Damn the 100th
I don't know how you feel but increasingly I find my love for cricket assaulted from all directions. I feel it has been kidnapped, bundled into the boot of a car and dropped off in an area with no phone signal. We fret, we are obsessed with landmarks, we build conspiracy theories, we get angry, and I wonder: What happened to the simple joy of watching cricket? What happened to the reason we were drawn to this great game?
I've come to the stage where I have told myself, "Damn that 100th". It is a great milestone and no one else is going to get there, but we don't watch a game merely for a milestone. We watch sport for the joy of seeing great performances from elite sportsmen, sometimes riveting ones from those less skilled. We watch it as the greatest display of emotion and skill on a public platform. We want to marvel, rub our eyes in disbelief, occasionally grieve but be aware that tomorrow is still ours. We want to feel blessed for being allowed to sit in on such contests.
And then numbers happen. They are good tools for comparison (though not always), but they are by-products of performance. If we watch sport for numbers, we watch it for the wrong reason. You can count numbers anywhere, generate statistics anywhere - the largest set of people to collectively leave Mumbai's CST station on a Thursday, for example; or the percentage of unemployed every January since 1901. Don't get me wrong, collecting numbers is not bad - as I said, you often get good insights from them - but obsessing over them is a poor reason to watch sport.
This obsession with Tendulkar's 100th isn't affecting only him, it is affecting us even more. Suddenly we have lost all objectivity, become unaware of the presence of other players (thankfully the Dravid retirement got the place it deserved), forgotten that cricket is a contest between 22. And now I'm bored by it all and fed up with the angst over it. If Kohli and Gambhir make fine hundreds, I don't want to see or read of Tendulkar's innings first and theirs as a filler.
Sadly Tendulkar is also a financial instrument. Yes, he makes very serious money out of the game but people make just as much out of him. Ad revenues go up, so do attendances when he plays, but just as important, supplements and special programmes sell. Praising him sells and criticising him does, and so, whether he wants it or not, whether he needs to be or not, Tendulkar must feature in the news, on specials, in features. If there is no Tendulkar story, we must create one.
So I say, damn that 100th. Let us enjoy watching a supreme exponent of the game while we can; let us revel in being part of the journey, let us gasp at the cover drive one more time, for Tendulkar, at 39, is playing his endgame. Let's bring back the little joys for as long as possible. If the 100th happens, we'll celebrate a great achievement but if it doesn't, he won't become a lesser player.
Then there are these debates; endless spewings of venom, factories of anger. If an Australian player mutters something as he passes, or makes a gesture, a half hour is devoted to Indians being wronged. If Greg Chappell says something we don't like, another orgy of temper, trembling voices lamenting an attack on India's pride. We scream of racism. One person called Chappell a "pathological case". (I hope he knew what that means, for I don't.) Anger, anger everywhere. Sport was meant to be uplifting but I wonder if that doesn't sell enough on a daily half-hour slot.
I recently did four Test matches in Australia for ABC Radio and it was like being transported to my childhood. There was laughter and joy, good words to describe good shots. Cricket was the theme of happy conversation and every morning I got up excited about trying to be a friend to all those who couldn't be at the ground. I was back, living with the simple joy of watching cricket. And tell me honestly, isn't that what you really want?
So I say, damn that 100th, turn off the anger, put the conspiracy theories where they belong, and ask yourself why you really watch cricket.
Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here