The Five Stages ..

As always there is an air of anticipation at the start of the first match of a widely billed series of the summer. Unlike the overenthusiastic former player who tries to invoke McGrath in the mental disintegration with talks of a 4-0 whitewash I am filled with trepidation. Pune has not been a happy hunting ground for India recently as the World T20 game against New Zealand proved. On a spin friendly wicket roles were reversed and tables turned.

When a similar wicket greeted viewers for this test match – most people thought the obvious. Same script seen multiple times in the past. Asian teams bullying tourists on dust bowls in the name of home advantage.
What I experienced and probably  a few other fans did too – was the five stage grieving process.

Denial was an emotion I started feeling early on the second day. At around 11 pm central with eyelids heavy with sleep I looked up and saw the scoreline – 45 for 3. Ah but all three had gone to pace – surely that could be an aberration. The pacemen will not operate for long and the spinners shouldn’t trouble the batsmen.

It can’t be happening – at about 3 am in the morning Australia is batting again. With half open eyelids I can make out 6 wickets against a bowler – he is listed second on the card so probably is Hazelwood. Still it can’t be real – am I dreaming? Hopefully the morning will change things. But sleep is elusive – what if it’s true. Now I am sitting propped up against the pillows. Let the eyelids open fully – surely I was mistaken earlier. It cannot be true can it?

Disbelief leads to sleep deprivation. A void seems to be forming in the mind – a blankness slowly taking over the senses.

Its the nature of sport. What goes around comes around. Game is a great leveller. All those aphorisms come to mind – and there is something I can feel welling up. Anger.

I am angry at myself first. For letting myself along this path again. The anger then expands its range finding new targets – the individual players, openers, Pujara, Kohli, spinners for coming second best, the curator for again succumbing to the fallacy of home field advantage, DRS for turning decisions into a lottery, the powers that be that had to go for a new venue and the list goes on.

But maybe not all is lost. Maybe there is a grander design here – a come from behind victory that will be a crowning moment of Kohli’s captaincy. It is possible still. They are still only 300 ahead. What if its a target less than 400. Maybe more than what we bargained for but it could happen. Laxman and Kolkata may be coloring my view of the world a bit but can this hope fall short of foolishness and naïveté?

Sleep does not come easy.  Lots of emotions trying to pop their head but I fight them and keep my mind clear. The eyelids open halfway at 3 am. Nervousness and an impending sense of doom take over. The fingers unlock the phone and the browser shows the scorecard. This time it does not take long to register.  The crevices begin to open up and despair and depression engulf the canvas of the mind.

I toss and turn – what if we could rewind the whole situation. Pretend it never happened and start over.

A new day. I try hard to avoid reading any reviews or news related to this event. But some news filters through. Of 12 wickets in the match by a spinner but not the one you expected. Of this being a wake-up call.

Meanwhile the kids still wake up at their usual time, the school bus comes as before, the meeting with the boss happens at its scheduled time. Life as has been defined for me seems to move along. And in that path acceptance is a given.

Time to take fresh guard.

Hometown Hero

Jan 15, 2017

Wow!! This is why we watch live sport.

The excitement of being in the moment, performing when everyone is watching must be something else altogether.  I am getting old by the day but I still feel the same nervousness and heartache when the target gets closer. It probably is the same for any sport one follows and may be cricket is the chosen one for me. I enjoy other American sports – I truly do. But I just cannot bring myself to the same level of commitment as a spectator.

This morning was another one of those bilateral 50 over internationals that people complain of lacking significant context. Maybe six months from now it will disappear from the archives of memory – only remembered as a hyperlink in a footnote of a larger narrative in Cricinfo or Wisden. Why then would I bother setting things aside just to follow a newer set of players under a new captain achieve a target with hurdles along the way?

Kedar Jadhav is a guy I have been following in IPL. He is not dissimilar to many other names I have come across over the years – Atul Bedade, Kanitkar, VB Chandrashekhar, Yusuf Pathan and hundreds more. There is a story behind every name. Some shone brightly under the spotlight and then faded away. Some had fate playing different games on them.

The story plays out differently with stand-out highlights along the way. Today’s would be a game that will have a place in any future narrative that plays out for Jadhav. Here is a guy playing in front of his home crowd with his parents, wife and little girl among the many cheering him on. How many times have we seen this in sporting movies and biopics. They follow a template and it would seem we would be immune to the tricks of the template. But we are not – every one of those stories tugs at our emotional selves and we forget for a moment that we are but inconsequential bystanders.

Scorecards and statistics are what will remain but what of the feelings of the spectators on the ground cheering for their hometown hero?  As someone watching on TV the sense of déjà vu is inevitable – the mind went back to a game in Bangalore with the local boys Kumble and Srinath guiding the team to victory using their batting skills with the camera panning to images of their nervous parents in the crowd. You could not have scripted a blockbuster sport movie any better .

And what do we say of Captain Kohli that has not been said already? This was his first match as captain after Dhoni relinquished the captaincy in the limited overs format and what a way to take the baton!! The shots he played will replayed in highlights packages and written about by writers with greater literary flourish but for me it was a vindication of years I have spent following this game. From my callow youth to a stage which people have labeled mid-life crisis, cricket has been a constant.  Self-imposed exiles from and renunciations of cricket worship have not lasted long.

Its at moments like today when Kohli and Jadhav were making things look easy that I feel my years have not been wasted. We seek pleasure, thrill and reflection with our experiences in life and I have got more than my share with my cricket watching experience.