Was just reading Dileep Preemachandran’s Wisden India speech when I stopped at this passage:
My second question is this: What makes a sport? The players are at the centre of the sporting universe, because they’re the ones that make our dreams reality. The other indispensable element is the fan. Everyone else, whether it’s the administrators or the media, gets something out of sport. Those that invest financially usually get their rewards. But what of emotional investment?
I came across a couple of boys in Nagpur just before the India-South Africa World Cup game. They’d travelled 10 hours by train in an unreserved compartment to get there. They had no hotel room. They had freshened up and had a quick bite at the railway station and once the match was over, they had to head back to Mumbai the same way.
Passion is the most abused word in sport. But travel around India when cricket is played, and you can still feel it…people who get nothing tangible from the game, but give so much of themselves to it.
My parents tell me that when I was a child, they could predict my mood based on the Indian team’s scorecard. I don’t feel like that anymore (well, not usually), so Dileep’s passage got me thinking: a) What happens to a cricket fan as he ages? How does his childlike passion for the game change? b) Can a cricket writer be a critic and a spectator at the same time? c) Does watching more cricket deaden the rush of victory (or pain of defeat)? Is it like a drug that fights tolerance, or a good music album that yields more pleasure with every extra listen?
I ask all this because of all the comments made during India’s World Cup run this year, Sanjay Manjrekar’s comments in Bangladesh still stick out for me. During the opening ceremony (in Dhaka), he said the atmosphere reminded him of India in the 1990s (I’m sure the Bryan Adams soundtrack helped). The Bangladeshis seemed so much more innocent, he reported, compared to Indian fans. Is this because cricket coverage has grown so much more sophisticated (what with Hawkeye and replays and what not?) that the Indian cricket child has grown into a cricket management consultant? Or has blogging turned us all into detached cricket analysts, always eager to step back from the emotions caused by the game and ask, “Why do I feel this way? What explains my reaction here?” Or is it all this money, these contracts, the board politics — the stuff of adults? Maybe the simple fact of success — the Test wins, the World Cup, the T20 World Cup — maybe just victory ushers in maturity and its own brand of angst?
I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the game. I obviously do. And I still feel like a child-fan during the best moments (like, say, VVS + Ishant against Aus.). But more often than not, I think more about the commentary and the strategy. I’ve rarely felt like hopping in a stand, the way many spectators in India do, when a boundary has been struck, or holding my head stunned when a wicket falls. “Oh, that magic feeling…Oh, where’d it go?“