Have you ever tried to understand why cricket is so popular in India? It occurred to me, while in the course of typing the previous line, that cricket has so many followers and fans because it pretty much allows Indians to do what they even otherwise indulge themselves in: Gather around, munch something, and dole out free advice on how it should have been done.
Cricket innately meets the Indian national ethos of armchair expertise, wherein anyone endowed with an ability to speak airs an opinion on just about anything. There are people out there who will, even without batting an eyelid, tell Tendulkar how to bat.
Other sports, with their action-intense moments, perhaps enjoin followers to be capable of some athletic prowess, but cricket is so accommodative that it is the only sport in which it is actually possible for a participating player in the arena to yawn in the midst of full-blown action.
It is also the sport that can involve Inzamam-ul-Haq, who is technically less nimble than the exhibits at Madam Tussaud’s. Even in golf, which essentially seems to be a cure for people afflicted with terminal insomnia, players have to be sharp, as otherwise they may slip and fall into one of the bunkers or water bodies that constitute a course. Of course, it is not uncommon to find spectators at golf tournaments dozing off. But anyone going to watch golf doesn’t deserve to be wakeful in the first place.
Till cricket became the TV-friendly sport that it is now, there were cricketers on the fields who performed lesser physical action than those watching and eating chips. Gavaskar once batted through a limited overs match —- 60 overs, mind you —- scoring 36 not out. After the match, he was quoted as saying that he could not get out even when he tried to. Perhaps, nobody was awake enough to get him out. See, cricket is that sort of a game!
There are moments, especially during a Test match, when you can almost feel time standing still. Nothing would happen as even the desultory afternoon wind would have been put to sleep. The general suspicion is that it is at this hour that most of the records which cricket prides itself on is written into the books by eager statisticians who, by some trick, had managed to stay awake. Cricket fans later memorise these numbers and generally try to convince the rest of the world that they had been awake all through the match. So, the thumb rule of cricket watching has to be: The one who reels out the most statistics is the one who had slept the most.
The thing crazier than cricket’s number fixation is its idiosyncrasies. The lunch break of a Test match day is a good example to start with. If you are working in an office and exit for lunch after two hours of aimless stroll then possibly you will be given the marching orders. But in cricket, if you don’t break for lunch at the appointed time then you will be hauled up before the game’s adjudicators. Matches have been ‘fixed’ with the help of criminals, batsmen have played with heavier and wider bats than is allowed, bowlers have tampered with the ball, fielders have claimed catches after taking the ball on the bounce, but cricket in its entire history has never compromised on its lunch and tea timings. So, for all practical purposes, the whole idea of playing cricket is to break off for lunch or tea right on the dot.
Cricket maybe essentially a construct of mathematicians, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were told that it (cricket) was accidentally invented by either Issac Newton or Leibnitz during their pursuit of unravelling calculus. Every action on the field has some ‘record’ tagged to it that most cricket reporting is essentially an alpha-numeric pursuit, and who knows only those who have masters in mathematics are allowed to become cricket reporters. There are news articles on Sachin Tendulkar composed entirely by endless adjectives of numbers that it is impossible to get a word from any language edgeways.
For the record: I have so far written 784 news articles on cricket. That puts me 4th on the all-time list.