Monday, May 25, 2009


At 5ft 6inches or so Kamran Khan does not possess a fast bowlers’ physique but his final delivery leap and sling action generates pace of above 140 kms per hour. Till last year he used to play tennis ball cricket in the gallis of Azamgarh. His father is a woodcutter. Poverty and lack of medical care led to the death of his mother. A few months back he used to travel without reservation and sleep in railway platforms. He is yet to play first class cricket or represent his state in any age category.

Today at only 18 years of age, armed with a 12 lakh rupee contract, he is playing IPL in South Africa.

His biggest challenge- “How does one sleep soundly in a five star hotel?”

Does he know about the rave reviews he has got from Shane Warne? “Pata naheen, Englis bahut fast bolte hain.”

How does he feel with a 12 lakh rupees contract. “Thoda late ho gaya, apnee maa ko bachaa naheen paya.”

Welcome to India where cricket is religion and Sachin is God.

The good news is Kamran is not the lone case. There are scores and scores of them. Last year it was Ravindra Jadeja. He hails from a small town in Gujarat and used to live in a one room house with his four sisters and a widowed mother who worked as a nurse in the local hospital. Part of the under-19 world cup winning team he played IPL for Rajasthan Royals and then donned India colours. In financial terms his growth has been meteoric. He has now moved to a more than decent house, has told his mother that there is no need to work and when she would have voiced concerns about the future and the marriage of his sisters he probably might have said with a Shah Rukh Khan drawl- Maa….main hoon na.

The Pathan brothers are another case in point. A huge family living out of a single room in the premises of a mosque in Baroda, their dad used to work there and sell incense sticks to supplement their income. Today, Irfan and Yousuf are worth crores many times over.Then there is Joginder Singh who bowled the last over in India’s historic 20-20 world cup final match. His dad has a kiosk and makes a living by selling paan in Rohtak- a small town in the outskirts of Delhi. Such rags to riches stories are part of the cricketing folklore.

With money flowing in to the BCCI coffers and with a Board that is willing to plough back the money, even first class cricket is gradually becoming financially viable for the cricketers. A first class cricketer who plays Ranji trophy, Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy matches can eke out a decent living provided he is physically fit to play the game for over a decade or so.

The real trick behind crickets’ success has been the ability of the game to mould, evolve and change according to the needs and tastes of the people. During childhood I still remember hitting a boundary through mid-wicket and yet being admonished by the coach for an ‘ugly’ cross-bat stroke. Hitting in the air or jumping out of the crease to smash the ball were also considered too adventurous and risky. Within a decade the so called copy book technique has been done away with. The high left elbow pointing towards mid-on during your defensive stroke, the foot moving towards the pitch of the ball, the proper batting stance, the head position etc. have all become minor and dispensable details. All that matters now is the ability to smash the ball to all corners of the park.

The purists can still shake their heads in dis-approval but the game has moved on.Five days is a problem? Then come over for a day. One entire day is a problem? Come over for half-a-day. Day time is a problem? Then come at night under the lights. Do you find the white clothes very drab? Wait a minute sir, the coloured and fluorescent clothes are ready for use. Red ball is a problem? Then let us go for a white one. Bored with the white one? No problems the orange/pink one is round the corner. Want spicy fun? Come on cheer leaders give it all you have. Want glitz and glamour? Bollywood, the red carpet is here.….. So no full stops and no excuses!!

The discipline of Marketing, the fine art of enticing sponsors and grabbing TV viewership was behind every stage of the evolution of the game. The prime-time slots were targeted and the battle for the eye balls began. Ad revenues are flowing in and the game is promising to become bigger and bigger. This years’ IPL shift to South Africa on security grounds is just an aberration. Ten months from now when it will come back to India it will no doubt be bigger.But is it becoming better? Who cares? For the gen-next choices between better and bigger, good and bad, right and wrong is only an issue of semantics and not ethics. Choices are dictated by convenience, not by moral positioning.

So deep rooted is the love for the game that cricket even entered the world of diplomacy with India and Pakistan arguably coming closer because of this sport in early 2000. When Sachin drove through the covers Pakistan applauded and when Sohaib Akhtar ran in to bowl, India held its collective breath in awe! Imran Khan bowled our maidens over while Lakshmipati Balaji smiled his way into Pakistani hearts. So strong was the bonding that even General Musharaf approved of the flowing locks of Dhoni! Wow what a feeling! What a high!!Is it a bubble that will burst?I just have to walk down to nearby Shivaji Park to get convinced that it will not.

The ill maintained Shivaji Park, where political parties hold meetings every week spoiling and littering the ground further, there are on an average around a thousand kids slogging it out with their anxious parents watching from the sidelines. Most of them are from middle and lower middle class backgrounds. After all, the fire in the belly comes from an empty stomach. You can see the hunger when they come in to bowl. You can see the burning desire when they whack the ball. You can feel the power of their dreams when after an afternoon of dust, sweat and toil they enjoy Mumbai’s iconic vadaa pav or ragda- patties in the pavements of Dadar. Mumbai is not alone. Hundreds of small towns of India are now part of this great Indian dream.As long as this great Indian middle class dream is alive nobody can kill the great game of cricket.

For me the best cricket news of the month came from Afghanistan. They failed to make it to the next edition of World Cup by a whisker but gained recognition to play international one day cricket. For a country, ravaged by decades of civil war, cricket could still open a window to civil society.And as long as kids in Afghanistan will be lured to hold a bat instead of a gun and be taught to hurl cricket balls instead of grenades why should cricket offer any apologies?
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