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EYE OF THE SPECTATOR: AN EMOTIONAL FAN'S

ROLLER-COASTER JOURNEY WITH INDIAN

CRICKET SQUADS?

26.12.2018  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

Cricket as a game from a modest beginning has come a long way particularly in India and has now evolved into a big entertainment industry. There were many contributing factors for the phenomenal growth of the game called Cricket.

The advent of TV telecast coupled with sponsors, franchise, commercials, and whatnot has made Cricket a lucrative business and a box office hit. However, there is one constant factor contributing silently to the cause in all these years of Cricket’s stupendous growth and that is the ever passionate spectator.

In the modern era of Cricket where gate collection is not looked upon as the bread and butter for its survival, the importance of the spectator in the dynamics is conveniently lost and forgotten. After all, ultimately it is for him the game is being played and whatever commercial benefit arising out of the action is only incidental and not of direct relevance.

All along it has been the spectators who braved the oppressive weather and unhygienic environment, waited in long queues and thronged the grounds all over the world and kept this wonderful game alive.

This article is aimed at expressing the emotions of an ardent cricket fan in times of triumph, turmoil, soul-crushing losses, nail-biting wins, and heartbreaking defeats. Besides, the sentiment that dominates the watching of a cricket match is also touched upon.

Most of this  narrations are based on personal experience which I feel is most common with all cricket fans. The ardent cricket fan referred to in this article is none other than the writer himself.

Triumphs and more triumphs

As in life, in cricket too events happen in a cluster whether it is mayhem or triumph. I could witness the successive triumphs of my team starting from the World Cup 1983 to Benson and Hedges World Series Cup in 1985 right till the Rothmans Cup in Sharjah in the same year where India managed to defend 125 against Pakistan.

It was smooth sailing all the way for India during those fantastic times. The Indian fan army thought that this was going to last forever. The subsequent events proved how wrong we were in our assessment of our team’s fortune.

The kind of mood swing to which one is subjected to depending upon the outcome of a cricket match is hard to explain and has to be experienced. To overcome this roller-coaster emotional ride, I had devised a simple strategy from the beginning and that was not to watch cricket alone. The crowd presence even at home was very much needed mainly not to share the ecstasy but primarily to endure the agony at times of heartbreak.

There is an inherent weakness in watching cricket as a crowd as the presence of some not so lucky constituent in the crowd invariably spells doom to the fortunes of the team that we are supporting.

Heartbreaks and more heartbreaks

Sometimes a cricket fan is subjected to repeated heart-breaks which may lead to total wreckage. The first time that happened to me was when Javed Miandad hit that famous six off the last ball bowled by Chetan Sharma in 1986. All of a sudden I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach and my heart stopped pumping for a fraction of a second.

It again happened in the tied Test match against Australia in Madras in the same year. Incidentally, that was the first match I watched at the stadium and the crowd present at the stadium was not ample enough to smother the bereavement. When Maninder Singh was adjudged leg before wicket with the scores leveled, everything came to a standstill.

One heartbreak was followed by another when India lost to Pakistan in a Test match at Bangalore in 1987 by a margin of 16 runs. When we thought our bad times were behind us, we were dealt a lethal blow when the then-defending champion India were knocked out by England in the semi-final of the Reliance World Cup 1987. When Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting swept India out of that World Cup, I felt like the earth under me caving in.

For some of us, that was the final nail in the coffin. For some of the members of the fan club, the successive defeats were too much to handle and they had every reason to believe that they had enough and should leave the scene

Just as I was contemplating to quit watching the game I loved the most, came the little master from Mumbai into the cricket horizon by the name Sachin Tendulkar which regenerated my interest in the game. I was back into the business. Nonetheless, the disappointments continued to pour in as India lost the World Cups in 1992,1996 and 1999.

When your team is on a winning streak, you feel ecstatic to continue watching while in defeat you never give up and keep trying your luck in the next match. Hence, it is a vicious circle and once you get sucked into it, there is no turning back. But at the end of the day, it is all worth the pleasure it brings to you in times of triumph.

The catastrophe called match-fixing

The biggest catastrophe for an Indian fan came in the year 2000 when some of the Indian players were believed to be involved in match-fixing. It was a hard pill to swallow for cricket fans all over the world. Every one of us felt cheated and led to believe that all along we had been taken for a ride in the name of cricket. Match fixing or no match-fixing, India should not have gone into 3 consecutive World Cups in 1992, 1996 and 1999 with the same Captain.

