‘What will I tell my son?’

Of the responses in the wake of my post of this morning, one — from Professor Upadrasta Ramamurty of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore — is particularly poignant. Here it is, with Ram’s permission, in full:

Dear Prem

Just read your piece on smoke signals. Well written – as always.

Exactly my thoughts/feelings. I have been in love with this sport and everyone knows this. (In fact the other day my director talked to me about ‘being relaxed at the crease to score runs!’)

So, the way the game is heading saddens me. But I guess I can live with that. We tend to become cynical as we grow old and the developments in cricket for the past two decades only reinforce those cynical attitudes.

But what I am concerned about is my boy – all of thirteen years old – and just about falling in love with this game. He goes to coaching here in Malleswaram and day-dreams of becoming a player one day. (In fact, he slyly asked whether we would allow him to go to the after-match parties when he becomes an IPL player!)

My heart gets wrenched when I want to tell him that there is no difference between WWE and IPL.

With people like RSD, AK and VVS gone/going, whom do I ask him to idolize? How do I tell him that this is not the game worth falling in love?

Not just him…but a million other kids, who wear whites and lug the heavy kits every morning to the grounds, with a hope to play big one day!
How do you answer Ram? What could you possibly say to his son?

Paradise Lost

And so I find myself in an emotional cauldron; in a sport I love, in a tournament whose cricket I genuinely believe in, but in an atmosphere, even if created by a few, tinged with moral decay and danger. I feel sadness and fear. I am angry very often, but from time to time expectation wells up within: that my sport might emerge stronger, that out of pain a better sport will evolve.

I am partly in denial; I want my sport to embody everything I have experienced within it: beauty, bravery and flair, everything that brings a smile. I want to be happy, I want to shout out that good vastly overwhelms bad. But another part of me is hoping that whatever has to tumble out does, that cricket finds its deepest caverns so those conspiring there can be exposed; that cricket feels so much pain that it will do what it takes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Neither emotion is viable, for I know cricket will continue to exist, like everything else, with the nicest and the bravest alongside the cowardly and the machiavellian.

In his latest think piece for Cricinfo, Harsha speaks of sadness, of fear and of anger — and all of these emotions are reflected in the minds of fans. SMSes from friends, Twitter posts I noticed in passing, blogs written by cricket fans, emails — they all speak of the same feelings.

To that list I have one entry to add: bereavement. The abiding sense of loss that is a direct consequence of being deprived of something dear to me.

Losing mom, then losing the last vestiges of faith in a game that has captivated me (and, for a time, even paid for my daily bread and butter) since childhood, all in the same week, is I guess just an exemplar of misfortunes not coming singly — but never mind that.

What I wonder now, amidst these ruins, is this: how do I watch a cricket match again?

Earlier, when a batsman of the highest caliber had a brain-fade and got out to a silly shot, I’d marvel at the impact of pressure on even the strongest and most skilled.

Earlier, when a bowler known to get bounce and turn bowled flat and short, I’d wonder why his muscle memory was breaking down, whether he had developed some form of twinge in shoulder or arm and was attempting to soldier on regardless.

Earlier, when towels were brandished on the field of play I wondered whether, unseen and unnoticed by us in front of our TV screens, dew had begun to play a part in proceedings, and if so how it would impact on the remaining course of play.

Earlier, when an umpire flubbed a simple LBW appeal I’d think, the guy is human, look at the demands on him — he has to be looking down, monitoring the landing of the bowler’s front foot and less than a second later, he had to have shifted his gaze to the other end and computed a dozen different parameters relating to where the ball landed and the line it held or did not and movement or lack thereof and bounce or lack thereof and batsman’s intent to play or not and… it is a miracle they get any call right, I’d think.

Now? What do I do now, when every action on the field of play makes me wonder?

Is that player adjusting his wrist band because it was getting sweat-soaked, or because oh god no…

That batsman who played a shot that would have provoked censure in schoolboy cricket — ‘What was he thinking?’ has now become ‘Who paid him how much to do that?’

That player who was promoted out of turn while far better batsmen waited in the hut? ‘Captain’s gamble’ has now become ‘bookie’s fix’.

That fast full ball down the leg side? I used to think that was the bowler second-guessing the batsman’s intent to charge him and adjusting accordingly. Now I think, uh oh, is that a means of ensuring that the target for runs delivered in that over is met?

That umpiring mistake? In my mind, ‘human error’ has been replaced by ‘human greed’.

Harsha speaks in his piece of the hope that this present mess will end in the eventual cleansing of cricket (a hope, incidentally, that has been expressed by him, and so many well-meaning commentators like him, any number of times these past 13 years — despite repeated manifestations of evidence to the contrary).

I agree with his premise that such a tragedy is opportunity in disguise; that it can, properly utilized, result in leaving the game healthier, cleaner than before.

Skim through this, however — what conclusion can you draw other than that the sport and its administrators have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity?

There are very, very few illusions that survive our childhood. In fact, there is just one — that sport is clean and pure and wholesome and good. Thanks to the greed of the few and the willful blindness of those who run this game, even that last illusion now lies shattered.

In a little under 48 hours I have to be at this holy place in Kerala, to consign the last vestiges of my mother to the elements. Seems to me that at the same time, I will also be ridding myself of the last remaining vestiges of my innocence; mourning the end of one of the very, very few things that were capable of giving me unalloyed joy.

Given time, I could forgive the administrators of this sport for all their sins of omission and commission. But this?

How do you forgive someone for taking from you the one thing that was clean, and good, and wholesome?

PS: Just how scary is it when Lalit Modi makes sense?

Isn’t Srinivasan’s conflict of interest (he is the BCCI president and owns Chennai Super Kings) hurting the IPL?

Of course! I’ve been saying that for years — and for years no one has listened. Now the penny is beginning to drop. I was wrongly accused of having an interest in franchises and wrongly castigated as a consequence. The board president’s ownership of Chennai is indisputable but for him, it doesn’t seem to matter. Of course it is hurting the IPL. It strikes at the very credibility of the tournament and the results are there for all to see. Strangely, everyone has just shrugged shoulders and let him get on with it.

Has Srinivasan succeeded in diluting the powers of the IPL commissioner?

It seems no one else has any direct power these days and it is as if no one can speak unless given permission. When this latest spot-fixing scandal was reported, the IPL commissioner did not say anything. The paying public, the people who fill the stadiums, deserve answers but the man who runs the specific tournament in question was nowhere to be seen. Now that might not be entirely down to him, I don’t know, but the lack of communication was terrifying. The problem was massive to start with but so much extra damage is done if the people directly responsible for the tournament don’t react.