We were watching the 1985 Wimbledon matches – the year when Boris Becker became the youngest and the first ever unseeded player to win the title. Our first born, then seven, was with us.
“Wouldn’t he make a wonderful fielder?”
“There is no fielding in tennis.”
“Does Germany play cricket?”
And the gem: “Do they hate each other?” We were nonplussed.
“Of course not. They grunt with the efforts of heaving the ball,” we told him. We thought that he probably mistook the grunts and groans of Jimmy Connors for aggressive behavior.
“No, not that. I am asking why the umpire is always saying, ‘Love all?’”
His father sat him down and started explaining the basics of the game to him. That it was so much water on desert sand, soon became apparent.
“Wow! One shot and he gets ten runs!” He started adding up the points to make up mind boggling individual scores. A difficult shot that could not be returned was a ‘four’, and an ace was a ‘six’. He had a feast of ‘sixes’ as Becker kept slamming them one after the other. He got agitated when the ball was out and the player lost a point. “But isn’t it a four when the ball goes over the boundary line?” he wailed.
In exasperation I switched off the TV set before I forgot my basic tennis.
That was the time we had personally lost out to cricket. The boy breathed, ate and slept cricket. So deeply ingrained was the game in his psyche that he even kept scores as in cricket while playing brain games like Scrabble.
His fascination for cricket bordered on reverence. To him Kapil Dev was God and Srikant a demi-god. He knew how many overs Kapil bowled and how many wickets he got against which country. He kept watching the videos of the finals of the World Cup, which India had won in 1983 — led by his God — till he got every ball and run imprinted in his memory. He could practically tell which ball would get hit for a six and which would get a wicket even before they actually happened.
So, like concerned parents, his father and I decided to educate him on the nuances of other games. But we had reckoned without the cricket demon that had possessed our son. Since it was summer and the Wimbledon season was on, we thought we would start with tennis. With Becker giving seeded players the run for their money, what better incentive could there be for our cricket crazy son than a new hero, we reasoned.
We were momentarily fooled when he ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the acrobatic volleys and returns of Becker, before the bombshell dropped and the conversation detailed above took place.
Hockey was different. Unlike tennis where the players scored so many ‘runs’, he was puzzled about the opposite. It took me a while to understand that he meant the goals. “If they had someone like Gavaskar they could have easily scored so much more. Look at that fellow missing the ball!” he cried passionately.
“Why can’t he get some runs for going beyond that line (the twenty five yards line)?” he asked hotly.
When the referee sent a player out, he gleefully clapped his hands, exclaiming, “He is out, he’s out!” And when the player returned after the stipulated time, he wistfully said. “How nice it would be if they allowed Srikant or Vengaskar to come back and bat like that after getting out!”
I felt a glimmer of hope when he got absorbed with the stickwork of Mohammed Shahid and Zafar Iqbal. It was short-lived, alas! When Shahid scooped the ball, the boy cried out, “That was exactly like the six Srikant hit in the match against England!”
I groaned. His father shrugged. We had come to the sad realization that it would take more than our puny efforts to release our son from the mesmeric influence of the game that is cricket.
Then the World Cup came the next year and Maradona’s magic finally made the kid see that there were other interesting sports besides cricket. It is to our eternal regret that his dream of pursuing the game had been truncated by a sudden transfer, just when he was selected to represent his school at the age of 10. But the interest is still thriving enough for him to schedule his programmes around the telecast of the game and to teach his little daughter to recognise the players of Arsenal, his favourite club!
The cricket frenzy, whipped up by the media, to the exclusion of every other sport, the sole topic of conversion in classrooms, offices, canteen and homes has been the bane of every other sport in the country over the decades. Even before Kerry Packer started his Packer circus and the limited over edition of the game, and now, truncated into a 20-over game, it hold sway over the masses. Efforts by sponsors revive momentary interest in other sports are sporadic at best as happened during the World Cup Hockey recently.
Recently, when the entire country was going crazy with the on-field doings of the cricketers and the off-filed capers of Tharoor and Modi a young sportsman lamented,” I would have got more publicity had I lost!” The sportsman in question was Pankaj Advani. I can hear people asking, ‘Pankaj, who?’ Sigh.
He was the sportsman who created history by becoming the first player to win the Asian Billiards Championships three times in a row.
He is in good company though. Mike Ferreira who ruled Indian billiards scene in the 70s and four times World Amateur Billiards Champion — had refused to accept the Padma Shri award given to him in 1981. The reason? The same year Sunil Gavaskar had been conferred the Padma Vibhushan. Ferreira opined that his own achievements were no less than the latter’s. He still had to wait till 1983 for his Padma Vibhushan.
When India won the solitary gold or silver medal in hockey in the Olympics, the euphoria was overshadowed by the media and the country at large, lambasting the lack of medals in any other sport. With the result that today the game is in doldrums and requires film stars to publicise it!
Last month, when the world Hockey championships were going on we were with our younger son. If you remember, England had shot out India in the run up to the semi-finals and consequently out of the World Cup hockey tournament. “Ha, ha,” he had laughed in his inimitable style. “All the publicity and media hype for nothing! Everyone will now go back to watching cricket.”
And people indeed went back and how! Even the IPLgate could not put a dampener on the craze and overflowing stadia only underlined the sad truth of its supremacy over every other game in the country.
So where does that leave other sports? Don’t worry, the features of the various games are all getting incorporated into cricket — free hit, extra- time, tie-beaker, even cheerleaders! Who needs any other sport when we have the excitement of all in one game?