Samir Chopra August 11, 2009

Watching alone isn't always fun

There is nothing quite like having a fellow fan at hand to receive, amplify, and enhance, one's immediate, unvarnished take on a game of cricket

There are plenty of ways to watch a cricket match: up close and personal in the middle of a general admission stand in one of India's concrete behemoths; sprawled out, esky, sunscreen, and maybe children, close at hand, on one of New Zealand's grassy slopes; natty and prim in a members stand; or perhaps, dressed in a manner not fit to be seen by man or beast, in front of one's television set at home.

To this list, one must add, "alone, slumped in a work chair, in front of a nineteen-inch flat screen monitor." Well, at least, that is how I watch a lot of cricket these days. On broadband video, at home (the work connection is a little slow, unfortunately). And in general, these pleasures of cricket watching are experienced in splendid isolation.

When the hours are right, I can turn on the speakers and enjoy the sensation of the crackle of crowd sounds and commentators permeating the ambience of my apartment, otherwise, when the timezones are not favorable, I have to slip on a pair of headphones and enter further the illusion of being confined to a tiny sphere, my activities incomprehensible to most around me. Nothing confirms my sense of isolation as an immigrant, an exile in the world of cricket, quite like that feeling which steals over me when India play their home games, when my hours of vigil commence just as my wife turns out the lights and goes to bed, and I stay up in the living room, headphones strapped on, struggling to stay awake, as a cricket game goes on, thousands of miles away.

But watching cricket like this is a frustrating business. Because those that watch cricket games like to talk about it, to offer an opinion, to do both in real time, and sometimes, to even listen to what other folks might have to say. In the old days, even if I watched part of a game alone at home, I was guaranteed conversation about it if I stepped out on the street, or on the university bus the next morning.

This role, obviously, has now been taken up by the internet, with all its attendant mixed blessings. Like legions of graduate students in the 90s, I whiled away many hours on, delaying a dissertation and a healthier bank balance for the love of cricket. I finally left in 1995, exhausted by the flaming and the inevitable recycling of discussions. A few years later, living in Australia meant a return to the pleasures of off-line conversations about cricket, to the day-after office conversation, the discussions of scores throughout the day.

But that relief was temporary and soon I found myself back in the world of the polite New York Times references to cricket, the late-night telecasts of World Cups, and the social query of "You're really into cricket, aren't you? How come you guys wear so much body armor?"

Under these circumstances, starting blogging was a non-brainer. I began in 2004, got nowhere, tried again in 2005, and only made some headway in 2006. But blogging has not removed all of the isolation; I still detect in the writing of bloggers, writing from cricket playing lands, a level of connection with the game that I do not always experience. Sometimes the disconnection is mundane: I'm not always as familiar with all of the world's players that folks exposed to more telecasts are. Sometimes it is about failing to catch a mood: I've been assured by many friends that I would not be able to resist the IPL fever if I was back in India. There is a distancing from the game that is not always physical.

But like many other aspects of my stranded position, I've come to appreciate this place, set slightly apart from the cricketing world. It lets me offer a slightly different perspective, an alternative take, if you will, on cricketing affairs. The value of that perspective, admittedly, is sometimes only visible to me (as the comments section assures me). Still, it offers one more viewing panel, and in our more generous moments, I'm reasonably sure we could acknowledge that wasn't such a bad thing.

But at most times, the isolation is a chilling one. Hooping and hollering at a computer monitor is a strange business at best; dashing off a few words on a keyboard for an instant display of one's emotions on a blog takes some of the edge off that jonesing for an audience, but not all. When it comes down to it, there is still nothing quite like having a fellow fan at hand to receive, amplify, and enhance, one's immediate, unvarnished take on a game of cricket.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here