By Shashank Sinha:
The year was 1996. Day 16th Feb. Then not even in 1st standard, I was introduced to the world of cricket, by my father and elder brother. The Wills World Cup was going on in the subcontinent and South Africa was taking on the UAE, in Rawalpindi. During the next 3 hours, while Gary Kirsten clobbered UAE to the different corners of the ground, I was taught the various intricacies of *the* game, *the* game which now in India is synonymous with religion. By the time the match ended in a one sided victory for the Proteas, cricket had got another ardent follower. I will always remember this as a red lettered day in my life.
15 years have passed since then and a lot has changed, not only in my life but in the cricket fraternity as well. But what has remained unaltered is the insatiable passion for the game, the sheer delight to see the ball meet the bat, the feeling of ecstasy when an excellent catch is taken or when a direct hit runs the batsman out inches outside his crease and most importantly, the inner insuppressible voice which provokes you to check the score every 10 minutes, even when the match is heading towards an undesired conclusion. Despite being an effervescent spectator of a legion of fascinating matches during the past 15 years, there are certain games which have stood out above the rest. It*s not because the quality of these games were superior to the others, but because they act as shining lights, illuminating significant phases of my childhood and adolescence period. Here I would like to recollect certain memories of my past, incarnated in the form of cricket matches.
I had my first intimate moment with cricket soon after I became its devotee, in the semi-final of the same world cup. The sight of a balding Vinod Kambli trudging off the field, crying, as the play was called off due to crowd trouble, is one which will always remain close to my heart and I can still recall the entire episode as vividly as though it occurred yesterday. At that moment, Vinod Kambli became my first hero of the game.
Then during the next couple of years, while Sanath Jayasuriya and the Sri Lankans were going berserk, I could watch matches few and far between, because of the absence of cable network. A monthly copy of *Cricket Samrat* used to be my most cherished possession in those days and along with a daily newspaper, it fulfilled my appetite for the sport. I still remember cramming the exact scores of the players and the various other miscellaneous records given in the magazine, just to brag about them in front of my family and friends.
God works in strange ways. We finally had cable in our home in 1998, and now that I look back at it, it seems like there must have been some divine intervention behind it. For the night after the cable was installed, Sachin played the 1st of his 2 godlike innings in Sharjah against the Aussies. I still refuse to accept that as a mere coincidence.
Though I always liked Sachin, Ganguly was the one whom I adulated the most, maybe because he was also a southpaw. I remember always backing Ganguly, whenever there was a debate over India*s best batsman. I used to search all kinds of statistics, just to find some cogent evidence to prove my point that Sourav was better than Sachin.
Then at the beginning of the new millennium came the worst phase. India lost 3-0 Down Under and 5 tests in a row. This was followed by the match fixing scandal, which implicated the one player I truly admired, Hansie Cronje. This, along with the sight of Kapil Dev crying, pleading not guilty in front of a news channel, was something which I had certainly not hoped for, when I started following the sport. From then on every match I saw, there used to be a lingering doubt in my mind over whether it was rigged. Every soft dismissal, every missed run out, every close finish, played its part in heightening my suspicion. Watching cricket was no more fun. I had started to drift away from the game.
It took a gigantic effort from a big hearted, champion cricketer to draw me back. Watching Anil Kumble come out to bowl with a broken jaw, against the counsel of his medical experts, just to figure out whether he can play any part in giving India its first series victory in the Caribbean after 30 years, was a sight to behold. I felt gratified, my allegiance towards the game reassured with the knowledge that there were still individuals, willing to put the sport over their petty selfish motives.
My romance with cricket reached its peak during the 2003 World Cup, when I finally took the plunge from Sourav Ganguly to Sachin Tendulkar, as India*s best cricketer. His hooked six off Andrew Caddick is the best shot I have seen thus far, and his innings against Pakistan was another one to cherish. Despite watching them umpteen times, I still can*t get enough of them.
Walking down the memory lane, the Adelaide test is another one which stands out distinctly. More than anything else, I remember the 4th day when Ajit Agarkar took 6-41. I was in 8th standard and it was an optional day at school. The match used to take place during school hours, and after much deliberation with myself, I had decided to go. When I heard that the Aussies were bowled out for 195, I couldn*t bring myself up to talk to anybody for the whole day. Till now I haven*t forgiven myself for going to school that day. However to avoid any more similar tragedy, I did bunk school the next month in order to watch an ODI between Asia X1 and World X1. However it turned out to be a 1-sided affair, again leaving me speechless.
There are many similar anecdotes associated with cricket which are now part of my cherished past. Three of which come instantly to mind are, watching South Africa chase 434 against the Aussies the day before my Mathematics board exam, watching Yuvraj Singh hit 6 sixes off Stuart Broad in my termagant landlady*s house, while in a paying guest (another divine intervention!) and the funniest of them all, watching the Proteas*s inevitable choke against the Kiwis in this year*s World Cup semifinal.
15 years have gone by, and the World Cup has once again come back to the subcontinent. The passion which began with watching Vinod Kambli distraught against the Lankans at the Eden Gardens, reached its crescendo when M.S.Dhoni bludgeoned Kulshekhra for a straight six at Wankhede, to seal the cup. I was with them then, when India was embarrassed out of the cup, and I am with them now, when they are the no. 1 side of *the* game.