Yesterday evening was a gruelling experience. And that’s not because my rickshawala conned me into believing that he had change for ₹500 and wasted enough of my time to ensure I missed two jam packed locals. It was because it confirmed what I was suspecting for a long long time. That deep down, I still love cricket. The sport every Indian kid is first mesmerized by. After the 2011 World Cup, I stopped following the gentlemen’s game. Why? Because I believed and rightly so, that the standard had dropped and it was more of a commercial hogwash than ever before. A World Cup preceded by the IPL by just FIFTEEN days? Tell me this isn’t normal.
When this tournament started, I was more or less indifferent. I wished India won, like always, but my involvement was restricted to following it on social media. Of course, the mandatory India Pakistan game was given its due importance, but nothing was done out of the way. I suspected it’d stay the same until we reached the finals. But destiny had other plans as day before yesterday’s game was a washout and had to be continued the following day. Didn’t matter to me. I knew we’d win. But at 3 PM when my colleague told me we were 6-3, I couldn’t think of anything else. I rushed to the cafeteria where the match was being projected for a nervous crowd. I wasn’t feeling so well suddenly.
The last time I had this feeling of nausea due to a cricket game was when Sachin got out in the 2011 final. Thankfully we had a bunch of men back then. Men like Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni. Fast forward eight years later, Gambhir is a politician, Yuvraj retired harbouring an unfulfilled desire of a farewell and Dhoni is a 38 year old acting as a father figure to the boys in blue – the exact kind he poached out of existence when he was first made captain.
As I was getting smothered by men in a train I finally managed to get into, all I could think of was the game. Everyone around me was refreshing their screens and cursing Jio, Airtel and Vodafone. As I managed to take my phone out, a spectacular feat considering the circumstances, my internet served as a respite to everyone around me who wanted to stay updated.
Boys, uncles, old men and me. We suddenly started talking to each other. Peeking at someone else’s phone is always a strict no no. But yesterday it was being shown around enthusiastically as Dhoni and Jadeja dropped the anchor. We had a chance. We had in the midst of peak hour monsoon travel, hope. Some blamed Pant and Pandya’s immaturity and shot selection. Some blamed Kohli for failing once again in a tense knockout game. Many claimed Dhoni should have come to bat much before. One man even blamed Hotstar for India’s misery. As I finally rushed out of the train towards my bike, I knew I was heading straight to a cafe where the game was bound to be projected. But by the time I reached, Jadeja was out and Dhoni was left alone. We cheered madly when he flicked Ferguson for a six at mid off and exclaimed in expletive horror at Guptill’s miraculous run out throw.
As Dhoni walked off in tears, I sank into my chair. The last four hours were the most intense moments for me as a cricket fan in the past eight years. I thought I was past it. That the “Aaj Mey kar ke aaya” generation, that plays against fast bowlers who wouldn’t even make the reserves of the great Australian, South African and Pakistani sides I grew up watching, could never make me care this much. But I was wrong. Cricket has clearly lost its place to football for me. But every once in a while, like a long lost love, I can’t help but reminiscence over the moments of pure ecstasy and agony this game gave me in my formative years. And only for this, I’ll once again watch the World Cup in 2023. To remember what it’s like to be that innocent fan nervously praying when his team needs him the most.