A fan is born

A mail landed up in my inbox a few weeks ago, asking if the mailer — recently arrived in India and already converted into a full-fledged cricket fan — could do a guest post on this blog on how he got hooked on the game. Here’s his story:

To watch Trinidad and Tobago bite the dust was a sad, sad moment during my stay in India and a bitter moment in my new life as a cricket fan.

Chikodi at bat

Chikodi at bat -- and I totally love those leafy bails

A few months ago I hardly knew what cricket was, but on that Friday night I felt a bond with tens of millions of Indian cricket fans in support of an unlikely cast of underdogs just forty overs away from worldwide stardom. However, as the tenth wicket fell, I was caught up in a swell of collective grief that I’m sure blankets much of the cricket world, save perhaps Australia.

In a noisy and rock & roll  bar in Bangalore’s Koramangala neighborhood, I patiently explained to a fellow American the rules and scoring system  of cricket as T&T bowled and New South Wales piled on the runs. How had I learned so much about cricket, and so fast, my friend wondered?

It’s true — Americans know next to nothing about cricket, but after three months in India I consider myself a bona fide nut, and few people I know would be willing to take the other side of that argument.

Living for the last four years in New York City, I’ve watched from a distance as cricketers from the sub-continent and the West Indies engaged in the world’s second most popular sport, either on the campus of The City University of New York, or in a few parks in the Bronx and Brooklyn. I was never curious to join, and I wasn’t terribly interested in watching either.

My first weekend back in Bangalore, I played gully cricket in a friend’s backyard and the experience was all I needed to become hooked. To the amazement of my Indian friends, I quickly showed a knack for cricket. Because I grew up playing little league baseball, the eye/hand coordination needed to bat was the same, and bowling was just a full-bodied version of pitching. Next time I play, I hope we go to an open field somewhere I can crush a few balls without breaking any windows.

What captivates me about cricket is the athleticism, the skill level involved and, of course, the razzle dazzle off the field. Cricketers are much more athletic than baseball players; they are expected to bat, bowl and field balls with their bare hands. While a 20 over match may end in just three hours, test cricket is a trial of both physical and mental endurance unlike any other sporting contest I know.

It would seem cricket has even less chance of catching on in the States than soccer, but if Americans knew what huge celebrities cricketers are in India and how much they are paid, they might rethink their sports-related career ambitions.

In America, the legends of basketball, hockey, football and baseball have to share the spotlight with 3,000 other pro athletes, while professional cricketers in India are part of an ultra-exclusive club with just a few hundred living members. The media follows their every move: Harbhajan Singh’s latest brawl with the police commands as much attention as the election to the state legislature.

There’s also the matter of national pride, which can be neatly summed up in India’s intense cricket rivalry with neighboring Pakistan. If America’s Confederate and Union armies had baseball teams, their matchup would be the closest analog to the meeting between Indian and Pakistani cricket teams, two of the sport’s fiercest competitors who engage in periodic contests eagerly awaited by tens if not hundreds of millions.

During the Airtel Champion’s League Twenty20, I was fortunate to attend two matches in Bangalore: the tournament opener featuring Royal Challengers vs Cape Cobras, and the doubleheader of Cape Cobras vs. Victoria Bushrangers and Royal Challengers Bangalore vs. Delhi Daredevils.

The mood inside the stadium was electric throughout, with the crowds rarely going silent even when two non-Indian teams were contesting. Only America’s most storied sports franchises, such as Duke basketball or University of Michigan football, can come close to that kind of atmosphere.

Having also lived in Brazil, I think it is possible to argue that Indians are even more single-minded in their devotion to cricket than Brazilians are into soccer — the jury is still out.

As a full-fledged cricket nut, I felt the loss of T&T on multiple levels. First, T&T was not a team anyone considered for the championship game until they thrashed the Diamond Eagles on a Sunday, then trampled the Cape Cobras the following Thursday in a thrilling 168 run chase. Although T&T had already beaten New South Wales, their team was an underdog in the tournament — and everyone loves to root for the little guy.

Secondly, nearly half the starting 11 for T&T are of Indian origin, such as team captain Daren Ganga, wicket keeper Dinesh Ramdin and slugger and bowler Adrian Barath. The swagger and colourful styles of the team made them endlessly entertaining to watch.

Now that the CLT20 tournament has drawn to a close, I’ll have to content myself with reruns of classic matches and the prospect of IPL3. Let’s hope it can live up to all the hype.

From his mail, I understand that Chikodi grew up in Seattle, Washington playing soccer for his father’s club team. His first exposure to cricket came in the movie ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ Today his favorite cricketers are Dilshan, Harbarjan Singh and Dwayne Bravo.

