Commentary on Internet Relay Chat
Okay, time for a little honesty: how many of you have talked in glowing terms about an innings that you haven't seen a ball of? Everyone, right? Good. That lets me start on a story about my favorite Sachin Tendulkar innings. Why am I bringing this up now? For several reasons: an India-Australia series is on; we have been talking about the acknowledged Indian master of the second innings, VVS Laxman; and lastly, in my last post, I talked about the trials and travails of the expat fan, condemned to unfriendly time-zones. To top things off, this story wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of an Australian cricket fan.
So here we are, back in 1998. I'm desperately struggling to finish my Ph.D. Funds and motivation are low; my landlord has been happy to extend the rent deadline a few times but I'm living on borrowed time (in a room in a third-floor walkup in Alphabet City in New York). But there is a silver lining on the horizon: Australia are touring India and there is hype aplenty in the air. As a significant part of my night-life consists of gazing enviously at those fortunate enough to spare greenbacks for grog, I can look forward to readymade entertainment to while away the midnight hours: Test match commentary.
But not your grandfather's Test match commentary. This is the line-by-line output of Dougie (and his human operators), the Magic Cricket Scorer on #cricket, the Internet Relay Chat's cricket channel (the commentary was on #cricket, the chat on #crickettalk). I have already significantly slowed down my doctoral pursuits by spending too many hours in this virtual lounge, and now, face the prospect of spending many more.
The hype builds; Tendulkar takes a double-ton off the Australians in the tour game against Mumbai; the Chennai test rolls around. And I do diligent duty on IRC. But, again, with a slight twist. For one, I am not on #crickettalk any more, but on #crickind, a private channel set up by fellow Indian fans who, like me, have become tired of the bickering and flame-wars on the main channel (yes, blog comment sections are not the first place to witness bad online behaviour). Secondly, my Australian friend, David, who lived two floors below me, has kindly loaned me his precious work machine, an Apple laptop, to aid me in my midnight toils. (I would dial in to the university network to set up a PPP connection and then run an IRC client).
The fourth day's play is on. India start 29 runs ahead, and will have to get a move on if they are to force a result. When the second wicket falls at 115, India aren't exactly getting a move on; they have already consumed 43 overs. Tendulkar walks in, the weight of a first-innings failure for 4, dismissed by Warne, hanging over him.
52 overs later, as Azharuddin declares at 418-4, India have gotten a move on. Tendulkar is not out on 155 off 191 balls with 14 fours and 4 sixes. And each and every single delivery faced by him seems to be clearly etched in my mind, though I didn't see a single one. As each line of Dougie's output flashed up on the screen, the virtual hooping and hollering on the IRC channel grew more and more unrestrained, the chat increasingly giddy, as we realized that India was doing what many of us did not think was possible: forcing the pace in a Test match with aggressive batting to put themselves in a winning position. Outside my window, the denizens of the East Village drank, made merry, and indulged in whatever pleasures they deemed fit; I stayed glued to the small glowing screen.
Twelve years on, it is worth remembering that Azhar declared on the fourth day, setting Australia a target of 348 runs in a little over 100 overs. With all due respect to Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid, and Dhoni, they would not dare make such a move. And the man who put India in this position in the first place was Tendulkar, playing the innings of a lifetime (yes, against a weakened Aussie attack, but a good one nevertheless).
I stayed up all night, as Australia stumbled to 31-3 by the close. Then, later in the morning, I walked down to David's apartment to return his machine so that he could get back to work on his thesis. He sleepily opened the door and asked how it went. "Great day's cricket, absolutely smashing", said I, as I handed back my connection to Chennai, to a day whose description in staccato bursts of text seemed as vivid as a crystal clear telecast. And no, I still haven't seen this innings on video (fellow #crickind'ers, if you remember this night, do drop me a line sometime).
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here