Coming of Age as a Fan
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