Extras March 10, 2009

Stop pissing in my coffee

Well, we are on the verge of falling head first into the second IPL season and if it is anything like the first, we are all in for some exceptionally offensive scenes that will be played out for our benefit

From Sriram Dayanand, Canada

These are strange times. In the world we live in. There is hope in Washington, a mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the horror of terror in India, unease in the Middle East and above all, a sinking feeling in the homes and wallets of people across the globe. A day doesn’t go by without a gleeful, depressing or sanctimonious news report about another fraudster’s multi-billion dollar scheme to embezzle, subvert, misappropriate, grease away, palm off, blackmail and in much simpler terms, to liquidate the future of millions of people across the globe. People like you and me. The institution you have banked with for years has gone belly up and even in its state of rigor mortis, is leering at you, presenting its engorged gut in profile to you. Even as you are submerged in your own sea of apprehension and worry, there is anger swirling around you.

You feel violated.

As the world around you gets more and more surreal and uncertain, you look for relatively cheap and inexpensive ways to distract yourself. To keep your mind off the nagging tension of getting by from day to day, finding your first job, keeping your home and feeding your kids. You probably look to music, movies, books and that god-sent boon to mankind, television, for your distraction. You may also resort to sports and rely on it to make you look away from your bank statement. Just for a while. Just to catch your breath.

And if you are anything like me, you invest a lot in cricket. You start to follow the match scorecards daily even more diligently than ever. They become your alternate NASDAQ ticker. You look at strike rates and averages to forget the interest rate and the stock market index. You squirrel away small percentages of your feelings and inner voices towards this glorious sport and try to look at the return on your investments. Investments you have been making since you were a kid. From your piggy bank days, from the time of pocket money doled out by doting parents, from when you held your first paycheck in your hand. All the way till now.

You think back to the cricket of the last year or so, and a smile immediately appears on your face. There was Mendis bamboozling the best with his finger gymnastics. That magical spell from Ishant to Ponting at Perth. The Proteas using the Steyn gun on the Aussies to stunning effect. The Zen-like calm, combined with ruthlessness in Dhoni’s demeanor, as the Indians socked it to Ponting’s crew. The look of unbridled joy upon J.P Duminy’s face when he reached his first hundred at the MCG. The England team walking out at Chennai following the horrific events in Mumbai. Moments like that. Special moments.

Yes, there are frown inducing memories too. You remember Harbhajan and Symonds in Sydney. You fret over why you don’t remember anything about a match involving Pakistan. Sreesanth copping that slap (well-deserved, you may think) from the loose cannon Harbhajan. And why we still haven’t figured out how to prepare an outfield, leave alone a pitch.

And there are those bittersweet and poignant moments. Gilly, the Prince of Kolkata, Kumble and Haydos. Dravid, one of India’s greatest batsmen, suddenly looking lost, forlorn and scared in the nation’s gaze as he battled an extended loss of form. Vettori leading his hastily put together team with a quiet dignity, a wry smile and steel. You silently thank them for the memories. Cricket, at its best is good at generating just these kinds of memories. The very kind of memories you are relying on now to distract yourself.

These days, you wake up each morning and pick up your newspaper and settle down. You flip to the sports pages quickly. You want the business section to flash by in a blur. You are not ready to let it piss in your morning coffee yet. You are wondering about how Punter’s boys are coping in Jo’burg. Have Dhoni’s band of brothers acclimatized themselves in chilly Christchurch yet? Is Mahela really handing off the controls to Sangakkara in a few days? And will Freddie be able to walk out with his teammates behind Strauss in Barbados?

But wait! What has happened to your warm and cozy sports pages? Where are those match reports you were desperately seeking? The sports page looks kind of strange, doesn’t it? Big and lurid headlines screaming out at you. Must be something big. Ponting’s men wreaking bloody vengeance on the Proteas maybe? Something as unlikely and spectacular as Shoaib Akhtar actually playing and demolishing the Lankans in Karachi? Did Dhoni’s boys rack up 400 in a T20 match against the Kiwis? You go in for a closer look and then step back in surprise.

And in dismay.