The match-fixing controversy gave one more chance for fans like me to quit watching cricket before India found another inspiring leader in Sourav Ganguly to take the team forward.

Ganguly Era redeems Indian cricket

It was due to Sourav Ganguly’s inspiring leadership that India reached the final of the World Cup 2003. The final was against Australia captained by Ricky Ponting. Before the final, the die-hard fan was busy digging out some history favoring Team India.

From World Cup 1979, the World Cup was alternating between the right-handed and left-handed Captains. In 1979 it was Clive Lloyd, Kapil Dev in 1983, Allan Border in 1987, Imran Khan in 1992, Arjuna Ranatunga in 1996, Steve Waugh in 1999. For the World Cup 2003, Ganguly the left-handed batsman and Captain, was on cue to attain glory since the opposition Captain Ricky Ponting was a right-hander.

It was all set for an Indian triumph before Ganguly had a brain fade at the toss. The moment Ganguly won the toss and decided to bowl, it was game over for India.

As a long-term follower of the game, the crazy fan could smell what was to happen the moment toss happened. And more often than not, his prophecy has been proved right. One couldn’t guess whether it was due to intuition or the experience arising out of watching so many games or a combination of both.

Irrespective of the results of World Cup 2003 final, Ganguly as the Captain has changed the face of Indian Cricket more so at a time when India were rocked by the match-fixing controversy.

The 2011 World Cup glory and the emotional intelligence of a cricket fan

Sometimes a true cricket fan is instinctive in nature and has the sixth sense to smell what is likely to come to be it good or bad. To cite an example, when India played their first match of the 2011 World Cup against Bangladesh, my instinct told me that India were going to win that World Cup. I could sense some pattern between that World Cup and the 1983 World Cup which India won against all odds.

For starters, Sehwag scored 175 in that first match against Bangladesh- exactly the same number of runs that Kapil Dev scored against Zimbabwe in 1983. Again, just like World Cup 1983, the final of World Cup 2011 was also slated to be played on a Saturday. Sreesanth and Piyush Chawla, the two lucky charms of India’s successful triumph of T20 World Cup in 2007 were part of the World Cup squad 2011.

Everything was falling in place and finally as forecasted much earlier by the pro-active fan, India won the World Cup for the second time in 2011. But the crazy fan doesn’t believe in revealing his findings in advance fearing hostile response.

A quirk of fate in the 2015 World Cup

In the same manner, the emotional intelligence of the cricket fan could easily get connected to a disaster waiting to happen. It happened in the World Cup 2015 in Australia. In the matches India played up to the semi-final, it was Mark Nicholas, the commentator, who conducted the toss proceedings and India sailed through to the semi-final winning every match on the way.

Suddenly in the semi-final, when one found  Damien Fleming at the toss, the crazy Indian fan saw what was coming. He even thought it was a conspiracy against his team by the host broadcasting corporation to replace India’s lucky charm, Mark Nicholas. His worst fears were further confirmed when Dhoni lost the toss and Australia batted first. And that was it for Team India in the 2015 World Cup.

A trip Down Memory Lane

In cricket, the fan has seen all of it but some of them will be etched in memory forever.

G.R. Viswanath’s sporting gesture to call back Bob Taylor in the silver jubilee Test after the umpire had given him out in 1980

Javed Miandad's wrestling with Dennis Lillee in the middle of the pitch in 1981

Trevor Chappel’s under-arm bowling in 1981

Mohinder Amarnath’s gritty batting on blood-soaked flannels in 1983

The greatest one-day innings ever played by an Indian - Kapil Dev’s 175 not out against Zimbabwe in 1983 World Cup

Kapil’s Devils stun the world in 1983

Mohammad Azharuddin’s record of 3 hundred in his first 3 Test matches in 1984

Ravi Shastri and the Audi car in 1985. But Ravi Shastri is more remembered for his expressive commentary “ Dhoni finishes off in style and India lift the World Cup after 28 years”.

The second tied Test in the history of the game at Madras in 1986

Sunil Gavaskar becoming the Armstrong to reach the summit of 10,000 Test runs in 1987

Narendra Hirwani’s 16 wicket haul in the Madras Test in 1988

Sachin Tendulkar’s baptism by fire against Wasim, Waqar and Imran Khan in 1989

Kapil Dev becoming the highest wicket-taker in Test Cricket in 1994

Sachin Tendulkar’s desert storm when he scored back-to-back hundreds at Sharjah in 1998 and his subsequent records in all formats of the game.

