13 March, 2007

Good old Cricky

A few days before every big sports event such as an Olympics or a World cup, I oblige myself with the ritual of trotting to the nearest bookstall to ‘grab’ (as the ad’s want me to) my copy of the Sportstar’s special issue to commemorate it. Maybe it is to catch up with all the sport I missed while I was too busy to squat all day in front of the TV, to keep abreast of the relative strengths of the teams as on world cup date, to regale memories of the cups past as well as to get the tear-away poster displaying the match schedules to hang on my cupboard. Needless to say, the ritual forms the first act in letting the fever catch to me.

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The Indian team inspires me. Or actually the Indian cricket team fans inspire me with their never say die attitude. For all the non-performances of the last one year, we still have people as eminent as most of the 1983 world cup winning team saying that there never was a better team than what we have sent to the West Indies to win the world cup.

In fact, even the team inspires me. For about two whole years they’ve been planning the best strategy for the world cup. But they still haven’t got anywhere that can be called foolproof. They’ll surely be going into the world cup saying that, after all, it’s just another game, which can be won like they’ve won so many others. And sure that’s all there is. It also means that for us perennial planners, who never get things actually done till the last minute, there’s hope!

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Call it what you want, calypso, extravaganza or something even better, but the Carribean sure will be delightful. Just for the way they carry themselves in the stands. It’s a pity they wont be allowed to bring in their beer bottles and huge drums. But you can be assured, you wont see much flag burning. Or hopefully, the officials will be lenient. For the sake of the fun!

We’ll have maybe a few million Indians (as opposed to the billion the journalists claim) sitting late into the night to catch every bit of the action. Me? Well, a few matches. Depending on the strength of the teams on match day and reporting time next day at office. Age teaches you a lot. Not least that there’s more to life than cricket (anyway there’s always football)

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We have debated enough about the format of the tournament. Is it too long with useless matches? Maybe, but think about the flipside. For me, the cup will start effectively when India plays its match against England sometime at the end of this month. From then, it will be the eight best teams in the world (and from recent results, the closest cricket can get to having equal powers) testing its wits against each of the rest. Have no doubt, only the strongest will survive. Consistency will be at a premium.

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Now who stands a chance of winning this cup! Well, for all you know, its anyone. It was Australia till a month ago. And then a fateful series final against England and another one day series vs. New Zealand has everyone, and I mean everyone, judging that the cup is now open, not without relief. (Someday, when Roger Federer goes through the same fate, we’ll have critics saying that the beautiful game is good, but competition is the essence of sport. Till then we can resign to the fate of watching a master drooling through competitions for want of a more challenging profession.) But think about it. There were clear favourites for the world cup, and a couple of substitutes for good measure. But today, the only teams going into the world cup winning is India (hooooraaay), West Indies, England and New Zealand.

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What about India? I think (o yes, even I) they can make it if they get their act together. And as often quoted, the secret will be to get into the semi final. But I wont grudge a loss after that. Hey, you got to be modest with your hopes. Even for patriotism. Sometimes I wonder whether we should be so patriotic. The BCCI has gone on record (and unchallenged) that its not actually “our” team. Its theirs! O yeah. Team India belongs to the BCCI. In that case, patriotism will be watching Mandira Bedi and her hysterical ways of running cricket shows. (Oh boy, if only we could have Harsha Bogle and Geoffrey Boycott back). We would have got treated to some ‘cricky’ that was more cricket that masala!