He completed his MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism this May before moving to Bangalore; earlier, he has worked at Google’s world headquarters in California and at MTV in New York City.

Chikodi writes about travel and technology in developing economies on his blog www.techtrotter.org where you will find a post on how India turned him into a sports fan; he also posts on cricket and other interests on Twitter: @chikodi

On Cricinfo Gopal Rangachary talks of how he became a cricket fan. Strikes me, though we are all fans of the game, each of us acquired our fanboy status in different ways. Chikodi and Gopal have their stories; what’s yours?

Unrelated, I’m done with work for the day/week; tomorrow has some running around scheduled which, hopefully, will end in time for me to get to watch the game. Random thoughts, if any occur, on Twitter. And back here Monday.

12 thoughts on “A fan is born

  1. Pingback: .:: TechtTrotter – Innovation Happens Everywhere ::. – How to think like an Indian

  2. Pingback: superstarksa.com | Blog Archive | The Birth of The Cricket Fan in Me

  3. no way cricket players are more athletic than baseball players…the fact that they don’t use a glove makes for less spectacular catches, and there’s a million times more athleticism in baseball and games are shorter, quicker with more suspense and drama.

  4. Pingback: Share your First Cricket Story | DesiPundit

  5. It was the 1983/84 West Indies series in India. This was after the world cup win and was the revenge series from WI pov. To me, the world cup was not such a big thing then as I did not get to see the games on TV. We got a TV just before the West Indies series and the test matches were shown live. I was thrilled to see Marshall terrorizing the Indian team including the great Gavaskar. It was equally thrilling to see Gavaskar and Shastri tear the same attack to shreds (!) at the Chepauk later in the series.

    Viv Richards strode around inducing awe in us kids.

    The England series later that year was also something we kids loved to watch – there were new, young heroes for us kids – Shastri, L Siva, Azharuddin, Krish Srikanth all made their presence felt in that series. Although India lost both the test and ODI series, we somehow liked the team then. The same team then went on to win the WCC tournament at Australia and Shastri became the Champion of Champions. This victory was then quickly followed by the famous Sharjah game where India routed Pak for 86 after being 125 all out themselves. The period between 1984 to 1986 (till Miandad hit that six off the last ball) was the Golden period when nothign could go wrong with the team. We also had a good time in England (2-0) and Australia (we could have won the series but for the umpires playing for Australia).

    For us kids living in tier II cities like Coimbatore, TV coverage (that too in colour) was probably the turning point.

    Most of us who were playing football and tennis at school got converted to cricket around this time.

  6. Wow! Quite unrelated but is this the best website to view on iPhone! It has the look and feel of an app within a safari session.

  7. Pingback: How I Became a Cricket Fan « The Overlord

  8. If I think carefully and try to remember as much as I can.. I was perhaps born playing, watching, talking, thinking cricket.. It was the only game we/I played regularly (others were all passing phases) in Mumbai – on the ground, the building terrace, the building steps (literally with the batsman on the top level and bowler on the lower one), in the apartment (literally playing multiple day innings), in school, in the school bus, in books (book cricket), on table (table cricket) and wherever we could, in whatever form, independent of the number of players!

    Automatic fan, I guess…

  9. I was born in Nigeria and didn’t particularly care for cricket until my family moved to India. Even then, for a couple of years I had a passing interest. The 96 world cup was my entry point. I clearly remember Manjrekar’s catch of Ponting, Sachin smacking McGrath and then getting stumped off Mark Waugh, Jadeja mauling Waqar, Sanath and kalu’s brutality, SA deciding to rest Donald and getting hammered by Lara, Steve Waugh bowling Lara in the semis and triggering a collapse, and Aravinda’s classy hundred in the final. Later on there was the Titan Cup when Kumble and Srinath won a match against the Aussies. There was the Azhar-Kumble partnership vs SA@Eden Gardens.

    The 1998-1999 was the season when I finally became a true cricket nut. ODI tourney’s won by India, Sachin Vs Shane, Laras 3 hundreds Vs Aus, the Aus-SA ODI Rivalry, the Ind-Pak Chennai test and Kumbles 10 wickets stand out. It also coincided with an improvement in my own cricket skills. I would no longer get out for a duck in the neighbourhood cricket matches.

    This wonderful article is perfectly representative of me and my current state of cricket fandom.

  10. World Cup ’83 did it for me… I was totally oblivious to cricket and the win got all my classmates at school talking about it and made me curious. Vizag, where I grew up, did not have a great TV reception at that time. Not willing to reveal my total ignorance of the rules, I took turns to do a “Quiz” with my classmates and learnt a lot from it. The AIR commentary helped as well. The TV coverage map exploded in 1984 and I have a fan ever since. Cricinfo and your match reports re-lived the match situation for me ever since I moved to the US.

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