May 25, 2010

Hooked on torment

What are you if you switch the TV on at three in the morning knowing full well your team will probably get a pasting?

Cricket gives me - has given me for as long as I can remember - a sense of time: a certain feeling or event in my life is referenced with the memory of a particular game. It also gives me a sense of place. This may be an extraordinarily blinkered way to look at the world (and you have to be extraordinarily blinkered to have Queen's Park Oval flash across your mind the moment someone says Trinidad), but I think of cities in terms of their cricket grounds. It is the most enduring geography lesson I have ever had, and it brings closer and makes familiar places with which I have little acquaintance. It is, I have found, something that gives my life a coordinate, a kind of centre amid the changing clutter of daily life with which it is tough to keep up.

But most of all, perhaps, cricket gives me a sense of myself. They say you only get a sense of yourself when you see yourself in relation to another. Cricket is that great other.

It's like a relationship, this thing between the fan and his sport, some say. Well, only those who are not fans say that. Because it is not like any relationship that I've ever known.

On the average day, it is a relationship that is too full of shame and humiliation, too unrequited and too committed at the same time, too like a one-way street. If my wife had let me down half as many times as India have on the pitch, I would have walked out on her. But when it comes to the game, I can never, however great the disappointment in the last match and however certain I am of impending doom in this one, bring myself to turn away.

Can you?

If my wife had let me down half as many times as India have on the pitch, I would have walked out on her. But when it comes to the game, I can never, however great the disappointment in the last match, bring myself to turn away

If you can, you are not one of us. Which, come to think of it, is not such a bad thing. Because you are spared the painful pleasure of being a masochist. All fans - the ones like me who need sport to give a sort of shape to life - are masochists. What else can you be when you switch on the TV at three o'clock in the morning knowing that your team is going to get a pasting - again?

For those of us who are too far gone, gone far enough in fact to embrace torment (We lost 0-3 against Zimbabwe? No matter, throw us a defeat against Bangladesh. We'll still watch), it's not a choice. It's a compulsion. Addiction does not have rationality at its heart.

The pact between a fan and his team is sacrosanct. It cannot be broken. It is not like the colas or the cars or the credit cards or the car tyres the players endorse. Don't like it? Flush it down the toilet. Sell it off. Exchange it for something better. Buy a new one.

When things go wrong on the pitch, some of us go on mock funeral processions. Some of us threaten players' families. (The first gesture is banal, the second despicable. But morality or ethics is not the issue here; it seldom is when you are talking about addiction.) Still few of us can stay away when our players walk out on to the field. Were we able to do that, TV ratings would slip and channels would not pay millions for satellite rights, companies would hesitate before pumping in billions to sponsor the team, and soft-drink majors would worry about putting their money where the nation's heart isn't. The fact that they have not suggests that there are millions out there like me. Sometimes it feels like a brotherhood of misery.

Every fan realises this: feeling miserable is part of the deal. But riding the misery and sticking with it is the deal. You can't support another team (Namibia?), or suddenly be passionate about another sport (ice hockey?). It's this or nothing. And nothing is so much worse.

Soumya Bhattacharya, editor of Hindustan Times in Mumbai, is the author of the memoir, You Must Like Cricket?. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine in 2007

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 28, 2010, 0:00 GMT

    all of you are forgetting one point .... why sehwag gets injured just before the worldcup .... he played all the ipl 3 matches ..... i think rift between dhoni and sehwag is still there ... our main down fall in last two icc events is the opening position .... murali vijay and rohit sharma become bakra's ... they are not regular openers for the international team ... gambhir, sehwag and sachin are the openers... i think we are losing matches because of politics inside the team ......

  • Teague on May 27, 2010, 19:46 GMT

    I hate that I love to watch you India. I only hope at some point we can have a team that will make us proud each time they play.

  • Raman on May 27, 2010, 12:39 GMT

    This would be the Excruciatingly Agonizing/ Unbearable India XI in the 1980s: Lalchand Rajput, Arun Lal, Sanjay Manjrekar, Raman Lamba, Ravi Shastri, Kirti Azad, Manoj Prabhakar, Sadanand Viswanath, Madan Lal, Atul Wassan & Gopal Sharma. (Shastri, Manjrekar & Prabhakar were ok players but so very boring to watch.)

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2010, 8:46 GMT

    A brilliant article. Cricinfo should post more articles focusing on the cricket fans themselves rather than the cricket on the field. It is an addiction. It is sport. It is life.

  • Caleb on May 27, 2010, 0:39 GMT

    Totally agree with this article, try being a fan of NZ Cricket and being like this, it sure can be torment at different times! especially away tests or even at home, but hopefully if we can get a reasonable core group the next few years will be pretty decent! But no matter what, i will still be watching you!

  • Hari on May 26, 2010, 12:20 GMT

    Dear Soumya,

    I remember reading your book "You must like cricket" and feeling very depressed - I should have written that book! Like others have mentioned in these columns, you have spoken for every silly one of us! I vividly recall your paragraph about Tendulkar - my eyes were streaming with tears of joy as I read that part. Your book was pure joy, and so is this article.

  • Nikhil on May 26, 2010, 11:31 GMT

    And this is the REASON why the BCCI doesn't care about fans needs at the game, be it food, water, toilet facilities because they know that people are going to come anyways, its a shame that there are people who are not standing up to the nonsense of BCCI, after watching a game at Ahemedabad i will never go to see another game at a stadium.

  • Prateek on May 26, 2010, 8:18 GMT

    Well this is an excellent piece from Soumya!! Nice work.I could relate to myself all through the lines.We all the Super Cricket Fans have exactly the same feelings (thinking of the cricket venue when told about a city!!!!).You got it dead right Mr Bhattacharya,reflecting the mindset of a true cricket fan.I always watch INDIA's matches, no matter if they lose,i'm impatiently waiting for the next one!

  • Senthil on May 26, 2010, 7:37 GMT

    For many of us, it's the drama itself that is addicting. The play of characters and the test of their character - it's all worth it. I just wish they would keep the pom pom stuff out like the needless rubbish called cheerleading, throwing so much confetti that you cannot even see the celebrating team, and asking actors how they think the game is poised! The true cricket lover needs none of that - and s/he is being shortchanged to accommodate the monkeys.

  • Senthil on May 26, 2010, 7:34 GMT

    Ah, there is, however, the hope for a miracle - that is cricket itself! There is always that chance for the improbable to become probable, then possible and then it's upon us! Before we realize it, history has been made and we're a part of that. Even in the worst defeats, in the deepest pain, there are silver linings we walk away with. Cricket can throw us these crumbs of comfort from any situation. To say something cold blooded - with a little luck and pluck, any team can beat any other team on its given day. That's what keeps me glued to the hopeless matches.

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