How Virat Kohli and Co reignited my interest in Test cricket, but some things don’t change
I used to be a supporter of the Indian cricket team, but over the last few years my fandom has lost its mojo. A bit like a glutton who no longer enjoys stuffing himself, this happened not overnight but gradually. One obvious reason was the passing into retirement of the golden generation of Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Srinath, Kumble and Sehwag. For none of them did retirement feel like a premature decision, such is the implacably usurious nature of sporting time as it collects back the great abilities it has lent you. In consonance, perhaps it was also time for many of us to retire as cricket fans, or so I told myself.
It’s not cricket
Despite fading interest there was definitely huge pleasure in watching us lift the 2011 World Cup, but after that, the game, so to speak, was definitely up. Being world champions didn’t make up for us getting slammed 0-4 twice, in Test series in England and Australia (Imran Khan then sneering at a lecture in Calcutta: ‘0-8! That takes consistency!’), and the resistible rise of the ghastly Indian Premier League added to the growing distaste. It wasn’t that we’d suddenly become a howling, jingoistic cricketing nation — we’d been that since 1983. It wasn’t only now that far too many of our cricketers were arrogant, over-moneyed cockerels who didn’t know how to steer their fame and wealth — that had been the case since the 1980s. It wasn’t that the nexus of corporate houses and politicians had only just begun to mutilate the game for their own purposes. Perhaps it was the accumulative effect of all this over the last twenty-odd years that put me off. Or perhaps it was the fact that there was no way we could be seen as underdogs anymore. Coupled with this, we now had the richest Board, ruthlessly swinging the biggest bat in the International Cricket Council, leveraging our ‘advantage’ into the perpetuation of a mega-business, often to the detriment of the game. There was no pleasure watching us stamp all over a diminished West Indies, or a New Zealand or a Bangladesh, and now – god help me – not even over an organisationally shattered Pakistan. With Sri Lanka things were more or less equal. But, despite our overdog status, we were still regularly being bitten to shreds by Australia, England and South Africa, especially on their grounds and especially in Test matches.
Given all this, of late I’ve most happily watched games between other countries: Bangladesh putting up a good fight against nominally stronger opposition, or Sri Lanka or Pakistan (the nouveau-David) against Australia, England or SA. Matches between the latter three are also okay but (perhaps unfairly) I find them comparable to eating really bland western food.
All this began to change somewhat as India continued to lose Test matches. My jaded appetite was further whetted when M.S. Dhoni decided to exit the stage of the longer game in Australia and one could suddenly see a different spark in Kohli & Co. Further salivation ensued when, sitting in the U.K., I decided to ignore the recent India v. England Test series and found myself hungrily gathering scraps of series highlights afterwards. By the time this Australian team landed here, I found myself ready once again to ‘participate and partake’, as they say.
Appetite for more
Kohli and crew have shown true Indian hospitality, especially in the first Test and almost half of the second one as well. As in 2001, we lost the first match by a chunky margin (though in ’01 we didn’t give too much to the token spinner the Aussies were carrying), and clawed back the second Test from a bad position. As in the 2007-08 series with the Maanki-gate business, we have sledging overdrive and multiple personal rubs, this time with the added spicing of allegations of gamesmanship and counter-allegations. At 1-1 the series is nicely set up, and there is every chance there will be further crazy cricket inside the boundary ropes and more mayhem outside. However, what is more pronounced than ever before is the big business aspect of the game and the tiresome jingoism of a country that still achieves almost nothing in any sport other than cricket. Even as the officials, both Indian and international, try and shove the DRS-gate under the carpet, people are quite rightly suggesting that business as usual is not an option. You can disagree with the viewpoint, but when a friend wrote an article arguing that either Kohli or Smith has to produce evidence or resign his captaincy, the response on the Net was nasty.a
One comment went: ‘Your article proves how [name of the website] works, are [they] paid by the Australians to write articles against India?’ and another response went: ‘Yeh aadmi sala Aussie ***licker hai.’ As the third Test approaches, I’m looking forward to the cricket. I’m also not averse to a bit of confrontation on field and off. But what I don’t have the stomach for is the huge pseudo-patriotic noise that surrounds the game in our country.