Samir Chopra September 19, 2010

Play to watch: The player as an informed spectator

The recently concluded US Open confirmed for me what I'd been suspecting for a few weeks leading into it: I'd really started to like watching tennis

Fans can appreciate the game better by playing it © AFP

The recently concluded US Open confirmed for me what I'd been suspecting for a few weeks leading into it: I'd really started to like watching tennis. All over again. The graph of my tennis fanhood had probably peaked in the mid-1980s, and then steadily declined. Despite the brilliance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, my interest in tennis never attained the heights it had reached when I was enthralled by the McEnroe-Borg rivalry. But this year, and the last, I'd noticed a renewed interest, and also managed to pinpoint a simple reason for it: I'd started to play tennis on a regular basis.

What does all of this have to do with cricket? My answer has two components. First, I'll note that sadly, cricket's hold on me seems to have declined, especially this year. Whether it is because I simply do not have the energy any more to deal with low-quality telecasts, the unfriendly time-zones, the lack of results in high-scoring subcontinental games, the proliferation of an unappealing format, the endless, nasty, nationalist bickering, the match-fixing or whatever else, cricket this year has played second fiddle to football, tennis and now, in the fall, baseball.

Secondly, I'll take note of two articles I'd previously penned here. In one, I wrote of how I didn't like playing cricket in the US because of the lack of cricketing context; and then another, in which, based on my experiences of watching cricket in Australia, it had seemed to me that a cricket-playing spectator was likely to have a more informed response to the game in front of him.

My experience with watching tennis this year has now convinced me that if I'm to rekindle my interest in cricket as a spectator sport, it will be by making cricket a personal endeavour again, by playing the game myself. International cricket holds many disappointments for me (as I write this, yet another accusation of conspiracy is starting to make the rounds), but perhaps the personal game itself will retain its attractions.

For I discovered, after several weeks of playing tennis regularly, that my tennis-watching senses had become sharpened: even an encounter between minor-league players seemed attractive, for I had more to pay attention to, more to note, more to observe and critique. The game's edges became sharper; my response to the player's skills was more measured, appreciative, and nuanced.

With cricket, it seems to me that I'd done the reverse. As long as I've lived in the US, I've not played cricket. This, of course, was not the case when I lived in India or in Australia. Of course, there is the lack of a cricketing context in the US, but I'd compounded it by not playing. Not coincidentally, the last time I can really remember being enthralled by cricket since I've returned from Australia has been on my various visits to India and Australia. The US will never provide that sort of background to my cricket-watching, but I can do my bit by simply picking up bat and ball.

And I can do so in the most American of ways. A young New York local, who I've become friendly with in the past few months, coaches a group of Bangladeshi schoolboys in a New York school league (how about that for a role reversal?), and has invited me to join them for a game or two. Next year, I plan to take up that invitation. What the international game won't do, perhaps this lower-level game will.

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