Sachin Tendulkar causing nightmares for Shane Warne in 1998

Anil Kumble’s perfect 10 in 1999

Dravid and Laxman’s heroics at the Eden Gardens in 2001

Ganguly’s shirt waving at the Lord’s balcony in 2002

India reaching the final of World Cup 2003

Sehwag’s triple hundred at Multan and India’s first and only series win against Pakistan in Pakistan in 2004

Team India’s record of 17 consecutive victories while chasing in ODIs in 2006

Yuvraj’s 6 sixes in an over in the T20 World Cup in 2007 and his massive contribution towards India winning 2 World Cups.

Dhoni’s India winning the T20 World Cup in 2007, 50 over World Cup in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013. An emotional Dhoni in tears after India’s semi-final loss to Australia in 2015 was the only time that Dhoni had displayed any emotions in the public.

Anil Kumble’s 600 wicket haul in 2008

The advent of the Indian Premier League in 2008 Team India’s series win in New Zealand in 41 years in 2009

Sachin Tendulkar scoring his 100th International century in 2012

Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th Test match and his emotional farewell speech in 2013

India’s unbeaten World Cup record against Pakistan

Rohit Sharma’s 3 double hundreds in ODIs.

King Kohli’s stature as the world’s best batsman and his unparalleled record while chasing

India’s 10th successive Test series win at home when they beat West Indies 2-0 in 2018

The fan has some regrets too. India is yet to win a Test series in Australia and in South Africa. Of late, the game is driven more by technology. Phrases like reviews, umpire’s call, ball-tracking, and soft signal have a perplexing effect on the fan. Though technology is welcome on the cricket field, sometimes it denies the instant delight of a winning moment. But the progression is inevitable.

The sentimental mindset of a cricket fan

Cricket fans are always sentimental and I am no exception. There were times when I used to wear the same shirt whenever India was scheduled to play a match. At times, I used to follow the same routine and even tried to reach my office on the same route which I considered lucky for my team.

Any forced change in the routine was looked upon as a bad omen. For me, some days in a week are considered inauspicious for the Indian team while some other days are considered as more suited to the opponent.

Sometimes when a wicket doesn’t fall when the opposition is batting, first an attempt will be made to change the luck by changing the channel from English commentary to Hindi Commentary.

If that still doesn’t work, those of the fans who have the luxury of possessing two television sets at home will go for a change in the TV set to see if that will bring in the much-needed change in the fortunes of the Indian team. Even after that if a wicket doesn’t fall, the die-hard fan will indulge in more frantic measures and becoming more desperate than Virat Kohli for a wicket.

The virtues of cricket addiction

One good thing about being addicted to cricket is that you will never be tempted to get addicted to some other habits. You will feel this one addiction in itself is more than adequate to mess you up. But the good thing about cricket addiction is that it is least expensive and less harmful. Besides, by getting stuck at home glued to T.V, one could stay away from needless extravaganza.

Another advantage of following this beautiful game is that you get to know the different time zones of different countries. You know when to set the alarm. If it is New Zealand, it is 4 a.m IST and if it is England it is 4 p.m. IST. If the match is played in the sub-continent, the time difference would be minimal. In other places, your life depended on the alarm ringing on time. In a way, this habit of yours will be useful in improving your geography.

Constant mood swings of a cricket fan

The only problem with getting addicted to Cricket is that the family members should get tuned to the mood changes of the crazy fan depending upon the match situation. Sometimes when a match is won, you feel at the top of the world and you feel as if there is no care in the world for you. The winning mood will keep the mind positive and you will feel all is well.

Conversely, when a match is lost, you abruptly feel as if that is the end of the world. You will feel depressed and all kinds of negativity will set in. Suddenly you start assuming your entire life is at its crossroads.

All at once, you will become a more responsible family person and you will forget the game for the time being. But that is till the next win. The moment that happens, you will once again be sucked into the addiction and interest in cricket will become as committed as before.

An earnest cricket fan always thinks one step ahead

As an earnest cricket fan, I always felt my judgment about team composition, bowling changes, and decisions at the toss were way ahead of the players in the middle. Perhaps, sitting in the comforts of my living-room without facing the pressures of the match situation, I thought my decisions were more accurate than the skipper.

One such example to that was India’s World Cup semi-final match against Sri Lanka in 1996 at the Eden Gardens. When India won the toss in the crucial semi-final against Sri Lanka, the whole nation knew what India should do except the Indian Captain.

