November 7, 2008

Losing my religion

The change of guard in Indian cricket has pulled the rug out from under the feet of a generation of cricket watchers

Goodbye to all that: the departure of India's stalwarts has consequences for cricket and cricket lovers © AFP

The events of the last few weeks are freaking me out. Anil Kumble has gone, Sourav Ganguly will go, and the other three may not be far behind. I assume there is a large group of cricket fans in their mid-to-late 20s, like me, who are grappling with the implications. This transition is messing with our minds.

Let me explain. For many of us cricket began in November 1989. Pictures of what went before are too hazy. I remember Allan Border lifting the World Cup but don't recall what I was doing then. So I can't connect Australia's World Cup win to my own life.

Sachin Tendulkar spoilt us. He commanded that we sit in front of the television sets. He ensured we got late with homework, he took care of our lunch-break discussions. He was not all that much older than us, and some of us naïve schoolboys thought we would achieve similar feats when we were 16. We got to 16 and continued to struggle with homework.

Then came Kumble and the two undertook a teenager-pampering mission not seen in India before. Tendlya walked on water, Jumbo parted seas. Our mothers were happy that we had nice heroes - down-to-earth prodigy and studious, brilliant bespectacled engineer. They were honest, industrious sportsmen, embodying the middle class.

When we thought we had seen everything, they reversed roles - Tendlya bowled a nerve-wracking last over in a semi-final, Jumbo played a match-winning hand with the bat. We were such spoilt brats that we pined for openers and fast bowlers. We cursed the side for not winning abroad. Such greed.

Economists would probably have predicted the bursting of the bubble. We had a deluge instead. One fine day at Lord's we got a glimpse of two new saviours: Delicate Timing and Immaculate Technique. Suddenly my group of eight friends was split into two camps. You were either with Ganguly or Dravid. In that period we even took Kumble and Tendulkar for granted. It was adolescent indulgence taken to the extreme.

When we played cricket on the streets, we had a number of choices. Left-handers were thrilled, defensive batsmen were happy, extravagant stroke-makers were delighted, the short boys didn't need to feel left out anymore, spectacles became cool, and freaky bowling actions were no more laughed at.

In such a state of bliss did we live our lives. We flunked important exams, shed tears over girls, crashed bikes, had drunken parties, choked on our first cigarettes, and felt utterly confused about our futures. But every time we felt low, we had an escape route. One glimpse of Dada stepping out of the crease, or Jam leaving a sharp bouncer alone, or Kumble firing in a yorker, was an uplifting experience. So what if India lost? Could any of those Pakistani batsmen even dream of batting like Sachin or VVS?

My generation needs to brace itself for this exodus. Some of my friends have been talking of needing to revaluate their own careers

I remember Ganguly and Dravid soaring in Taunton, mainly because it was the day I got my board-exam results. And boy, did that provide some much-needed relief. I remember Tendulkar's blitz against Australia in Bombay because my dad, who thought cricket was a waste of time, sat through every ball. So connected were these cricketers to my growing up.

Now, after close to 20 years, my generation needs to brace itself for this exodus. Some of my friends, crazy as this sounds, have been talking of needing to revaluate their own careers. Others are realising they need to recalibrate their childhood definitions of cricket. "Part of me just died," said a college friend who was the kind of extreme cricket buff who memorised scorecards. "No Dada, no Jumbo. I'm positive I'll stop watching after Sachin and Rahul retire."

These players were not only outstanding cricketers but also great statesmen. However hard they competed, they were always exceptional role models. Now we dread the next wave of brashness and impetuosity. Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth are talented cricketers, but there's no way anyone would want a young kid to emulate either. The younger crop seems worse - a visit to some of their Orkut and Facebook pages tells you enough - and things may only get cruder in a cricket world when you can make a million dollars in a little over three hours.

"Our childhood is ending," said a friend from school, and in some way he was probably spot on. Tendulkar's retirement may mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but for a generation of 25- to 30-year-olds it will mark the end of the first part of their lives. Switching on the television the day after will be a serious challenge.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a graduate student in Chicago and a former assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sankalp on November 10, 2008, 6:58 GMT

    Like many others who have left comments before, this is the story of my life. Sachin gave us a reason to be happy and more importantly to have hope. When like the excalibur he waved his bat, he made us believe anything was possible.It was different in the early 90s. India was not the country it is today and cricket was everything. Dravid and Ganguly added on. Its the end of an era. In many ways tht was the age of innocence. Life will never be the same again.

