Can two teams playing a Cricket match overcome the wounds of terrorism? Can they make the world feel a more secure place? Can they deliver a slap on the face of a terrorist? As my sport so beautifully takes centre stage once again, I debate these questions endlessly. These and many more. Can England vs India at the Chepauk quell the anger in my land? Can sport be a balm at all? Does it count?
Yes, I tell myself but I am not sure if cricket can bring solace to those that are hurt. Cricket can uplift me because I have lost nobody. I played a game against Ashok Kamte, the brave officer of the Mumbai Police, and we laughed between deliveries. Can I go to his wife and say that Harbhajan bowling to Pietersen is our response to the man who killed her husband? That everyone is being brave, that the show must go on? Which show?
And so cricket can at best be an intoxicant, a mild drug that soothes you and lets you forget briefly. It brings a smile to your face to see a Tendulkar, a Dravid, a Dhoni, a Pietersen, a Flintoff; fine people doing what they know best. They are wonderful ambassadors of joy and may they long be that way but even as I visualise Harmison and Flintoff firing thunderbolts into Tendulkar’s ribs I cannot, and may not for a long time, get myself to use the word ‘brave’.
So let us put the imagery behind us, rein in our adjectives a bit, and watch cricket for what it is. And let us say thank you to England for coming back to our shores when they had every reason to be apprehensive, even scared. Maybe they still are but they are playing cricket on our land, as our guests and we must applaud them for that. They had a reason to pull out this time, unlike in 2001 when Robert Croft and Andrew Caddick got their geography mixed up and couldn’t find a map handy.
There is a perception that England are here because the cricket world needs India. That is true for without a strong India while the game will still survive, it will do so rather less affluently. It is much like the world needs the US markets to be healthy because the Americans have traditionally spent more than anyone else. A weak USA is bad for world markets as a weak India is bad for cricket. But don’t forget that the BCCI needs teams to come to India as much as visiting teams want to. If England had opted not to return, and other teams followed their example, Indian cricket might have found itself in a downward spiral as well. So you see this tour is as much about emotion as it is about cold commerce; a soufflé and a flaming pickle on the same table!
India’s, and by extension the world’s, current predicament shows how fragile our sport is. It needs fresh lands to play in, more teams to compete; it needs to find more pockets of wealth, more avenues for competition. There will never be more than half a dozen teams playing the game as we know it now and at the level we want it to be. It can no longer be the modern missionary of the game. People in the US, in Fiji, in Denmark and in Hong Kong cannot, will not, bow to the altar of Test Cricket like we do. T2
cricket must do that. In this brash young kid lies the future of our sport and, dare I say, the future of Test cricket. Cricket needs to be more nimble to protect its treasure, which is what test cricket really is.
But till we take the time we sometimes need to see what is standing opposite us, we must lumber along. Hopefully this will be a good series. It needs to be. England must play like cricketers not like the six hundred that rode into the valley of death; or like aid workers coming to fulfil an obligation. And India must show them all the gratitude they can off the field.
I hope the cricket is good. It cannot be a balm but we could do with the intoxicant.