It was such a big blunder that one of the Indian openers playing in that match thought it was Sri Lanka who won the toss and decided to bat first. Conversely, it was India who sent them in to bat and awarded them the match in a platter at the toss. But that Kolkata encounter was an open –and- shut case.

There were other similar cases too when the fan pressed the panic button the moment the toss was done or the moment the playing XI was announced. He could smell that something had gone horribly wrong and the situation was beyond redemption. One such occasion was the recently concluded second Test match between India and Australia at Perth in the ongoing Test series.

Again, there were occasions when the earnest cricket fan was erroneous in his assessments. One such occasion was India’s T20 final against Pakistan in 2007. When Dhoni called upon Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over of the final with Pakistan needing 13 runs for a win. I had the apprehension that Dhoni got it wrong and the match could get over in 3 balls. When the second ball of the over disappeared into the crowd, I looked at my friend with ” I told you so” expression.

With 6 needed off 4 balls, I thought it was all over for India and I started organizing myself to blame Dhoni for the anguish. Then Misbah-ul-Haq did the unthinkable by going for the scoop shot against the slower pace of Joginder Sharma and the ball safely lobbed into the hands of Sreesanth at short fine-leg.

When Joginder Sharma won that match for India, I changed sides and started praising Dhoni for his masterstroke. At that time, I never knew that I was challenging the genius of Mahendra Singh Dhoni who would one day go on to become the most successful Captain India has ever produced. Dhoni became the only Indian Captain to win two World Cups for India, the T20 World Cup in 2007 and the 50 over World Cup in 2011

Salient traits of a fervent cricket fan

A fervent cricket fan always thinks he knows everything about the game and he is the 2.O version of Neville Cardus. If a newcomer to the game asks him any silly questions, he would get annoyed.

He is always active and buzzing at the peak of a cricket season and the moment there is a lengthy break between matches, he feels desolate.

He always associates his life events with what is happening on the Cricket field. For instance, when India first won the World Cup in 1983 I was in college and when India won the World Cup for the second time after 28 years in 2011, I watched the match with my son ensuing mute celebration after the win.

If things don’t go his way, the typical fan would hold everyone in his sight responsible for the loss. It might just be a casual visitor or sometimes the most convenient target will be the poor spouse whose presence would be labeled as the bad omen.

Whenever a fan comes across people talking about cricket, he would simply gate crash and express his learned opinion. He would easily gel with another cricket fan and they command mutual respect.

Cricket fans, when on the move, somehow get connected to the happenings in the middle irrespective of whether they are connected to the internet or not. In good old days, I used to carry a pocket transistor with me wherever I went, whether to college or workplace.

That was slowly replaced by the televisions in the showrooms on the roadside where one had to surge forward into the crowd to have a glimpse of the action and mainly the scorecard. Now we have everything readily available in our palms for the constant live update. But the old thrill of following the game on and off is somehow missing. It is like possessing 5000 favorite songs in a pen drive and you don’t know which one to choose from.

The plight of a cricket fan is sometimes even worse than a politician and he should keep changing his views with every change in the match situation. Sometimes, the unexpected change in the course of a match will make him eat his own words. But he will still put up a brave face amidst criticism and even when a question mark is raised against his game wisdom.

The genuine pleasure of embracing cricket

In spite of all the hurdles faced by the fan in following this beautiful game called cricket all through his life, the fan continues uninterrupted in his mission and it is really worth the trouble.

No pleasure in the world could match the pleasure of watching Sehwag smacking the ball around, Sachin’s straight drive, Sourav’s off-side play, Dravid’s perseverance Virat Kohli’s aggression and M.S. Dhoni’s composed temperament. The pleasure the game brings to the innumerable fans all over the world is immense.

The current Indian team under Virat Kohli is the number one Test team in the ICC rankings and are one of the serious contenders in World Cup 2019 in England. All the more reason for the fan to continue following the game.

Despite the countless turmoil the cricket fan faced in times of defeats, all was forgotten the moment  Dhoni hoisted Kulasekara into the crowd to enable India to lift the World Cup in 2011. Here again, the heart stopped to beat for a moment and it took an instant for reality to sink in but it was a feeling of a different kind.

From watching Javed Miandad hitting the last ball for a six to watching Dhoni depositing Kulasekara into the Arabian sea, the Indian cricket and the cricket fan have come a full circle on a roller coaster ride filled with emotions, ecstasy in triumphs, turmoil in heart-breaks, narrow wins and unexpected losses. But the perpetual journey continues uninterrupted.