The sordid Stanford saga is furiously unfolding in front of you and is occupying more and more newspaper acreage by the day. You remember that you even brushed past his grinning face on the front page. (Bloody hell, I believe he is on the front page of even the New York Times! What are they doing covering cricket?) This time around, the three letter acronyms pursuing him like ravenous hounds are not the ECB, but the FBI. The second round of the IPL auction (”There was a little element of feeling like a cow” – Adam Gilchrist, March 2008) has just been concluded with a discerningly muted euphoria compared to last year’s. Freddie, bum ankle and hip and all, is a millionaire and while K.P may have lost the captaincy, he has raked it in by the Mallyans of dollars. The second IPL season is almost upon us and they say the movie stars and billionaire franchise owners are fraught with worry about their splashy investments from last year. Shah Rukh is so worried that he may not dance for Kolkata this time. A worried Mallya is holed out on his yacht on the French Riviera nursing his drink. And Lalit Modi (him, of that four letter organization, the BCCI, with one three letter cricket league in his fist and another one under the heel of his Gucci loafers) has figured out yet another way to hog the headlines again. This time it is for losing an election and for being for accused of miscellaneous dubious activities, shady land grabs, political shenanigans and plain old fashioned crimes like forgery.

You take a sip of your coffee and realize that someone has indeed been pissing in it.

What happened ? All you wanted to do was to check your other investments. The ones which were going to tide you by the difficult times. You were looking for news of Tendulkar, but are inundated by news of his other boss, Ambani. For Duminy, but all you can find in these pages are stories of financial doom for the Deccan Chargers. For Gayle, but are being regaled with stories of that grinning bear whose offices in Houston have been sealed by the police. Look! There’s news of a nation-wide alert for the Texan god who descended on the unsuspecting Antiguans. What has he done now? It can’t be for bouncing Matt Prior’s wife on his lap last year, can it? Come to think of it, is this the first time the word cricket has been used along with the acronym FBI in the same sentence? You are looking for calypso tinged reports of huge crowds thronging the Sir Vivian Richards stadium in St. John’s but are staring at a photograph of long lines of people on the streets of the same city. They look too distraught to be standing in line for tickets for the Test match. What? They are lined up outside the locked up doors of their bank containing their meager life savings? They definitely don’t look like they are capable of heading over to that spanking new stadium named after the King himself. Yes, the new one built with Chinese money. And what are the Chinese doing funding and building cricket stadiums in the Caribbean? Have they lost their marbles? You remember getting Ntini’s autograph along the boundary at the Oval, and try to check out his bowling figures in yesterday’s match. But allegations against Modi for forging a signature have barreled it out to some obscure part of the newspaper.

Your are mad now. You should be mad by now. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They are storming your refuge too now. They robbed your city home and have now followed you to your cottage in the country and have ransacked it too. While you were outside, sitting by the lake, looking up at the stars. While you were out trying to enjoy the fresh air and the smell of leaves.

I, for one, resent this intrusion. I do not like the fact that I suddenly feel as if I got my investment reports mixed up. My two worlds have collided now in a way that they cannot be unraveled. I am being forced to wade through sewage now to get to the apple tree. I am forced to sit at the opera next to this obese, loud, belching, flatulent man who will proceed to eat his greasy burger and fries during the aria, while talking on his cell phone. The library I borrow my Rushdie and Roth from has been renovated and will now devote half its space to pornography.

Crass is what it is. An assault on my senses and sensibilities.

I do, and will bear a grudge against everyone who has been an accomplice in this crime of allowing these people to lay siege to my other side too. The one I had taken refuge in. Every single one of them. All the lawyers, financiers, diplomats, lobbyists, MBA wielding cardboard cutouts, businessmen, power mongers, politicians, dictators, hoodlums, ass kissers and boot lickers. There you go. I have pretty much listed the motley crew of people who are guilty of depriving me of a very simple pleasure that I had planned on relying on. A pleasure that they weren’t even supposed to be able to get their dirty paws on. The only problem here is that the same motley crew forms the list of office bearers of the collection of boards and organizations that are in charge of administering the very game we all care about.

Oh, you think I am over reacting here? I am being old fashioned, am I? Being a purist? Not willing to change with the times? Clinging on to an idyllic past in the face of an ever changing fast society? With all due respect to you my friend, that is the biggest load of putrid fecal matter you can throw at me. Bollocks to you, I say. In fact, I say that all the above over used and over abused reactionary platitudes are cowardly alternatives to admitting that things have gone awry. It has hit the fan, splattered across the room and is dripping down the walls.

