When cricket is religion, even God is spectator

A couple of nights ago when there was a bomb blast at Varnasi, on a night when more murky revelations came to the fore on the combined venality of politicos and corporates in the 2G scam, on a night when several disturbing questions emerged on the propriety of a charge-sheeted CVC continuing in the office, I, too, like most other Indians at that uncomfortable, chilly, dark moment, sat there anxiously grappling with that one insistent, wracking existential question: Is it the end for India or can Yousuf Pathan pull it off at Bangalore against a bunch of sheep-rearers

Yes, this is the quintessential beauty of cricket: It breeds spectacular and callous irresponsibility. Many of us Indians have cocooned our lives around this monumental irresponsibility and think the whole thing to be a matter of pride. When you come down to the question of why this pointless, laidback game holds so much sway over us, you will realise that this is the only sport that allows anyone to be an expert. Even an Arun Lal, I mean.

The point is you need not know anything about cricket to appreciate it. I can barely spell cricket, but I have not let that fact come in the way when attempting this piece. But, as I was saying, you can get away with anything in cricket. The game’s umpires do, in any case.

These are supposedly well-trained, well-qualified men who are positioned right at the centre of action with the explicit purpose of giving informed decisions on matters that happen bang in front of their eyes on the field of play. But what do most umpires do when a verdict is sought from them? Well, they usually draw a notional ‘square’ in the air and go back to blending with the weather, while another umpire sitting in a box in the stands probably googles and conveys back what happened on the pitch. Ok, the Supreme Court judges in India are also prone to such things. But they are SUPREME COURT JUDGES. (You dare not say anything against them because you fear that you may weaken an important pillar of democracy? No, you fear the wrath of contempt of court laws even more).

Mind you, they have two umpires on the field of play. Why two, when one itself is irrelevant and totally useless?  You cannot question these things because cricket sets much store by tradition, by which I mean, stupidity. Britishers, who popularised this game, were basically ready to put up with any amount of ridiculousness because of their wretched weather. They were so desperate for some action under the sun that they didn’t even mind playing cricket with France.

Yes, France was one of the early movers into the game. But apparently standing aimlessly under the sun proved too much work for the French, who liked to conserve their energy for more strenuous and robust challenges, like popping open the wine bottle. If you have been to Paris, you will realise that the only thing that the French seem to do all day is sit around the bistros and eat, sip, discuss and debate all day. I presume the French are still talking about the amazing Eiffel Tower, much of whose wonder stems from the wonder why at all was it built. Ok, it’s an imposing tower providing a bird’s eye view of Paris, but it doesn’t serve any practical purpose beyond providing a scenic perch to attempt suicides. Ok, Qutub Minar is equally hideously useless. But then you are talking about Mughal architecture, which otherwise specialised in practical structures for every-day human use: Tombs, I mean.

I know we have digressed into unconnected areas. But this is another of the inviolable traditions in cricket. A cricket match news-piece is generally split as follows: Weather bulletin, geological report (the pitch report), arithmetic (masters in mathematics dissertation if the Duckworth and Lewis rule is in the equation) tables, and many useless adjectives. The remaining 1% is devoted to describing the actual action on the field of play.

The game’s most celebrated writer, Neville Cardus, was asked to report on cricket by his newspaper because he was very good in music reviews. Ahem! This is also a regular feature in the field itself: Wicket-keepers are known to be picked for their skill in batting. Or, if you are specifically talking of Wriddiman Saha, because of his natural skill in having been born in Bengal.

And if you ask many of us Tamilians the question, ‘name the person who has left his leader down very badly and squandered all the goodwill and the opportunities that came his way’, pat will come our answer: no, not A Raja, but Dinesh Karthick.

As I was saying, we don’t consume cricket as much cricket consumes us. In the coming days, things are going to get worse as the game’s biggest showpiece event is all set to be unveiled. Of course, I am referring to the IPL auction (World Cup action is bagatelle in comparison).

Already, the many franchisees have made their moves. Chennai Super Kings have retained Dhoni and Albie Morkel. Delhi Daredevils is going with Sehwag. Mumbai Indians can boast of Tendulkar and Pollard. But this time around the winner may be Kolkata Knight Riders, because it can up the ante by saying: Mere Pass Agarkar Nahi Hai!

PS: If you are wondering what is the provocation for this article. Well, an international cricket match is (was) on in Chennai where the game is a huge tradition. Publicly running down celebrated things is another of Chennai’s tradition. So there!