August 22, 2014

66 for 6 and all that

How does an Indian fan react to this most evil of numbers?

If you stepped outside for a walk, it was likely you missed India's entire innings at Old Trafford and The Oval © Associated Press

Forty-two days of Test cricket ended so quickly; it was a bit of a blur. It ended with a long procession of batsmen, stretching as far back as the eye could see, their giant columns raising dust, taking guard, coming and going, their names going up and then down, on a giant scoreboard. Small numbers - very small! - appear next to their names. And then, finally, silence. How was one to make sense of it all? Especially as - when the smoke had cleared - it wasn't even 42 days. This is the era of unseemly brevity; of 140-character missives. Who has time for five days of a Test? Not the Indian batting line-up, eager to rouse the watching spectators from their indolent slumbers and send them, well ahead of schedule, back to work, back to reinvigorating national economies, back to reuniting families. Too bad for those selling beer at the grounds.

Sometimes catastrophes have to be approached gingerly. Tentatively. In small doses. So here go a pair of attempts at reckoning with disaster.

1. As parenthood has brought new responsibilities in its wake, my leisure and cricket-watching hours have undergone modification. I now spend Saturday and Sunday mornings taking my little daughter to the park, content to engage her in a ball sport or two. I leave behind my trip to the gym, my mornings in front of the cricket. When I return home, and touch the spacebar to bring the world of cricket to life, abbreviated scores spring into view, alerting me to all - the eventuation of cricketing fortunes - I have missed in my absence. Most notably, while I had been away these past two weekends, fourth innings began and went nowhere, sputtering in circles, before finally running aground on the shoals of deliveries that deigned to not maintain perfectly straight paths.

The second-innings collapse in the fourth Test caught me unawares, ensuring I would have no cricket to accompany my well-earned coffee after my return home. My little oasis of cricket-watching was nowhere to be found, a mirage in the shimmering heat of a rapidly disintegrating series.

The one in the fifth Test went one better: it ensured I missed the Test altogether. On Friday the 15th, seeking independence of another kind - i.e. not national - altogether, I was out of town, hiking in New York state's evergreen Catskills. On Saturday the 16th, I missed all of England's batting, and then on the 17th it was all over, the 94 all out sneaking up behind me, and with a little burst pulling away to leave me eating dust. Thus the Oval Test became the first Test played by India in a very long time of which I did not witness a single ball telecast live. I felt a curious sense of betrayal; I had not shown the fidelity required of a true sports fan; I had not stood by "my team". But I had not been alone in burning this bridge; my arson had been facilitated, almost gleefully so, by those who marched in toward, and then back away from, the hallowed 22 yards.

2. A few months ago, I wrote a post here at the Cordon, titled "Why India are not Brazil". In it, I suggested Ed Smith's analogising the Indian cricket team to the Brazilian soccer team did not work. But by one count, it most certainly does. Does 66 for 6 four innings in a row add up to 1-7 in a World Cup semi-final? At home? Perhaps not. But we're in the ballpark - literally - now.

For long, the most devastating batting collapse for a whole generation of Indian cricket fans was the one that gives the Summer of 42 its name. Later it became the house-of-cards tricks performed against Imran Khan in the 1982-83 series, especially the 1982 Christmas Day special in Karachi, India's birthday gift to the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. India's collapse for 90 in Calcutta against West Indies during the 1983-84 series, the one that elicited, in time-honoured fashion, a shower of debris from Calcutta spectators, and the piqued pronouncement by Sunil Gavaskar that he would never play in Calcutta again, also finds honourable mention in this catalogue of disasters. And then were all of the nineties, of course. Oh, and 2011.

But 66 for 6, 66 for 6, 66 for 6, 66 for 6? There's enough numbers of the beasts in there to send even Satan worshippers running to the hills. The rest of us can only cower - under any furniture close by - in the face of such numerological terror.

Let me know when it's safe to come out and play again.

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