The days were harsh, hot and dusty and the nights cold and windy. The vast swathes of Middle Earth, the land of the race of Desis, men of honor, valor and culture were overrun by vast white armies of the Goras, creatures of great cunning and greed. The Desis were forced to subjugate their honor and immense wealth to the Goras and their evil overlord Georgeon of Britannica who ruled over Middle Earth from sea to sea with an iron fist, duguna lagaan and badly accented bad Hindi. It was during these dark days the men of Middle Earth formed an alliance of men and kachchdas and faced off against the armies of Georgeon for a final battle that would decide the fate of Middle Earth and the Desis which would be forever (not) be written in the annals of history. For the battle was not one of swords and cannons, but of leather and willow. It was called, Cricket.
The Goras evil-laughed at the under-clad, under-trained, under-equipped and under-nourished Desis and did not give them the chance of a street dog in Bangalore traffic. But the oppressed, suppressed and depressed Desis survived the Gora onslaught against all odds and with some subtle match fixing won the epic battle when their captain hit the last ball of the match for a six. The captain of the Goras caught the ball but stepped over the boundary line in the process. This win resulted in the Desis becoming free from paying taxes for all eternity. (The over-stepped boundary line later came to be known as the Radcliffe Line). There was great rejoicing all around.
After this epicness, there followed no more epicness. The mighty Goras were soon after driven out of Middle Earth by sticks, stones and satyagrahas. The age of men had dawned in Middle Earth, and there was great rejoicing all around. As per anti-Gora policies inducted by the rulers of men, Middle Earth was renamed India. But unluckily the Desis (now called Indians, atleast in India) had to pay more taxes because agreements made with Goras were deemed null and void. Time moved on and the era of Middle Earth and Cricket was largely forgotten, save for some brief sparks here and there. Indulging in sporting events was anyway considered waste of time and resources in India as per teachings of the erstwhile Gora masters who wanted Desis to be book-keepers and paper-pushers and not sportspersons.
Fast forward to 1983. Kapil ‘Haryana Hurricane’ Dev and his team of desi dervishes won the World Cup trounced the all-powerful West Indies at Lord’s, London, the sacred home abode of the erstwhile Goras. The West Indies were previous two-time champions and had never lost a world cup match before. So it was something like in football terms like Brazil being defeated by, well, India. Suddenly, the sport captured Indian imagination. This sparked an all new interest for the game in India, (Cricket World Cups were much less-glamorous affairs those days) and suddenly Cricket was discovered by millions across the nation. It was the new ‘IN’ and ‘Cool’ thing to be associated with, and seeing that the game entitled: “Throw projectiles at people, who try to hit it away, as far as they can. Then, other people run after said projectile, gather it and throw it back with utmost force“, people said: “Dude, this is so awesome. It is just like our other national pastime, rioting! Let’s go for it!!” And Indians embraced Cricket with both arms. There was great rejoicing all around.
The Earth continued rotating and the years dropped off the calendar, and Cricket in India went from strength to strength, becoming the second single unifying force (after Pakistan) for Indians across India, and caused many an inflamed chest as a result of too much of chest thumping. India hosted the World Cup, White overalls became colorful, Live-telecast of cricket matches spawned a generation of couch potatoes, Ravi Shastri became “champion of champions” (after which he disappeared from the scene like a tracer bullet), Pakistan (a part of erstwhile Middle Earth) also won the World Cup, Miandad hit India for a six in Sharjah, Our captain and his minnows ingloriously fixed matches, proving that cricketers were no better than politicians. Kolkata threw water bottles paving the way for an inglorious and shameful world cup exit for India and India won the Twenty 20 World Cup! All these among innumerable tests, tours, one day matches, assorted championships and much more. And it is said that the God of men decided to play Cricket for India in 1989, and 22 years later, is still playing.
But the real deal broke when when someone found that there is tons of money to be made off the couch potato generation who ate and slept cricket but drank only bubbly sugar water. What followed was a mad frenzy with everyone irrespective of their industry from Real Estate, Oil, Tyre, Media, Telecom, Soft Drink, Automobile, Potato Chips, Pan Masala, Tobacco, Booze and you name it – jumping upon cricketing bandwagon. Every centimeter of player-wear was an advertisement space, every four six, wicket, ball, each stretch of the field could be used to convey to the cricket watching masses that sanitary pads are available for just Rs.20. Televised cricket matches became a whole day parade of crappy TV ads interrupted by some cricket here and there. With money to be made of each ball bowled, marketers everywhere realized that more cricket = more money. Hence, the concept of ‘seasons’ was abandoned, cricket became an all-year affair with as many matches squeezed in as possible leading to cricket overkill and causing people like me to declare an unfollow on cricket. There was great rejoicing all around in corporate circles.
2008. A Gujarati gentleman looked back at the Gora system of football clubs and the almighty huge amounts of moolah in it, and thought: “Why can’t we do this here, too? In cricket? And why play 50 overs when 20 will do, and provide exclusive advertisement space in between?” Thus was born the IPL, the cricketing equivalent of Las Vegas. An 80 day long excuse for cricketers, Bollywooders, industrialists, fashionistas and other assorted ‘beautiful people’ to make lots of money, consume enormous amounts of alcohol, make lots of money, check out the latest designer swimsuit collections, make lots of money, party the nights away and yes, make lots of money. Oh, and maybe play some cricket in between, too. It also showed us that anyone – including dumb bimbos – can become an ‘expert’ on cricket without actually knowing anything about Cricket. It changed everything. Cricket became less of a sport and more of everything else.
2011. We have Cricket being played almost 365 days a year, and the game has become a multi-billion rupee industry with BCCI becoming the richest sporting body in the world. Television rights are closed for unbelievably astronomical sums, and any advertisement has to be vaguely ‘Cricket-y’ even if it makes no sense at all. People spend their time watching hours of advertisements with some intrusive cricket in between. Cricketers are no longer just players, but they are playboys, models, part-time actors and above all, businessmen, and are worshipped as demigods in this country where hero-worship is a way of life. Cricket crazy hoardes are willing to endure anything including sleepless nights and canes of Policemen to get that coveted ticket to watch their Gods in action. Yes, Cricket has become a religion in this country of religions. In fact, Cricket nowadays can be likened to those infamous K serials –
- Not just scripted, but badly scripted
- Skip a couple of matches/installments and you won’t miss anything
- Too many faces to remember
- Pointless, boring, waste of time, can’t keep track of ’em all
- Goes on and on and on and on…
Even then, there is still a great deal of rejoicing all around.
It is said that Cricket was first invented by some Anglo-Saxons who sat shivering on their wet, soggy and foggy island as a way to make best use of the Sun’s warmth whenever it came out. They introduced it to their colonies, which took it up and some of them found it to be perfect as it required less physical endurance compared to other popular sports, was easy to play, was longer and yes, more profitable. And it might be just irony that India today rules the sport which was invented by the same people who ruled over them for hundreds of years. But how long will this be sustainable? We are getting tired of the wham-blam-smash format of T20 already, and playing more and more IPLs might lead to total fatigue. All said, I wish India wins the World Cup this time!
In the end, Cricket is not the only real winner, but everyone else associated with it is. But one question Ravi Shastri has not yet answered yet, is, in the end, who is the real loser?