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October 26, 2010

Samir Chopra

Coming of Age as a Fan

Samir Chopra

Back in 1997, I attended a Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankees Stadium with my friend Tom and his father (the pair are veteran Red Sox fans). Shortly after the game ended, as we made our way out to the car park, I posed a question about base-stealing and its relationship to pitch counts, which was handled rather expertly by Tom's father. He then followed up with a query of his own, "I bet cricket is a pretty complicated game too?" And I replied, "Well, I've been following it seriously for 21 years now, and I keep learning things about it to this day."

Later that night, when I got back home, I wondered why I had said I had been following the game for 21 years. The answer wasn't hard to find:1976 was the year Tony Grieg's MCC team toured India, and I count my relationship with that series as marking the start of my 'serious' love-affair with the game, a series in which I 'came of age' - as a cricket fan. I was dimly conscious of Tony Lewis' outfit in 1972-73, and Clive Lloyd's West Indians in 1974-75 (indeed, the reason Andy Roberts and Viv Richards loom so large in my mind is because they seemed to be the talk of the town in those days). But it was the 'Winter of 1976' that did it for me.

Like players then, fans mature too. From that series I learned about the concept of a draw (the fifth Test in Bombay; the only drawn Test of the series, and which might, ironically, have been the closest and most engaging), different bowling styles (the Indian spinners, John Lever et al), nightwatchmen, captains' innings (Tony Greig's 'made with a fever' 103 in Calcutta), the importance of close-in fielders (Yajurvindra Singh's world-record equalling performance at Bangalore), ball-tampering (John Lever again) and so on. For the first time, I followed scores obsessively, tracked statistics, and started to become aware of the ebbs and flows of a Test. I consumed, rather rapaciously, the three forms of media coverage then available for cricket: newspapers, TV highlights and of course, radio commentary.

And because I was drawn into cricket's present, I was drawn too, into its past: I became a serious reader of cricket's history that year. I bought books, and my library card did yeoman's work. The series being played that season demanded context, and I sought it. And in so doing, the game snapped ever more sharply into focus.

So my relationship with cricket changed in the 1976-77 season; I became aware of the game in a manner than enabled it to lay the foundation of a relationship that has endured. After that season, cricket became associated with Delhi winters (it didn't matter that Bombay, Calcutta and Madras weren't anything like Delhi in the winter; what mattered was that I was in Delhi, experiencing the cricket in my own way). If a winter evening is melancholic for me, it's because I came to associate it with the close of play in a Test match, as the light weakened, and the winds sharpened.

Of course, that series was only the start for with every game, every series that followed, there was more to learn and appreciate. Test cricket, of course, had a great deal to do with it, for it provided the best forum for a measured understanding of the game's varied offerings. And I don't think I can point to another series after the 1976-77 one and declaim, "And by that time, my development as a fan was complete." Because while it is easy to point to the beginnings of one's education, it is unwise to mark the end.

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

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Posted by Sandip on (July 27, 2011, 4:42 GMT)

Nice one Samir! I read this a bit late but it certainly evoked the memories. That series was also my first series that I really became entangled with cricket as a life long obsession. And the Calcutta (my hometown) Test was the 1st one I ever watched. On a b/w ECTV. In the neighbourhood our landlord was the only one who had one. My everlasting memory from that Test will be Tony Greig going down on his knees and imploring the Calcutta crowd to support him!

Posted by MprDave on (March 8, 2011, 17:04 GMT)

Thank you for sharing this great information with us.

Posted by hari murhy on (November 16, 2010, 3:44 GMT)

Hi Samir, You article is a good one, reminds me of the start of my cricketing romance in 1974-75. My interest got generated when my mother was reading a tamil magazine and they had given the photos of Westindian players who were touring India at that time. I asked my elder brother. a keen cricket follower, who were they? He then told me the story about cricket and I all of 7/8 years listen to him and became a fan of this wonderful game. The first match i watched was the 5th test match at Mumbai(Bombay) Westindies vs India, the series was level. I still remember the first ball Abid Ali to Greenidge and Greenidge hit it for four. I became a fan of of Greenidge which cumulated in having a meeting with him in 1997. I watched the match of TV shown live in Mumbai DD. This test was highly published in those days because the stadium was burnt on 2nd day and Lloyd hit a 242. My romance with the game still continues even after 36 years. Long live Cricket.

