For the past few days, I have realized that there is something amiss. Couldn’t really put my fingers on it till I realized that I had finally lost my innocence, my childhood – I was growing older – I no longer wanted to rush to the nearest cricket screen after office and watch the last 15 crucial overs of the 2nd India-England ODI match even though it promised to be a thriller (that it was not and India won comfortably, I learnt on ndtv.com 3 hours after the match was complete). Cricket, I guess, was the last straw connecting me to that part of my life, when I had few worries, when the people who mean the most to me were always around me – in short, it still brings back so many good memories of time spent at home watching our good men do India proud on the cricket field, that the feeling that those scenes may not repeat ever again, emanates in a slow sinking experience that I am not enjoying at all.
I guess this affliction will affect many of us in the mid to late 20s, who have grown up on a steady diet of the heroics of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Srinath to begin with, and then identified with Dravid and Ganguly in our teenage years to the extent of fistfights to resolve our heroes’ cause. We have been lucky enough to be privy to that magical day at Eden Gardens when the sublime Laxman and the gritty Dravid never played a false shot. And now suddenly, two of them have gracefully retired from the scene and the remaining are counting their days. Our boyhood heroes are growing older. Can we be left far behind? Time for major retrospection, I believe.
Over the course of the 18 uninterrupted years I spent at home, I must have spent at least 12 (assuming I don’t remember much before I was six, though I have hazy images of Border with the ’87 World Cup trophy) avidly following each and every of India’s fixtures around the world. And not only me, my whole family must have been cricket crazy, even the ladies. If my mom could eke out some time from her busy schedule of work in feeding us and doing all the other stuff that moms do to make sure that our lives run smoothly and we have time to watch cricket matches, she would invariably join me, my brother and father in making “watching cricket” the family experience of the decade! And the advent of Day-Night cricket only added to the zing. From Sachin bowling that last over in the Hero Cup Final to Srinath and Kumble doing the heroics with the bat against Australia, and Rajesh Chauhan hitting that last ball six, I can still recall the expressions on all the others who were there in it, cheering with me.
I have woken up early mornings to watch India negotiate the Aussies Down Under before leaving for school, I have stayed up late to watch proceedings in the Caribbean, I have finished my XIIth Board exams early to dash off home and watch the remainder of the day’s proceedings – I have done lots of stupid things for cricket. I have taken sides in Dravid vs. Ganguly discussions, even though I’m a “fan” of both, I have chewed more nails than Sachin ever did on the field (and defended it as something great people do, when my mom protested against this unhealthy habit), I have not moved a single inch for several hours if I felt that position of mine benefited India, but will I ever do it again? With Dada’s retirement opening the floodgates, it just feels like a part of me is no more.
I’d thought I would be visibly sadder on the day Sourav Ganguly retired, but I was not – maybe I ‘d been expecting it all through and that lessened the impact. I think the moment after the NatWest final when he took off his shirt at Lord’s still remains one of the most visibly etched memories in my mind, much like Kapil Dev’s lifting the Cup would be for a somewhat older generation. Dada, though not the ideal “good boy”, that our parents would have wanted us to be (that would be more Sachin or Rahul), has over the years, embodied so much – from ability, determination, courage, leadership, integrity to attitude and resilience – that I guess our parents would have been happier if we had turned out more like him. Though the media makes him out to be a regional hero, one survey of the undergraduate colleges across India, I’m sure, would reveal the fact that Indians are not as parochial and narrow minded as they are made out to be – and the constant chanting of “Dada, dada” at Nagpur brings out that spirit. Dada brought the spirit to the game, and its supporters, and will be sorely missed.
I hope the current crop of players like Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Gambhir and Bhajji and those to follow can replace the Fab 5 at some point of time. Maybe they’ll bring me back to the TV screen and I can be a child again. Maybe I’ll have that sparkle in my eye once more. Much like my father does every time he watches a game with me.