I almost missed the match between India and Australia. I didn't switch on the TV, but then, I don't have to. Given that I am one in a family of die-hard cricket fans, there's no escaping the World Cup. Not participating in the general hullaballoo surrounding it is considered a bigger betrayal than not supporting the secular cause. And what I saw that day made me decide that the game had finally met its match on the tube.
But first we had to find the game. My family always acts like novices both on and off the field, just like the cricketers they adulate, so it took several wild shots with the remote to narrow the field. On that day though, all amateurs were the trend, even though we didn't know that just then. And when we finally zeroed in on the right channel, we almost got hit by what the channel threw at us, seemingly at random.
But we're better fielders than most people know and what we caught was a Special Woman Anchor in the studio. I thought we'd got the wrong channel for a moment 'cos she looked like a Roman -- and what do Romans know about cricket? Soccer yes, Olympics OK. But cricket?
My better half told me not to be racist and pointed out that only a couple of days earlier, a country called Holland, which didn't know anything about cricket either, had given us a run for the money. What could I say? Except to hastily ensure that the channel hadn't been surreptitiously changed.
A closer look at the screen revealed the SMAX emblem in the corner -- as well as the fact that the woman had worn her tights on her arms! Made me hastily swing my gaze to the pit. Or did I mean pitch?
The rest of the family was miffed by her. But the more I watched, the more I was struck dumb. She went on about cricket "being a game, right", and wondered how cricketers "felt about playing it". After all those boring statistics and analyses and history and predictions that we're normally bombarded with from sexist males, wasn't it lovely to see the women's viewpoint finally paraded on TV in such a glorious display?
So what if it was a Romanesque view. Hey, I'm not one to complain about our women giving the national dress a teeny twist. Isn't that what googlies are all about -- you think it's one thing and it comes at you as something else. So she was right there in the spirit of the game. Not to forget that with such a dame, even a bra-burning feminist would have quibbled in vain.
To give the Roman her due, she did mention the weather. AND had the privilege of saying "We'll take a short break" and gave us a breather! Tell me, who else would have had the guts to come on TV with all eyes, a sweet smile and nothing else? Of course, with a right arm sheathed like that, even I could leave my IQ at home. Come on friends and countrymen -- here's a Roman to emulate!
The guys as usual missed it -- all they could talk about was how the Indians should have kept a gully on the field. But said nothing about the lack of even a silly point at the studio. Increase women like this to talk about cricket on TV and guess who is going to take a walk.
The only other thing to overshadow the Roman that day came in between those breaks, when our boys in blue made the rest of the country turn a deep red with their play.
And I hope you caught the tiny running headline that keeps moving at the bottom of your screen? Now you saw it, then you didn't. It gave the breaking news: somewhere on the flight between India and Africa, our players had been switched. The Home Minister himself said the ISI was involved in it. Details aren't available but it's pretty clear that's what happened.
So it made sense that we got licked the way we did by Australia. For that game, the parts of all the senior players were played by ISI agents or the players' understudies, depending on your point of view. No matter which one you happen to take, as long as you remember that many of the senior players were fakes. And the juniors, said another caption, would take another twenty years to mature. So who's to blame if the team turned out to be full of duds and people on the make? They were simply not the real thing -- all were fake.
Regardless of what the Minister says, I know for a fact that the "real things" were busy signing modelling contracts. Selling bikes and soft drinks and cell phones. In a global world, its not quite cricket to actually play cricket. You have to market it. Which is what the real boys were real busy doing real well. And whoever said a model's life is easy? It's hard work out there in the advertising world and takes real men to do it. Unlike hanging around in the sun and playing cricket for a country full of adoring old and young 'uns.
Let's not fool ourselves any more. Real men don't waste their time playing cricket in India. And the understudies or ISI agents or whoever gets on the field can only pretend to play. If you want a real man with a real team, turn to Bollywood, folks. It's only Aamir Khan and his team which plays to win. Perhaps we should send them for the next World Cup and keep our spirits up. So that while Sourav and his men sell their souls away for yet another commercial break, the self respect of other Indians at least won't be for sale.
(Dhanu Nayak is a writer based in Bangalore.)