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Cricket's comeback


Those in the Indian subcontinent have a very intriguing relationship with the game of Cricket. It's a bit like the relation you would share with your wife, or your girlfriend (or should I rephrase it as girlfriend/boyfriend? Twenty20 has attracted a whole legion of female followers, I have been told), or your family. There will be the occasional tiff, there will be times when you don't want to talk to each other, there will be times when you will be absolutely sick of each other, but at the end, it's a part of your being, your DNA. It's a way of life.

So, when India and Pakistan bowed out of the World Cup within a week of each other this summer, the streets first resounded with criticism, calls for heads to roll and general dejection, before going completely silent. It is unusual for someone to walk on the streets and commute through buses and trains in the subcontinent in the middle of a Cricket World Cup and not hear anyone talking about the score or discussing the general state of cricketing affairs.

Cynicism and a general defeatist attitude come with a part of being a cricket follower in the subcontinent. If you hear someone who used to be passionate about the game look at the Indian team grabbing yet another defeat from the hands of victory announce aloud that he is done with the game and the team and is never going to bother with cricket again, you do not take him seriously. A victory or two is enough to dismiss all the eternal vows and promises. But there is a limit to which that can be pushed.

Politics, mis-administration, internal strife and in-fighting, lack of anything to cheer about on the field and most of all, extreme media overkill had meant that the marginal utility derived from the game was rapidly slipping into negative. Cricket was disappearing off the charts. The instant appeal of the Beautiful Game and the glamour and lure of the European leagues meant that Football was rapidly seeping into the mindspace of the youth (it still is and will continue to do so, but that is another story.)But you cannot keep a man and his muse away for too long. Improve the quality of the product, they say, and your audience will come to you before you go looking for them. The upswing began with the India-England series. Top quality cricket, a comeback to form of Indian Cricket's divine pantheon- Dravid, Sachin and Saurav -and it all ending perfectly with a landmark Test series win set the platform.

The Twenty20 World Championship has been nothing short of a dream. Almost everything that could have gone right, has gone right. Close games, nail-biting finishes, fantastic quality of cricket, good atmosphere (crowds, music and, of course, the dancing girls) and a fantastic final can do magical things for the sport. Unfamiliar with the format, the Indian subcontinent and Twenty20 were on a blind date, testing the waters, feeling each other out.

The chemistry, it can now be said, looks like it is going to work spectacularly. Cricket is back on the streets, text messages and phone calls are once again being exchanged when the country’s cricket team goes out to play. Monetary rewards, plots of land and other obscenely magnanimous gifts are being conferred upon cricketers, and while still laughing and cheering, the people are back to criticizing the largesse and the adulation the cricketers are getting. A nation is celebrating; it has rediscovered its love.

Once the smoke and the heady scent of victory clears, things will be back to normal. People will find reasons to complain. The Twenty20 World Cup isn’t going to stop or solve the BCCI’s circus of controversies. There is spark in the team, but it isn’t Australia yet, and the next defeat won’t be far away. But this is not the time to think about it. This is the time to sit back and watch in contentment as cricket spills onto the subcontinent’s streets again.

After all, only an extreme pessimist spends his honeymoon worrying about the alimony he may have to eventually pay.

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