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.

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10 thoughts on “Paradise Lost

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  3. Actually ever since the spot fixing exposure of the pakistani bowlers, every time a bowler bowls a no ball, the “F” thought comes to my mind. Does it affect so much? Not really. Like the art of spot fixing itself, I have started enjoying the little “spots” in matches, little events that entertains. Like those brilliant stops by Warner, the short arm pulls from Hussey, the drives from Dravid, the googly from Ashwin, waiting for Dhoni’s helicopters. And wait for the next test match to start, somehow trying to tell myself that its not as bad in test cricket.

    What will it do to the next generation? Tough to say. My 7 year old just got his taste of fixing when he saw the news of Sreesanth and Chandila not being able to play in next match since they accepted money to bowl bad. He still thinks that its just about those 2-3 players though and might start following a different sport if he understands the whole picture in a few years. Its us, the earlier generation grown up fully in cricket who are finding it tough to either believe or let go.

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  5. We believe in Messiahs, don’t we? We want Sachin to issue a statement and everything will be fine again! Isn’t it this the same man who has accepted membership of a venerable house which he has attended only once so far? What would it have cost him to pass up that opportunity to someone else with more time, inclination and expertise to contribute to that house?

    • Its not about about issuing a statement, its about putting up his hand for the sake of Indian cricket. Using his stature, reputation, membership of the Upper House to help steer cricket out of the mess it is in currently.

  6. Prem, I know it is hard on you and easy for me to say so but please do not equate a personal bereavement with a loss of innocence in a much loved sport. At the end of it all, no sport is really worth that much love.

    As for Indian Cricket, I think it is time that men with undoubted integrity (at least I feel so) like Dravid, Kumble, Sachin, Harsha Bhogle, Srinath, etc., just resign en masse from anything to do with Indian Cricket till this rot is rooted out properly. That will hit BCCI where it matters most – the adoring public would then just stay away -.and force it to get it’s credibility back.

  7. Isn’t it time the likes of Tendulkar speak up, to save the game through which they have given so much pleasure to millions? In 2000 when the scandal first erupted, his voice still had the weight, yet a full career was ahead him. Now at the end of a stellar career when the very connect between the fans and the game hangs on a delicate balance it is his voice that will have the most impact. Being a member of Parliament he is in a position to influence a lot that is wrong with the game, will he decide to act or prefer to watch it from sidelines?

  8. Despite growing evidence (or allegations) suggesting otherwise, a little part of me still wants to believe in the innocence of the game. It is quite difficult but still…

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