October 16, 2009

Thank you, uncles

There's nothing quite like watching cricket with grumpy old men for company

I've watched a lot of cricket over the past few years, sometimes alone, sometimes with knowledgeable cricket-analysing friends who spend the time between overs discussing the biomechanics of the square cut or the quality of top-soil required for a track that will spin on day four. I love it.

But nothing comes close to my childhood cricket-watching experiences, when watching a game meant watching it with my dad and a group of uncles whose love for the game was matched only by the depth of their collective bias.

This was during the mid-eighties, when India, buoyed by a World Cup victory followed by a few successive tournament wins, suddenly gave their fans cause for optimism. Finally, despite the presence of Madan Lal and Ashok Malhotra in the team, we believed we could win cricket matches against the very best teams, except West Indies. My uncles were probably a part of the first generation of the "We must win every game, take a wicket every over, hit every ball for four - otherwise we suck" category of Indian cricket fan that is so commonly found today.

They were an imposing bunch - bank managers, insurance company head honchos, and NRIs of uncertain occupation ("Oh, he is with some big company in Muscat"). You couldn't disagree with them, unless you were one of them. Their wives would grumpily serve coffee, mutter under their breaths and retreat to the safety of the kitchen. The kids would never dare admit they liked Craig McDermott or Carl Hooper or Richard Hadlee if that specific player was out of favour with the grand council. Deep down, you suspected they didn't know all that much about cricket, and were sure that they had no actual say in team selection or match scheduling. But I don't think they had any such doubts - they gathered, snacked, and let fly with some of the most colourful, memorable, and sometimes downright bizarre cricket-based utterances of all time.

Most of them seemed to pull off the rather impressive feat of believing that India was simultaneously the best and the worst team in the world. "Useless fellows!" someone would thunder after a heartbreaking loss. "They should stop playing cricket altogether for a few years." As if depriving the team of international competition would somehow ensure that they would suddenly discover a winning formula. Yet, despite this evident negativity, they expected India to win every single game, in the manner of devoted parents sincerely believing that their dullish son would one day achieve exam scores that were disproportionate to his ability and prove that he was better than Sanjay Dugar, or whoever was the designated "first-rank" boy in class. This expectation of non-stop success from India is about as fair as expecting Harbhajan Singh to rack up a Test match batting average in the low fifties. Yet, thanks to the efforts of the early fans, the thought process continues unabated to this day.

If my father's opinion of every single lbw decision given against Sachin Tendulkar is to be taken seriously, his (Sachin's, not my father's) Test average would be 66.87. Include close run-out calls, dodgy caught-behinds, and catches close to the ground, and it inches closer to 75

One of the uncles, a particularly opinionated gent, (he was senior management at TVS or some other South Indian business giant, and was probably used to every single one of his opinions being enthusiastically agreed with by an army of safari suit-clad subordinates) was known for his impulsive and emotional responses to events on the pitch.

A misfield would result in, "Amarnath should be sacked immediately", causing my young mind to conjure up pictures of BCCI officials hurriedly running on to the field to convey the bad news to Jimmy, who would then sadly trot off and play no further part in the match. A good catch would result in, "He is the only fellow who is playing for the team. Sack everyone else and make him the captain", a suggestion that essentially meant that the athletic fielder would be skipper of a team that had no other players. I can only hope that my uncle's management style at work did not reflect his cricket team selection views - it would have resulted in a number of junior managers at TVS losing their jobs because they had forgotten to bring their pens or neglected to berate the peon over his shoddy footwear.

The uncles' favourite players were also expected to be granted immunity from being dismissed leg-before. If my father's opinion of every single lbw decision given against Sachin Tendulkar is to be taken seriously, his (Sachin's, not my father's) Test average would be 66.87. Include close run-out calls, dodgy caught-behinds, and catches close to the ground, and it inches closer to 75. If my dad could figure out a way to somehow introduce an element of doubt to the times Tendulkar has been out clean bowled, his average would probably be around 3269.53. Well above that pesky Bradman, who only played against mediocre attacks anyway.

But despite believing that K Srikkanth was better than Sunil Gavaskar, despite insisting that umpires from Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and England (other than Dickie Bird) were cheats, despite claiming that Hindi commentary has dismissed more Indian batsmen than Wasim Akram has, these were men who loved their cricket, and made sure that a bunch of us youngsters inherited that love. Thank you, gentlemen - watching the games with you was a blast.

Anand Ramachandran is a writer and humourist based in Mumbai. He blogs at bosey.co.in

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sridhar on October 18, 2009, 11:20 GMT

    Fantastic article Anand! I am sure you are one of my long-lost cousins I haven't seen in the last 20 years. How else woud you know about MY Uncles, father, grandad? Seriously, I miss watching cricket with my extended/joint family. Watching cricket with them on TV or at Chepauk was an unforgettable experience. BTW, do you know how many times Sunny Gavaskar got out immediately after the commentator/TV screen flaunted his stats? Ask my Uncle...