Posted by Madappa Prakash on (November 15, 2010, 0:46 GMT)

Hi Samir, You've been quiet for a while. I was looking for a blog from you, but could not find it. In any case, have you watched Daniel Vettori on the field? I've been watching him in the recent India vs NZ test matches, and am impressed. He really seems to enjoy his cricket. A lovely sight to watch. Can you write about him? I don't know much about him.

Cheers,

Prakash

Posted by Ramkumar on (November 10, 2010, 5:45 GMT)

For me, it was the Ind vs SL match, when Azhar made 199. It was on the tv, and when India surpassed SL's score in the 1st innings, I was bemused the game didn't end. There was a elderly who tried to explain me the nuances of test cricket, but I, a 10 year old by then, couldn't understand all of it, though I pretended I did. Kapil Dev scored 160+ in that match. My son was left clueless why the match continued when NZ got all out for 459 against India's 487 at Ahmedabad last week. I told him test cricket is too complex and I had promised him I'll explain the nitty gritties in 2 years time. He'll be 8 by then. Kids are smarter these days compared to 80's. I believe.

Posted by Jaideep on (October 28, 2010, 9:51 GMT)

Nice article. For me it was the 1976 Bombay test vs New Zealand with Gavaskar scoring 119 - think it was his first century in India and Venkat getting to 100 wickets. India won that match and the series. This was followed by series as described by the writer. The TV highlights were a joke if anyone can recall. There was no editing to speak of back then and you ended up watching a bowler walking upto the top of his bowling mark and batsmen playing defensive strokes. In sharp contrast were the highlights from Australia during that marvellous series in 1977-78. Also remember the live relay from Pakistan in 1978. Their coverage seemed to be better than ours. We lost the series badly but Gavaskar's batting stood out. Remember the stylish Zaheer Abbas - (we celebrated in school when he got out for 42 in the 3rd test), Imran Khan, Sarfaraz Nawaz and of course the street fighter Javed Miandad. I still remember their run chase in the 2nd and 3rd tests. Bedi's career ended in that series.

Posted by Sanjeeb kumar on (October 28, 2010, 4:49 GMT)

1976-77 series against England was the one which marked my beginning also as a serious cricket fan, so serious that in less than ten years I listened to running commentary of a Kerala Tamil nadu match in a language which to this day I am not aware, could have been tamil or Malyalam, Sunil Walson had taken 8 wickets for Keralaanand the local paper delivered in my village did not cover and obviously BBC's Sports Round Up didn't, I am not aware of the outcome of the match. MCC's 1979 tour of Bangladesh aws aseries which I followed ball by ball on radio Bangladesh and the high point was the Bangladesh Central Zonenumber 11 Alok Chakraborty playing a fast bowler called Wilson for the last few balls to draw the two day match.John Jameson and Richard Hutton were amongst the test players who were playing for MCC and the name familiar to most of us would be Mark Nicholas.

Posted by Ramesh on (October 28, 2010, 4:48 GMT)

For me it was the 1979 season when India ended up winning tests at Madras against WI and Pakistan. I was all of 9, but my love affair with the game had started.

Posted by Amit on (October 28, 2010, 3:36 GMT)

Ah, wonderful memories. For me, it started with 1971 test win for India at oval, the day after chandra took 6 wkts and Solkar took some fabulous catches, when India was set to chase 170 to win the series in england and I was ramping up on my numbers as a 6 year old. All neighborhood kids were made to sit by our parents with a paper and pencil when the countdown began. When Engineer hit the final, the entire city of Bombay erupted and the celebration seem to have lasted for weeks. There was no TV coverage and the commentry thru shortwave BBC. My obsession with cricket has never waned, except from 87 and 94 before internet days (remember rn to get news) when I moved to US.

Posted by Pramatha on (October 27, 2010, 18:38 GMT)

For me it was the winter of 1969, when Bill Lawry's team toured India. NZ had toured in November but somehow I didn't get into it. But came the Australians, and the petrol pumps were handing out stuff for kids with pictures of team members. The Delhi Test was televised (yes it was). Watched it too, in school (which had just bought a TV) and in a neighbours (everyone and their grandmother was at that neighbour's, the sole owner of the neighbourhood TV). And we won!!!

But it was the Test match before that that really got us hooked. Paul Sheehan scored a century. The name sounded so different (and I was attending an Irish catholic school !). Then came the debutant Vishwanath's century in the second innings.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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