Cringing at the failure to keep Lord’s off limits to helicopters of megalomaniac billionaires trying to make leery indecent proposals to the English cricket team is not being a purist. Not wanting to read about totalitarian despots who have clawed their way into the highest offices of the state and country’s cricket boards to dictate who plays where and when and for how long and against whom is not being old fashioned. And clinging to an idyllic past? I have news for you my friend. I am trying to cling to the absolute present. I am only trying to cling to the drama on the field here. To the bare bones dramatic reality of bowlers pitted against batsmen. And over reacting? You call a fervent desire to not see the very pulsing lifeline of the sport, the foundations of everything we want to remember, enjoy and hold dear to our hearts - and I am talking about the players, past and present here - being made to debase their images in this sordid drama over reacting?

Frankly, it is the image of the players which hurts the most. And yes, they are only images. But we are talking about the essence of what sustains our interest in the sport itself. The very collages of images of deeds on the field that make you come back again and again to the game. This is the one that is the most painful to bear.

Watching Sir Garfield Sobers wait at the edge of the circle of whirring rotor blades for Sir Allen Stanford to get out with his outsized valise of dollar bills is one image I never wanted to see. Not just now, in hindsight and in the light of him being pursued by the SEC and the FBI. Yes, Sir Garry was only doing his job and yes, he had the laudable goal of accruing financial benefits for his own cash strapped cricket board. But I am entitled to rue and mourn that image for what it does to my personal memory stash. We are talking Garry Sobers here. Arguably the greatest cricketer to ever play the game. The class, the style, the charisma, the talent and the breathtaking bravado with which he towered over the game in bowling, batting and fielding. A player who I never got to watch, but had absolutely no problem convincing myself that he was the real deal, the greatest and one of the most magnetic by a mile. Convinced to such an extent that my hackles rise when Yuvraj Singh is compared to him by some over-zealous hack writing in the Indian press. He should never have been put in a position where he had to stand on the grass that is still singed from his strokes from decades ago and shake that man’s hand. A man who had no qualms about openly deriding the game itself. Yes, I am entitled to be appalled by that image.

And then there is that photograph. The one that has been seared into the surface of my brain and is as fresh as it was a year ago. It is that photograph of the Texan overlord in the pavilion at Lords. Yes, that one. The one with the big transparent box with neatly packed twenty million dollars in the foreground and the man with the golden grin standing behind it flanked by Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Ian Botham and Sir Everton Weekes. I find it hard even after a year has passed to think about, leave alone speak about that image.

Because of Viv.

Viv.Oh Viv! Vivian Richards. Sir Vivian Richards! You, of the gum-chewing , magnetic and brooding walk from the pavilion with your bat swinging in your hands like a machete. The maroon Windies cap casting a dark shadow just over your gleaming eyes. The nervous anticipation and the dread of the fielding team rising with each step of yours. The desperate attempts by the opposing captain to suppress the urge to change the field three times before you have even reached the middle and taken guard. Stepping away three feet outside the leg stump and smashing Bob Willis over extra cover for six at the Oval. That 55 ball assault in the Test Match in Antigua that seemed to still unfold in slow motion. Swooping down on the ball like a panther for those 3 run outs at Lords in 1975. That smouldering glare behind that regal nose as Lillee stood in the middle of the pitch enquiring about your mother. You, who played your entire career with nary a word spoken, a smile on your face and when needed, a glare in your eye.

How am I supposed to come to terms with that image of you standing next to him behind the stash of dollars? Once again, your intentions were entirely honorable and that is precisely why he wanted you next him the first place anyway. But you in the same frame as him is just not right. You do not belong there. When I first saw the pictures from that day in the pavilion at Lords, I forced myself to think that you looked uncomfortable in the picture. I sincerely hope you were. And your old friend Beefy is right next to you too. Hamming it up for the cameras. Yes, the second greatest allrounder the game has ever seen. Headingly in 1981 and countless other exploits. A sublime and raw talent, who had the cricket world by the scruff of its neck and did it with a cheeky smile on his face for an entire decade. Beefy and Viv on the same team at Somerset! Can anyone forget that? He was months away from being knighted by the Queen. (Beefy, who we had chuckled to ourselves, had knighted himself in 1996 itself - with a bong.) And Sir Everton Weekes. One of the three W’s. A name which brings a look of admiration and pride on the faces of cricket lovers of my father’s generation to this day. The collective memories the three of you have provided has sustained generations of cricket fans. And will persist and pervade the thoughts of future ones.