  • Ashok Kumar on October 18, 2009, 7:29 GMT

    A True Story of most Families in India in General, and more so to South India. TV and ODIs have brought this wonderful cricket bonhomie of all families joining in one house to enjoy Sport and Lunch/Dinner, and judge players, praise them or curse them!

    Before that kids were to accompany elders, reluctantly initially, to Western Gallery Stands, with Packed Lunches. It was the Chikki, and Bajjis on sale by hawkers, which attracted kids like us and the noise. Slowly you imbibed and absorbed Cricket, over three, in lesser than Tests(Hyd hardly figured in Test Scene those days in 60/70s), like Ranji, Moin-ud-dowla etc.

    Those were great memories, and I am enjoying T20, live at Uppal Stadium,Shouting unabashedly and enjoying. Age, I guess is no bar to Fun!!

  • sridhar on October 18, 2009, 3:07 GMT

    Excellent piece Anand. Reminds me of my youth and people of my age , sadly belong to that breed. I grew up in Madras at that time and from my own experiences, the knowledge of a section of people in Madras was far superior to that of most others ,definitely in India. You can still hear some of these guys in the test matches being played in Chepauk. There was one subtle difference though. Unlike your uncles, they knew their cricket. They wanted India to win , but India hardly won in the sixties and seventies. "Why is Underwood bowling round the wicket?' "GR VIshwanath is the greatest Indian batsman,not that boring Gavaskar""Why is he not changing McKenzies"end, he should bowl from the pavilion end". If Australia and West Indies were playing a match at the Gabba, violent arguements would break out in the streets of Mambalam about Rowan and Egar and how they should be allowed nowhere near a ground where the Australian cricket team was playing. Thank you for reviving those memories.

  • David on October 17, 2009, 23:31 GMT

    I love cricket and the Black Caps because of my Grandad, he taught me to play and educated me why it should be played. I miss him and his comments. A very good article that brought back some old memories for me. Thank You Very Much Sir.

  • ATUL on October 17, 2009, 9:25 GMT

    Another point I must make here is that people from Tamil Nadu in general and Chennai in particular have a grand tradition of following Cricket and in Cricket literature. I noticed it with a Tamilian friend of mine - his Dad and grand dad had encyclopedic knowledge of Cricket. I have noticed this in these comments as well!

    Keep it up guys! It is my ardent desire to watch a test match in Chennai for precisely this reason.

  • ATUL on October 17, 2009, 9:20 GMT

    Lovely article, Anand. I'm sort of jealous reading the article and all the comments here. I wish I would have been born 10 years earlier. We only started watching Cricket in the early nineties, past the great WI age.

    The most tense, and thus the most entertaining bit during the time was when Sachin was batting - in other words, when all 10 wickets hinged on a single wicket!!! All sorts of charges - from ball tampering to drug usage were levelled against any bowler who attempted swinging the ball or bowling faster than Sachin could manage :)

    However, the Cricket experts are still around. The latest rant when anyone catches me watching a test match: "Oh, you still watch test cricket? Watch 20-20 yaar, everything done and dusted in 3 hrs!" - as if I have bought an Ambassador in the SUV age!

  • Steve on October 17, 2009, 8:55 GMT

    This article reminded me not of family, but the odd person who resides in the SCG Members area with a loud voice, a multitude of opinions and a complete lack of knowledge of cricket (any form). You will then hear their views on the cricket on display for the next 6-8 hours and how it was better at some other point in history. At least at home, I could go and watch on another TV - or go to a mates place and watch!

  • RAKESH on October 17, 2009, 3:21 GMT

    Couldn't agree with u more:-)

  • Ganga on October 16, 2009, 20:01 GMT

    Excellent article, Anand! This brings back some nice memories! The 84 Benson & Hedges world series cup win was the first cricket match I remember watching.

    Also, at that time, not every household in our neighbourhood had TV, so we had some 10-20 people sitting in the living room - with uncles telling us kids about how some cricketers aren't patriotic, conspiracy theories of how umpires (in those matches in Sharjah when India kept losing to Pakistan) were bribed into giving decisions unfavourable to the Indians, and so on.. You're right, that's probably what spawned our generation of extremely passionate and overreacting cricket fans!

  • Absar on October 16, 2009, 19:56 GMT

    roflmao - the best article ive read in a while... ah those were the good old days... i remember my dad saying - eveyone should give sachin a share of their money, coz he did most of the work anyway... though he hated him to the core - i love him more than he hated sachin, God knows why... the comments by the readers are awesome.. particularly by SoftwareStar, the one with - who is playing?? is it test or one day and the match strategy bit had me in splits...

    hindi commentators did take more wkts than akram.. thats one thing i dont miss... lol..

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