Monday, May 9, 2016

Cricket Fever

IPL, Indian Premier League, is a bit of a misnomer. The eight teams in the league have top players from all over the world battling side by side with the Indian players - they come from Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies to play in the most lucrative cricket league in the world. The format is the shortest form of the game, T20 i.e. 20 overs or 120 balls per side. These 240 balls still take 3+ hours to be bowled; but this certainly is shorter than the One Day Internationals (ODIs) and Test Matches, which last six hours and up to five days respectively.

Most folks, especially those in countries where the game is not popular, think of cricket as 22 men in white trousers, shirts and even half-sleeved sweaters, playing leisurely, even breaking for tea. A "gentleman's sport" is its traditional label. These are Test Matches. I have never watched a full one and do not intend to, so I shall not elaborate more on these here. Some hard-core cricket pundits consider these as 'real cricket' and shrug off the shorter forms of the game as aberrations. I don't even watch the ODIs unless it is the World Cup. The T20s fit my persona best.

If you expect to see men in sedate white knocking around the ball gently, T20 cricket can shock you. The team uniforms are in bright colours, each team has cheerleaders prancing away, and the runs come fast and furious. Some teams sometimes score 200+ runs off the allocated 120 balls; some, on a bad day, don't even cross 100 runs. IPL crowds, in cricket-crazed India, are loud, so loud that the umpires often have to make extra effort to be heard. I have seen bare-chested spectators, male, with their team's colours painted garishly on their bodies. Further, each team is owned privately, mostly by film stars and business tycoons. Watching colorful owners like dimpled Priety Zinta of Kings XI Punjab, Bollywood icon Sharukh Khan of Kolkota Knight Riders, or Mrs. Nita Ambani (Reliance Industries, owned by her husband Mukesh Ambani, the richest industrialist in India) of the Mumbai Indians are almost as much fun as watching the goings-on on the cricket pitch.

Game time, in Nepal, is 8.15 pm daily, except for the weekend double-headers when there is a first match at 4.15 pm. Glued to the television with all required paraphernalia lined-up along side the easy chair, one tries to make a real enjoyable evening out of cricket heroics. Often the games end around mid-night so staying awake, especially while watching the match alone, can prove difficult. But there are times when friends drop by. The enjoyment is greater with the ambiance and libations, even though few of them know the intricacies of cricket.

Nepal, never colonized by Britain or anyone else, is a latecomer to cricket. Even at school, football, basketball, volleyball, field hockey, and even softball, took precedence over the occasional cricket outing. But in recent times, cricket in Nepal has advanced to such an extent that the national team brings home more laurels than the national football team. Still our generation is not very familiar with the game, which has a language of its own. I had the fortune to be based in India and Pakistan for eight years during my UN days. In the 1990s, before the advent of cable, there wasn't much else to watch sports-wise on  TV than cricket. While in India, I watched Pakistan win the World Cup; the team was captained by Imran Khan, now a prominent politician. Four years later, while in Pakistan, I watched Sri Lanka lift the World Cup. It felt good to be a South Asian.

To my American friends, cricket is somewhat like your baseball. A home run is when the batter hits the ball outside the field boundary, getting 6 runs. The ball reaching the field boundary gets 4 runs. Crisis-crossing each other, since there are two batters at opposite ends of the bowling pitch, after hitting a stroke garners runs totaling the number of crisis-cross. Actually you have to watch a game to figure out what I'm talking about! My friend from New York was here for a couple of weeks; we watched cricket and now he's an expert on the game. I kind of repaid him for all the Mets baseball games he took me to while I was based in NYC.

So anyway, before this post becomes an epic, let me simply share my joy on these IPL evenings and on cheering for my favourite team, Mumbai Indians. No, I'm not receiving a commission from the Ambanis for supporting or writing about their team. I started supporting MI since the IPL began seven years ago. There were two players who inspired me: Sachin Tendulkar, one of the opening batsmen, and Lasith Malinga, a speed bowler. Sachin has since retired. Malinga is out this season with an injury. But I remain a MI fan, through thick and thin. It is the defending IPL champion, but is languishing in 5th place currently. Still four games remain, and it just has to be among the top 4 teams to enter the play-offs. Keeping my fingers crossed.

(To keep abreast of the current IPL season, please visit ESPNCricinfo.com)

4 comments:

Akash Bhairab said...

A heart-warming,gentlemanly write up for the "gentleman's sport".

Birat Simha said...

Looking forward to watching a Mumbai Indians game with you, Akash Bhairab.

Govind said...

Well written Birat.You should be a sport columnist.
Unlike you I dont have a team to cheer for and follow.Its just a commercial exercise and the match fixing that is so common in these games just makes one feel if its worth the effort to stay up late night to watch the sport.Sorry to be cynical.

Birat Simha said...

I hear what you are saying, Govind. Match-fixing scandal has infected the IPL. Two teams, Chennai and Rajasthan, are consequently suspended for two years. They have been replaced by Gujerat and Punjab in IPL 2016. Let us hope the worst is over and we are watching more or less fair sports.