Yes, this is what is being tarnished with everything that has happened over the last year and continues to have its fallout in public to this day. The characters causing the news for all the wrong reasons have been doing it relentlessly throughout this period. It may just be a coincidence that almost everything we are talking about is related to the new fangled hot shot kid in town – T20. And it is entirely possible that it is not. But that is not the point. I may have a personal opinion about not caring to wait for three matches to get to see Ishant bowl 9 overs, like he did in that magical spell at Perth last year. But I am at least entitled to want to watch a magical 2 over spell by Warney playing for the Royals against the Super Kings – the one where he mesmerized and fooled Dhoni into popping a catch to slip – without these characters shoving everyone aside, flashing their Rolex watches, mugging for the camera and also monopolizing the air waves and the print media.

Well, we are on the verge of falling head first into the second IPL season and if it is anything like the first, we are all in for some exceptionally offensive scenes that will be played out for our benefit. I for one, am bracing myself to see players from the past reverently kneeling with upturned faces and puckered up lips. Looking for the first one that passes by to kiss. It will make more of a dent in your saved up stash and will drive you insane. It should, if it is going to be anything like the one I would like to remind you of.

Last year, at the height of the IPL frenzy, Lalit Modi walked out to the middle and stood at the pitch alongside the commentators to toss the coin for the captains. A very professional looking but at the same time, a visibly hyper-ventilating Ravi Shastri introduced him to the TV audiences at home and suddenly said, “He is Moses of the game who has shown the path to blazing success.” Yes, he made this very statement looking into the camera as his fellow commentator yelped around next to him like an excited poodle. Even as I gagged on my coffee, I distinctly remember thinking that Ravi Shastri may accidentally have mixed up his myths and his Bible. Maybe he meant to say Midas, I thought. But, you know what? He didn’t. He meant Moses. He was trying to conjure up epic images for us of Lalit Modi parting the crowds at Eden Gardens and leading us to some kind of promised land up in the sky. He was just doing his job as commentator, of course. But did he have to lose all his bearings to mouth such claustrophobically sycophantic words? Ravi Shastri, who during his playing days personified a quiet and grim dignity. One who utilized his limited talents to the maximum possible and bravely fought many a memorable battle. One who fought his way from No. 11 all the way to becoming the de facto opener in Tests and ODIs. The one who we had proudly cheered for as he drove around the MCG in that Audi he got for winning the man of the Series award at the World Championship of Cricket in 1985.

Later during the season, he was to say “Lalit Modi is a tall man”. You are a tall man Mr. Shastri. You stood even taller during your playing days. Maybe you got carried away after you saw that gigantic 200 foot hoarding of Lalit Modi that appeared next to the Chennai overpass to coincide with the start of the first IPL season? For he is not a tall man. In fact he is quite a small man. Small but happens to be a big honcho at this bullying organization which is petty enough to deprive us of the pleasure of watching Shane Bond bowl to Sachin Tendulkar in a couple days. Just to buttress their own fiefdom. Just to squash that annoying upstart, the ICL, that seems to stick in their collective throat. Not that it has any perceivable threat to their coffers in any kind of way.

You don’t agree? Well, he and his cronies went one step further a few days ago. They withdrew Sachin Tendulkar this time, from an exhibition T20 game where Hamish Marshall, another Kiwi national team discard due to his association with the ICL, was penciled in to play. Just to bare their teeth again at the ICL and thump their chests. It would have been just an idyllic and old fashioned exhibition game, you know. How do you think that excited eight year old kid who was looking forward to seeing the Little Master in action at that game feels? He is just beginning to build up his own little stash of memories that he will need in the coming years. He is still in his piggy bank days in that. And that my friend, is a crying shame.

Damn right, I feel like I am violated.