April 28, 2007

The World-Cup-shaped void at the heart of my days

ESPNcricinfo staff
The evenings will seem empty because of there is no match; the days will because there is no match to look forward to in the evening.

This is the last piece I do here during the World Cup. I shan’t be writing something the day after the final. I’m off on holiday hours after the game ends. I timed this trip to perfection. It’s a terrible feeling (I’m sure many of you know it) the day after an event like this one ends. I’m glad I’m getting out.

The end of a World Cup leaves me with a strange feeling at the pit of my stomach, a sense of intense discomfort as I go about the routine business of the day. Actually, there is no routine business. That’s part of the discomfort. The cricket will have left a void in the rhythm of the day, the days, and I’ll keep reaching for the remote at seven o’ clock in the evening my time and then realising that, well, there is no game to switch on to. (I know this from experience. I’m sure you do too.)

The evenings will seem empty because of there is no match; the days will because there is no match to look forward to in the evening.

So I’m escaping. I’m off to a place (Thailand, in case you’re curious) where cricket isn’t quite a national sport. And I shall take with me the new novel by Ian McEwan and the new book of essays by Susan Sontag to read and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace – for my money, the best book that Coetzee has ever written – to re-read. Besides, the beer will be pleasant, cold and plentiful; and the sea will be nice.

But I’m not so sure that that will fill the World-Cup-shaped hole at the heart of my days. I shall leave you now, as the final approaches, with a short extract from my book, You Must Like Cricket?. The bit that follows talks about how, especially as we grow older, the game offers us a unique, otherworldly thrill. If you've enjoyed reading these pieces – and if you enjoy reading the extract – you could do worse than to buy the book. It’s available on the web (indeed at cricshop linked to this site) and, as my publishers keep saying, at all respectable bookstores.


“Life, in its everyday accumulation of miseries and disappointments, its chaos and its agony, is more than we can bear. We, those of us who love the game, continue to love the game even as we grow old because we come to see how cricket offers us a parallel universe to inhabit in our living rooms. The thrills from there seem otherworldly; the disappointments do not have a bearing on my job or family.

And I need only to switch on the remote to switch off from everything else. There is another, calculating, self-serving reason to feed this middle-aged obsession with the game. It is similar to one of the reasons why some people want to have children: so that our kids, once they grow up and we grow old, can take care of us. I have no such ambition for my daughter. But I do see cricket performing a somewhat similar, if surrogate, function. It’s like this. I imagine a situation (and the older I grow the less difficult it becomes to imagine it) in which my career is over; I have arthritis or some other illness which prevents me from travelling much or playing tennis or going swimming; my daughter has left home, my parents are dead, my wife no longer finds me an amusing or interesting companion; and my friends have all died or gone to live in other cities. What will I be left with then? What is it that I know will prevent me from going over the edge, a slobbering old man drooling into his bowl of soup or plate of boiled vegetables? I know for sure that should such an eventuality come to pass (and with life, you just never can tell — life does have a habit of coshing you over the head), cricket will be my most reliable ally.

I will be able to, at the flick of a switch and the turning of a knob, with the riffle of a newspaper or the click of a mouse, be able to invite into my life those familiar images, those thrills, that construct of cricket being life. There would be nothing else. It would be, like many of the ways in which old age is, a second childhood.

I can’t afford to, in spite of pragmatic compulsions, not nurture the friend who I think will help me preserve my sanity. It would be stupid of me, wouldn’t it? Even a cricket fan wouldn’t be that dumb.”

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You