Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
I was on Facebook the other day when I came across Anil Kumble’s 10 wicket haul video on my cousin’s page. One video leads to another and I have been watching cricket’s great moments for the past few days. I also happened to watch on TV the latest games between India and New Zealand. Although we were winning, I felt like crying. Why? Because they were just banging the ball left, right and centre and calling it cricket.
Once, India had a formidable team – Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, Mongia, Srinath. South Africa had a team that could afford to send Lance Klusener at Number 11! What with the likes of Kirsten, Gibbs, Cronje, Rhodes, Kallis…. The Aussies – every batsman used to be a potential century maker. Every bowler used to be a potential 5 wicket hauler. What can one talk about a team that had Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, McGrath, Warne, Lee…. Even Zimbabwe used to put up a good fight. They had the likes of Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Alistair Campbell, Heath Streak…. It just used to be a privilege to watch Lara, Chanderpaul, Hooper, Walsh, Ambrose….
NewZealand and England used to produce the occasional surprise victory but they had strong cricketers – Fleming, Bond, Astle, Chris Cairns…. Vaughan, Pietersen, Flintoff, Knight, Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Harmison…. Then the Pakistanis – they might have had a thousand faults and I never really liked them one bit, but I cannot deny that when on field, the Pakistanis knew how to bat and bowl. They had a good team and when they played India, they played well. Anwar, Inzamam, Youhana, Akram, Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Razzaq, Moin Khan. Gosh, I miss even them! No team could take the lineup that had Jayasuriya, Jayawardane, Sangakara, Murali and Vaas lightly.
I feel nostalgic.
When such teams met on the cricket field, the matches used to be sensational. True, most teams never played consistent cricket but they played cricket. Pollock used to bowl, Ganguly used to bat and Gibbs and Rhodes used to field. Now, where do we find fielders like Rhodes and Gibbs? Search the world and you won’t find a player as elegant as Ganguly. Does any team now have an all-rounder like Pollock? McGrath used to bowl to an 8 on the off side field. It required batsmen with expert technique to put the ball through that offside field or dispatch it on the onside. It just used to be a pleasure to watch him run up, bowl and follow through.
The sound of the ball shattering the stumps or the bat hitting the ball was enough to wake us up. It used to be the music to keep us awake for day night games. Forget watching it – I used to even enjoy following it on radio. I remember the days when we used to rush to the friend’s house nearest to school for so much as a glimpse of an ongoing match. What to say of the discussions we had before and after the games! How avidly we used to follow every game, every player and remember their statistics – home and away? The article is turning into a lament – a lament of a spectator who has lost her cricketers!!
There used to be a sporting rivalry between individual cricketers which turned the game into a contest of sorts. Cricketing rivalries used to fuel the desire to watch the matches. An India vs Pakistan match used to be electric. Who can forget the treatment that Jadeja gave to Younis’s reverse swing? Who can forget the dismissal of Aamir Sohail by Venkatesh Prasad? Who can forget Sachin – Warne, Sachin – Akhtar, Sachin – Olonga, Ponting – Harbhajan, Murali – Aussies battles?
Fortunately for me, I remember cricket as Sachin bashing up Warne at Sharjah; I remember it as Steve Waugh setting up a field surrounding the batsman; I remember it as Anil Kumble getting 10/74 at Feroz Shah Kotla; I remember it as Rahul Dravid donning the keeper’s gloves for his team resulting in 14 stumpings; I remember it as Gilchrist who used to do sit ups for 50 overs and then open the batting to send the opposition bowlers fleeing; I remember it as the test match we lost in Chennai to Pakistan and the sporting nature of the crowd; I remember it as Sachin hitting a century right after his father’s death; I remember it as Gibbs dropping that fateful catch in the world cup; I remember cricket as Jonty Rhodes who could fly from nowhere to take a catch; I remember it as the tense last ball fumble by Alan Donald at the 1999 World Cup finals; I remember it as Courtney Walsh asking the Pakistani batsmen to start running ONLY AFTER he bowled the ball.