  • Jignesh on November 10, 2008, 6:38 GMT

    Best ever article ever read. I coudnt agree with you more. I guess this is the general feeling of our generation. It is hard to fathom that Dada, Jumbo will not be seen on the field or in the dressing room any longer. Guess, time flies by.

    These 5 players Dada,Jumbo,Sachin,VVS and Rahul are and will remain the finest our country has ever produced.

    However, I am optimistic that the newer lot will also do big things for the game and for one thing, I feel MSD is a character who will break Dada's record as the best captain ever.

  • mohd on November 10, 2008, 6:34 GMT

    cool..i hv strtd watching cric after winning the world cup. coz dad got the tv set in 1984. the tv was uptron. we used that tv for more than 13 years...i still remem the first match of azhar. in our street no one else had a tv. so whenever theres as an ODI all kids will be there. one of my frnd used to ball like "Small(neckless player)" of england. and i always tried to ball like prabhakar jumping to the left side...nd some time like cotny walsh of WI..walsh was my favourite. he looks tired when he bowls but for the batsmen its a bullet.Viv richards, Bruce Reid, Hadlee, srikkanthetc.. even n those days srikkanths strike rate is amazing..sehwag s the latest version of Sri...then cam our sachin he s nd will be my fav unless some1 else can beat his records...not only the records, the attitude he has s juz amazing...juz with a cool smile he cools down even nell.ofcourse tis article reminds us of our childhood but until india is ter i will be wit cricket. "Chak de India"

  • Arjun on November 10, 2008, 4:05 GMT

    Wasn't this the same way many of us tennis lovers felt when Pete stepped off the court for the last time? I thought all was lost. Agassi followed shortly and I thought this kind of rivalry will never again be seen on the tennis court. Alas, there was this young Swiss who had dealt Sampras his fatal blow in his own den started walking on water and then entered the Spaniard who captured hearts with his game. Sometimes these guys even make me feel that those days are back. I am sure there is someone there in cricket who is gonna do that. But all said, there are some moments in Indian cricket I will never forget such as Dada taking his shirt off and swingin it over his head at lords. But never write the younger generation off, you never know whats in store!

  • Ashwani on November 10, 2008, 3:10 GMT

    best article I have ever read on cricinfo. I will surely stop watching cricket the day sachin retires. i wont even probably watch TV after that. even thinking of the day sachin will retire is anxiety provoking.

  • Priyank on November 10, 2008, 2:56 GMT

    This is my story. This is the story of most of my friends.

    Let me tell you a little anecdote from my own life, to tell how much love I had for them. Once my mom was teasing me when Sachin got out for low score. It was two years back (I was 23 then). My face became red and I shouted at my mom - "What fun is it to insult my heroes who gave me the best memories in my life. I grew up imitating them in every way. If at all I had some wonderful memories in my life, they are the runs scored by fab four or wickets taken by Jumbo. Please don't ever insult them before me." I know many of my friends who reacted the same way in similar situations.

    I can't think of Indian team without these greats. My dad once said to me that he stopped watching cricket after Sunny Gavaskar retired. It is not just my dad, many people of his generation stopped watching after their heroes retired. I guess same thing happens with people who are in late twenties now.

    Thanks for such a nice article.

  • Manish on November 10, 2008, 1:12 GMT

    Each and every word about this articls is true! I have never connected myself to an article so much before. I am sure many of us share the same emotions. Thanks Siddhartha for penning them down! Man we are getting old!

  • Kuldeep on November 9, 2008, 18:18 GMT

    Awesome article.It so mirrored my state of mind that I felt as if you came and sat in my brain and wrote the article.I am 21 and your article perfectly reflected the nostalgic feeling in me.I think this is one of the best articles I have read.I have been through each and every kind of emotion described in the article.

  • Ashik on November 9, 2008, 14:59 GMT

    A little bit nostalgic. I started watching cricket after the world cup victory in 1983. Since then, I've keenly followed all the cricketers played for India. I loved watching Srikanth bat, Kapil playing a savior knock every now and then, but we see them go as the time pass. Now we have Sehwag similar to Srikanth, but won't be getting a fab four. It's a well-knit unit formed over a long period of time. Definitely we'll miss them. Though the Rohits and Kohlis knock the door, it is early time to pass any judgment. Sachin, Dravid, Kumble are one in a lifetime cricketers.

  • Anand on November 9, 2008, 12:53 GMT

    Really awesome article.... just reminds me of the days in Delhi where we played street cricket and all the other memories....Cricket for me would never be the same without the Fab-5....Cricket for us is not just a game.. Its a way of life...

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