Samir Chopra September 14, 2009

My uncle, my mentor

Cricketers have mentors

Cricketers have mentors. Those that inspire them to reach heights they might not have dreamed of. I think cricket fans have mentors too. Those that inspire our fandom, pointing us to corners of the game we might not have thought of exploring, whose influence makes us the fans we are today.

My mentor in cricketing-fandom was (and is) my uncle (my mother's younger brother). He taught me how to read cricket scorecards, to calculate batting and bowling averages, to find cricket commentary from England and Australia (and to tune shortwave radios), and introduced me to many of the game's greats. Indeed, he made me aware of so many different facets of the game, that it would take a column considerably longer than this one to do justice to him. Before I came to the US, it was no exaggeration to say that if I had experienced a pleasurable moment in watching cricket, the odds were high it was in his company.

I still remember the day I was first struck by what seemed like his uncanny ability to read a game. We were watching highlights of a Test between Tony Lewis' English side and the Indians in 1972-73. BS Chandrasekhar strode out to bat. My uncle calmly said, "Watch, he'll be bowled first ball." And so it came to be. I gazed at him in admiration; this man was prescient!

But more seriously, his utter and total devotion to the game - from tracking its minute variations, to his raw emotion when denied victory and his joy when the cricketing gods smiled upon his efforts, served as a model for me to emulate. Nothing quite impressed me like his logbook of cricket scorecards, faithfully copied out from newspapers, with every attendant statistic carefully noted. Here was devotion to the game, writ large in his careful handwriting.

Over the years we watched Test cricket on television, we heard it on the radio, we saw one-day internationals and we dissected games to bits. Some of my favourite cricketing memories (among others) involve him: listening to Pakistan make a brave attempt to chase down 294 against West Indies in the 1979 World Cup semi-final, and Kapil Dev lashing 89 off 55 balls against England at Lord's in 1982 in a brave attempt to ward off defeat, and of course, watching the 1983 World Cup semi-finals and final on a crystal-clear BBC broadcast.

There were crushing disappointments too: we still haven't got over India's failure to wrap up the 1985 Boxing Day Test. Denied by Border and the rain sure; but really, by India's inability to close the deal. The memory of that cold Delhi morning, huddled next to a radio, waiting and waiting for the last Australian wicket to fall, and for the Indian openers to get a move on, still rankles, and colours my perceptions of the modern Indian side.

My uncle had a rogue's sense of humour: he taped the end of the radio commentary of the fifth Test in the India-Australia series in 1977-78, played it back for me, and almost convinced me the umpire had called back Chandrasekhar for a second chance at batting. Only his giggling gave the game away.

He perfected the art of playing hooky to watch cricket with me. He would have his elder brother drop him off at my place on their way to work so he could watch the ODIs beamed live from Australia during the 1985-86 season (and then, he would be picked up in the evening; my grandparents never found out). As the game progressed, his old statistics-obsessed self would come to the fore: he would faithfully track the run-rate at the end of every over, and call out projections and predictions. When India won the Benson & Hedges World Championship in 1985, we both agreed it was a better win than 1983, simply because India had been so convincing, and best of all, we had beaten Pakistan in the final. There was no else I would have wanted to share the moment with.

Of all the cricketing losses I've suffered by moving to the US, not having him by my side to watch a game has been the worst.

Four years ago, he turned 50. I called him to wish him a happy birthday and knew there was only one way I could do it. I asked him to take fresh guard and go for his ton. I hope Mamaji does it. Heck, I'll run on to the ground and garland him if he does.

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