I was talking to my sister’s son recently and pointed out that cricket is no more the game it once was. He seems to think that I have grown old and that 20-20 is the order of the day because people don’t have time to spend watching tests or ODIs. While we will leave out my growing old, I told him that I sympathize with him and his generation for not being able to make time even for watching sport! Didn’t we study and work, fight with our parents and siblings and watch cricket at the same time? There seems to be a dearth of talent in the new world. 🙂
I also showed him that all the experts in cricket seem to have lived in our age – good strikers of the ball, great captains, legendary spinners (leg, off and even chinaman bowling), superb fielders, absolute pace bowlers, brilliant wicketkeepers and just about everything else that is cricket. Also, I pointed out that no cricketer today could play a late cut like Lara or a cover drive like Dravid, a pull like Gilchrist or drive over mid wicket like Sachin. He just didn’t seem to relish the cuts and drives. He says to me he says, “Any shot is ok as long as it gives runs.” I asked him to get away from my sight before my eyes burnt him.
Cricket today has been tarnished by more than one brush – each dirtier than the other – match fixing, sex scandals, dope, murder, club culture and above all, a lack of sportsmanship in cricketers. The soul seems to be have been sucked out of cricket. All the happiness in the game is gone – cricket has been administered the Dementor’s kiss.
The great Australians, West Indians and South Africans retired, the New Zealanders lost their zeal and England seems to have forgotten that cricket is their national game. Zimbabwe has political problems. As for Pakistani cricket, I pity them. If they spent half the time they do on scheming and plotting in cricket, they could do wonders. The Srilankans make Grawp look gentleman. We have our own problem of politics, politics and plenty of politics. Suddenly, India finds itself incapable of producing a quality spinner. All of a sudden, we don’t have batsmen with proper technique.
If I were a cricket coach, I would make the Dhonis of today write imposition – “I am a cricketer and not KingKong with a club in hand.” Cricket has ceased to be a man’s game. One beats the other on field mindless of the fact that there are a hundred cameras carrying live relay to millions of people and the other, well, cries!! Guys, come on, grow up!
Lalit Modi is out there selling cricket and talking about entertainment value (essentially making money). Didn’t we find it entertaining enough to watch Dravid play defense for a whole hour? Didn’t we find it entertaining to watch Sachin send Akhtar packing? In the name of entertainment, cheer girls have been introduced. What next? Players in funky costumes and swimsuits? The pundits were out there criticizing Mandira Bedi when she came to compere. What are they saying now to the Ambanis, the Preity Zintas, the SRKs and the Shilpa Shettys? What do they have to do with cricket that Bedi did not? Not that I am fan of Bedi, mind. But if these guys can come into cricket, so can she, isn’t it?
I am not a despiser of changes. But I am of the opinion that any change made to cricket (any sport for that matter) must make sure that the technique and beauty of the game is not compromised.
Sometimes off late, I get confused as to whether I am watching cricket or women’s tennis. Didn’t I see girls in short skirts? Likening women’s tennis to short skirts is an insult to the memory of Steffi Graf and others before her. But then that is what it has become – a show of glamour instead of talent. Women’s tennis has had a great fall because of this sea change and cricket is just going to. The Williams and Clijsters don’t inspire me as much as Navartilova or Seles did. The Ryders and Sidebottoms don’t impress me as much as Lara or Akram. I stopped watching women’s tennis after Steffi Graf retired. Likewise, I will stop watching cricket when Sachin and Dravid retire. Cricket has been put in the coffin, the prayers have been said, only, it needs to be nailed. The nailing will be done with the retirement of these two legends – the last of the sportsmen who entertained an entire generation.
Today cricket is dead but it leaves behind a host of memories and lives on through recordings on youtube and the blogs of the spectators of yore.