So, we lost a cricket match. Big deal. The earth did not cave in. Armageddon did not strike us. We are still battling Covid. Can we get some sense of proportion, please? ‘But it was against New Zealand,’ I hear you wail, as if New Zealand is some Johnny-come-lately, pushover outfit. And before you go on to cry that the mere notion of a country of barely 5 million people putting it across a humongous nation of 1.4 billion gives you severe dyspepsia, indigestion and the creeps, kindly put a sock in it. I have heard it all before. All right, this was not any old Test match, I’ll grant you. This was the biggie, the first-time final played in weepy, wet Southampton when two of the best met in a one-off, winner-takes-all to decide who will hold the stunning mace symbolizing ‘Test Cricket Supremo.’ Sadly, for Indian fans it was the estimable Kiwi skipper, Kane Williamson who triumphantly held aloft the glittering mace along with his joyous Black Caps teammates. The normally, almost unbearably effervescent Virat Kohli was left holding the baby, having to fend off awkward questions from his Indian media wolf pack, baying for blood and possibly, for the baby to be chucked out with the bathwater. The game barely lasted three and a half playing days, with two days washed out and a prudent reserve 6th day enabling a result.
‘Why, of all places, Southampton? Why not Chennai where we could have boiled and melted them down to abject defeat?’ Look, I am aware that you are terribly upset, but frankly, you are beginning to get on my nerves. The Indian cricket bosses may be the world’s wealthiest fat cats, but they cannot decide everything. Some give and take is called for. We take too much. Too much for granted. If you ask me, I think it’s a good thing we lost. We were getting too big for our boots anyway. Fair enough, we beat the Aussies in their own backyard Down Under with a second-string side. This in spite of skipper Virat Kohli’s absence, who had flown back to India to hold his baby, taking leave of absence from the remaining three Tests. Else Anushka would have been very cross. Tough being an Indian cricket captain. How many babies can a man be reasonably expected to hold? That was rhetorical, so please don’t answer.
Parenthetically, let me add that some years earlier, when he was leading the Indian team in Australia, M.S. Dhoni’s wife delivered herself of a bonny, wee lassie. The great man, however, did not wing back home to do some coochy cooing with his baby and radiant wife, Sakshi. The BCCI would have gladly bank rolled his first-class trip. He stayed back with his boys, watching Instagram videos of the new arrival late into the wee hours in his hotel room in Melbourne, Sydney, Wooloongabba or wherever. Which partly explains why Mahi could not sight the ball very well the next day. Sleep deprivation through long-distance remote parenting!
Still on babies, a little-known cricketer who made a strong impression in Australia last year was rookie Thangarasu Natarajan, who was originally among the reserves. ‘Natarajan who?’ I hear you ask. Go and do your own Google search, you lazy sods. I only brought his name up to highlight the fact that he too received the ‘good news’ about the patter of little feet in his homestead somewhere in Tamil Nadu, just prior to winging his way to Australia with the Indian team last year. Can’t these chaps time these things more prudently? To the best of my knowledge, however, no one from the team management asked Natarajan if he wished to fly economy to India to see his baby. All right, fair’s fair. Dhoni, Kohli, they’ve earned their stripes. Natty, you’ll have to wait a tad longer. Provided you are still in the team. And provided you have taken 300 international wickets by then. And provided you have another baby while you are on tour. That’s a lot of provisions and imponderables. So much for cricketers and babies.
I realize I have been flitting hither and thither while musing on India’s recent defeat, but it’s all in a good cause. Virat Kohli and his boys now have a three- week break before the long Test series against England gets under way. For starters, they will be praying for much more sunshine, so that their batsmen can move their feet with greater assurance against England’s quicks. Putting runs on the board is the cricketing equivalent of putting food on the table. An absolute sine qua non. The bowlers can then go to work against an England batting line-up that has looked distinctly shaky and vulnerable during their recent defeat against New Zealand. There you are, the Kiwis are not quite the minnows many Indians seem to think they are. All to play for then and Kohli’s passion and pride will need to be reflected more in his performance than in his vaunted hyper aggressive body language. Difficult for Kohli, but he could try to be just a tad understated? One or two tips from MSD might help. The champion batsman should also be aware of where his off-stump is, else Anderson, Broad and company will be all over him like a rash. Happened before. No déjà vu please. That said, Kohli has not been the world’s best batsman, across formats, for nothing. He needs to make it count over five Test matches. Others in the team are also short on form and confidence but that is coach Ravi Shastri’s job to earn his not inconsiderable pay check.
My call to all those twits on Twitter (under plenty of heat themselves in India) and other social media platforms, baying for Kohli’s blood is to leave well enough alone, as the skipper himself should be doing outside the off stump. ‘Off with his head’ may have been a popular cry in England once upon a medieval time, but untimely and inappropriate right now. Failures may be stepping stones to success, but our cricket mad countrymen want our boys to win every single match we play. Failure is not an option. Evidently, barring Test series (as if that does not count), we have not won a limited overs or knock out championship tourney since 2014. And here’s the hilarious bit. It was in the year 2014 that the BJP came to power in India with much fanfare, led by the indefatigable Narendra Modi. Those who are opposed to the BJP style of politics and who worship the game of cricket, have found a ready whipping boy in our Prime Minister, claiming he has brought bad luck to our team as we have not won anything of note since he took over the reins of government! Last I heard, Ravi Shastri is still India’s coach and not the Prime Minister. Let me repeat, we have won a number of Test series during this period, but highlighting that won’t suit the politics of those opposed to the Modi dispensation. Selective amnesia is the name of the game. Twit is such a supremely apposite word for so many of our social media pundits.
Tell you what. I am happy we are getting a long break from India-specific international cricket for a few weeks. I’ve had it up to here with all the carping, cavilling and moaning over our losing a cricket match. I realize cricket is our religion and we are all children of a lesser god, so I am pleased to see the back of cricket for a while. Apart from anything else, I can turn my undivided attention to Wimbledon starting Monday week. Oh, what undiluted joy! And even if the weather gods turn their dark and baleful glare on the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships at London SW19, the show courts – Centre Court and Court No.1 – have been provided with roof coverings that are technological marvels. What’s more, Federer, Djokovic, Serena and Barty closely hotfooted by the rising brat pack will play uninterrupted for our viewing delectation. And no tension about any Indian player getting past the third round, if that. Which gives us Indian tennis fans the full license to be as promiscuous as we like in supporting our favourite stars. We tennis buffs will lap it all up on our giant television screens from the comfort of our homes to enjoy grass court tennis at its pristine best. Some cold beer and junk food will not go amiss.
Who wants cricket? Anyone for tennis?