Samir Chopra January 13, 2010

Gods no more

I had grown, and the players hadn't

As a sub-teenager, cricket players were, quite literally, giants © Cricinfo Ltd.

Cricket fans, like pitches, change with time. Where a devotee of the game might once have spent his youth waking up early for radio commentary from distant lands, he could move on to spending those morning hours playing with his little children; where an ardent lover of the numerical aspects of the game might have spent hours calculating the fluctuations in his hero's batting averages, the only number with decimal points he might care about in his thirties is likely to be the mortgage rate on his city apartment.

In my case, the most significant change was the realisation a few years ago that I was older than anyone who currently played Test cricket. That slowly developing shift in my perspectives on the game's players has been enlightening in more ways than one. This change has occurred at the same time that I have had increasing access to the players via the media: their spoken words, their writings, their antics in the many-splendoured television coverage that is now ubiquitous.

As a sub-teenager, cricket players were, quite literally, giants. They looked bigger, they did adult things. They looked like my uncles (and these were just the Indian players). When it came to cricket players from other countries, the distance was even greater. They looked different; they were names in books, faces in photographs, flickers on television screens. They weren't real, really.

When I finished high school and started university, I realised with a start some of the young men I was friendly with were potential international stars. [Syed] Saba Karim was a college mate, and he played for India (years later at Kingston, I called out to him from the boundary line and he stopped and chatted briefly; he invited me back to the hotel for a chat with the rest of the team, but alas, I had a flight to catch the same night). It was the first time I realised the pitches out in the middle of a large cricket field were not on distant planets. They were just a few dozen yards from the boundary ropes.

At the same time, I saw more, read more and heard more, about the players. Their aura, once carefully constructed by my temporal, psychic, and physical distance from them, crumbled rather easily. When I had run across Kapil Dev outside a Delhi restaurant in my final year of high school, he had seemed a giant; when I met Chaminda Vaas at Melbourne's airport in 2003, I realized with a slight start that I was speaking to a young man who, had he been in high school with me, would have had to give up his school bus seat had I demanded it.

But it was their ever-increasing presence in the media that did the most to make me realise that cricket players were rather more easily worshipped when I had less access to them. They had cricketing talent, but that didn't necessarily translate into superior moral qualities or intelligence. Any projection of these attributes on them (and the resultant disappointment when they failed to uphold my standards) was more a reflection of a felt need on my part, than any failure on theirs.

I had grown, and the players hadn't. They formed an abstract grouping; one whose positions were occupied by a revolving cast that came and went, going about entertaining and performing. My perspectives on them, modified irrevocably by the passage of time, could proceed in no other direction than that of the markedly less hagiographic.

Nothing reminds me of this shift over the years better than when I go to see an international game at the grounds (as I did at the MCG and SCG these past couple of weeks). It's a game, and some men play it really well. And we like watching them go about their work. The rest of the romance is our doing, more easily sustained by younger, less jaded versions of ourselves.

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