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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Cricket Passion and a trip down Memory Lane

I must be really crazy. I am pushing forty - no, let me be honest, I am already forty - and here I am - jumping and screaming and typing furiously into a cricket chat box to broadcast my views on this India - Sri Lanka one-dayer that is becoming a thriller with every passing moment. The left side of my brain tells me - come on, relax - you are forty now - behave your age. And, at exactly the same moment - as if to ensure it does not lose control of me - the right side of my brain drags me right back into the game - to hell with age. Be yourself - you don't want to miss this, do you ?

I choose to go with the right side - and am glad I do. I scream my guts out - I type my fingers numb - India, as only India can, come up with something absolutely out of this world to drag themselves back from certain defeat and elimination to a cool, thoroughly well-orchestrated triumph. Boy, am I glad I listened to that right side !

I may be forty - but nobody will ever be able to convince me that I should be letting go of my cricket madness. Quite simply - it has been with me for as long as I can remember and will be with me for as long as I live. Only those really passionate about the game will probably understand what this madness is all about - it defies any rational explanation (but then, isn't that anyway the definition of madness ?) Whether my body has any other enzyme or not, I am sure of an abundantly adequate adrenalin level whenever my country's players walk on to the cricket field.

Over the years, cricket has given me some of the best moments of my life. Through school, through college and beyond, it has been something I have been able to hold on to. In good times and in bad, it has been the one constant that I know I can depend on to take me to a different zone altogether. Some may call it escapism - I would prefer to call it pursuit of a passion that transcends all things material. Things material come and go - a passion is with you as long as you want it to be. Some have it with painting, some with cooking - I have it with cricket. It is not that I do not follow other sports - I do- and some very , if not equally, passionately. But having been born in India, it is rather difficult not to have a cricket bat or ball in your hand sometime in your life - and then it is only a matter of time !

I have been fortunate to have experienced , looking back now over 30 years, the most delightful cricket one can hope for. I could not have asked for more (except for more Indian wins, probably !). They have been the wonder years for me - from my early days when I used to staunchly defend the stylish Gundappa Vishwanath in every Vishwanath-Gavaskar debate (usually I lost this one - but then I was always a right-side-of-the-brain guy) to today when, 30 years later, a frighteningly similar debate rages about another Karnataka-Mumbai pair - Dravid-Tendulkar - and I am as passionate as ever. 30 years on, I feel young - and it is all due to this game called cricket. So let nobody tell me that I am too old for it.

What has changed is the game itself. In every sense. Where should I start ? Batsmen used to play without helmets (very difficult to even imagine now), there used to be a rest day after 3 days of play (it was torture), Test cricket was virtually the only form of international cricket, players used to be paid like they were lucky to get any money at all for playing for their country, sponsorships were virtually unheard of, television (in India) was either not present at all or almost inaccessible to most of the country (making radio commentary absolutely the voice of the game), there were only two umpires and if the decision was wrong - well too bad , countries like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were nowhere on the cricketing map - and yes, one more thing - India used to lose a lot ! Well, a lot has changed indeed !

Most of this is for the better. To those who say "those were the glorious days - today cricket is all crass commercialism", I can only lend my sympathy for their living in the past. The run-rates achieved today in Test cricket are a delight compared to the drudgery of many a game in those days, far more games end conclusively today than did in those days. And technology has done wonders - that I am able to chat with friends, following a game, ball by ball, on the Internet - need I say more !

Yes, there was a different type of magic then - and there is a different type now. Let us not glorify or vilify any era !

In my childhood I used to enjoy reading about and listening to stories of players of a bygone era. Vijay Hazare, Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Manjrekar, Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte - to name just a few Indian greats. I used to devour any article or book on cricket. Partab Ramchand's tribute to Indian cricketers of the past, autobiographies of many famous cricketers like the Don, Sir Garfield Sobers, Conrad Hunte, Ian Chappell. I distinctly remember a series on English pre-war cricket legends that a popular children's magazine of that time , Children's World, came out with. I was totally lost in the world of Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Maurice Leyland, Lesley Ames, Hedley Verity, Archie Maclaren, Tom Hayward, Walter Hammond, Patsy Hendren and many others.

In end-1975, David Frith - one of the most notable of cricket journalists - came out with a beautiful, hardcover collage of every single Ashes Test ever played - from 1877 upto and including the 1975 Ashes series in England. It was in commemoration of 100 years of Test cricket. This book easily became my Bible and I lived every Test match in my mind - from Charles Bannerman in the first-ever Test at Melbourne in 1877 to the last Test of that 1975 series at the Oval when Bob Woolmer played a magnificent, match-saving knock of 149.

I used to build my own statistics from various sources. There was no Internet then - so I used to depend on bits and pieces of information. Thus, in my school library, I found an old copy of Sportweek (1973 or 1974 it was) which had a list of players with averages of over 50. There were just a handful then - and I was thus introduced to players like Tyldesley and Dempster - not exactly household names but, if you look at averages, they most certainly had their place in this Hall of Fame. These statistics promptly went into my own "statistics notebook". The magazine "World of Cricket" - very popular in those days - was my source for statistics of every current series. They had an excellent summary page of statistical highlights. Thus I remember John Edrich and Ian Chappell getting their 5000 runs - a very highly regarded milestone in those days. They also had a very interesting article section - "Down Memory Lane" where, in each issue, they would talk in great detail of one amazing Test match of the past. This is where I learnt about the Tied Test at Brisbane in 1960-61, I read about the amazing Manchester Test of 1961 where Peter May was bowled round his legs by Richie Benaud and that turned the game Australia's way, I read about Gary Sobers' amazing declaration in the 1968 series against England and many, many other games.

None of this will ever be erased from my memory. For the true cricket lover, these are priceless stories and moments - and need to be treasured. And, more importantly, shared. For, what value is a cricket memory - if it is only in the mind of he who has had the delight of experiencing it ?

This is a site where I have had the pleasure of meeting a vast number of extremely likeable, very knowledgeable and considerably passionate cricket fans. If they have interest in listening to a 40-year old babbling about his memories, I would be glad to share some of these with them.
I hope to be able to write more about these in the coming weeks and would love to receive comments, questions from my friends.

I think, as I close this blog now, it is only appropriate to pause for a moment and think not only about what has brought us together but who and how. Had it not been for the wonderful brains of a few enthusiasts, we would have been in our own worlds, enjoying the game in our own ways. These few friends have built for us an opportunity to discuss the game together - an infinitely more enjoyable experience than being on one's own. Personally, they have given me an opportunity to indulge my passion. We owe them a lot. We owe it to them to make their efforts worthwhile - by making the most of this opportunity.

I am sure we will have a wonderful, hugely fun-filled experience doing what we all love most - following and discussing the game of cricket. I look forward, smacking my lips in anticipation, to many heated, divergent (and therefore probably even more interesting) points of view. Bring them on.