden is not too difficult – she must always be ‘dressed’ for the occasion, and her commentary needn’t be excessively intelligent, for that would defeat the purpose. Her main role in the scheme of things is to allow the men to gaze at her with the same enthusiasm that they reserve for Sehwag’s sixes.

The Authorities, or “The Bored of Controlling Cricket in India”

Every year or so, we are witness to a passionate cricket contest with the neighbouring country wherein the winner is, apparently, friendship. In fact, the series itself is always christened ‘The Friendship Series’. The competing teams sulk in disappointment at having lost out to Friendship, though at least one team gets to set a couple of earth-shattering records. Friendship, meanwhile, rules the roost, and would like to thank the public, the cooperating teams, and lo and behold, the media, for actually stressing on a positive aspect of cricket.

Cricket in the monsoon

To add to our other cricketing woes, our country is subjected to such unduly long monsoons that prevent cricketers from playing as much as they would like. Usually, this period is devoted to playing county cricket, so our players get to inflict their ghastly game on the English viewers. This is beneficial to the cricketers, but sadly, it deprives the BCCI from earning as much as they could have if they were able to set up a few exciting clashes with our rival teams. The BCCI, however, is innovative. This problem cannot stump them for too long. I think the day is not far when an article, such as the following, will grace the sports pages of national dailies:

Cricket in the rain

Much encouraged by the response of cricket-crazy fans all over the world, the BCCI, in a fit of enthusiasm, declared yesterday that instead of abandoning a rain-threatened match, they would provide all the players with umbrellas to continue the game.

This meant that the batsman would have to take guard with an umbrella in one hand, and his bat in the other. But it would be inhuman to suppose that the bowler could bowl holding his own umbrella. Thus the 12th man would be utilized to perform this service, by holding it and running after the bowler in hot pursuit.

This step will have two distinct advantages:

  • The batsman would be considerably unnerved by the spectacle of two burly bowlers descending on him, and this would lead him to hit some rather shaky strokes.
  • The 12th man would justly earn his bread, as he would be required to run 50 overs per day. (In case of the opponents of the Indian team, this figure may be drastically reduced)

In addition to the above, it will be necessary for the wicket-keeper to catch all catches with one hand. But if he dislikes this activity, he is welcome to (on payment of a token fee) purchase a container in which he may catch the ball.

Of course, the best solution to all these situations, that would combine wholesome public entertainment together with great reduction in costs, would be for all the cricket-playing teams to purchase the CRUMB or the CRicket UMBrella. This is a simple device that attaches itself seamlessly to cricketers’ helmets, caps, turbans, and any other headgear they may choose to wear. Certainly the BCCI would be pleased to be able to offer the CRUMB at a fabulously discounted rate of US$150,000 per piece. The governing body of other cricket-playing nations may also choose to purchase a set of 15 CRUMBS at a nominal rate of US$5,000,000.

With each purchase, the following are free:

  1. Ear-piece – skin-coloured, waterproof and cleverly concealed in the lining, perfect for communication with the coach throughout the match
  2. Raincoat – automatically drops down from the CRUMB at the press of a button

We urge cricketers to place their orders for the CRUMBs before it’s too late. After all, the special offer stands only as long as stocks last! 

The rain in India,

In mainly near the Vindhyas,

But the cricket in the monsoon,

For the board, ‘tis a boon!

In retrospect, the position of Indian cricket is best described in the words ofIndia’s most popular and innovative commentator Navjot Singh Sidhu – ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel forIndia, but it is that of an oncoming train which will run them over!’

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