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It's a Sunday. A day-nighter, India versus a team I now don't recall. It isn't one of the minnows though, because I have plans to watch the entire game. It's been a while since I caught an entire match start-to-finish. I have taken an early bath, wrapped up the weekly shopping, made the Sunday call to parents, arranged for unbranded potato chips (Lays, etc. don't do it for me) and chilled the beer. The afternoon starts on a happy note. Lunch is prawn curry and rice.
Back in the room, nicely satiated and a little bloated, I arrange the bolsters and pillows, keep a water jug handy and switch on the TV. The pre-match show is the usual jaw-jaw around team and ground stats, previous matches in the series, the ground, the host city, the weather, the pitch, anticipated team changes and whether the toss-winning captain should opt to bat first. Soon, the final line-ups are announced, the toss occurs. India will field first. This makes me happier. Nothing like a good chase to round off the day.
The opposition is off to a steady start. Nothing of note happens till about the 15th over. The wife is busy pottering about somewhere; the boy is busy with his Didi and toys. Another 85 overs of cricket to go and I pray that the viewing remains uninterrupted. It remains so only for the next five or so. Then the boy comes in. He wants one of his toys repaired. I call for the wife. She is better at repair jobs anyway. She obliges, takes him away. I am thankful for their understanding. A couple of uneventful overs have slipped in the meanwhile.
The boy returns within minutes. This time he wants to watch a cartoon show with me. I try to reason.
He can watch it in his room.
No, he wants to watch it in mine.
OK, he can watch it in my room but can I watch the match in his?
No, he wants to watch it in my room with me.
OK, we can watch TV together in this room but the match not the cartoon.
No, he wants to watch the cartoon and not the match.
At this point, as is customary when reason fails with the boy, I call for his mother. Can she please work things out? Meanwhile, the match goes on, the scoring has picked up a bit and a few wickets have tumbled unnoticed. She tries hard, fails. Then she turns to me. Why can't I be more accommodating and watch cartoons in his company? He'll probably wander off elsewhere in a while in any case. I have been looking forward to this, I tell her. Can't a man watch one, just one, full match in peace?
Her response jolts me. No, you can't anymore. There is a child in the house, he will need attention once in a while and you cannot shut yourself for a whole 8-9 hours. This from a woman who in her school days had pictures, little and big, of cricketers pasted inside and outside her cupboard and on her ceiling (yes, ceiling), and maintained a scrapbook of articles and scorecards with 'Wonderboy' penned against each mention of Mohammad Azharuddin. I am tearing (I tear easily) and she melts enough to add: well, you can watch all the matches you want to if your son grows up liking cricket as much as you do. Oh well, that's a long-term agenda, I mutter to myself. Father and son finally watch cartoons together, play well into the evening and I return later to watch the remainder of an unexciting, one-sided encounter.
That was five years ago. Now, the boy sometimes urges me to play cricket, bowls sharp and accurate under-arm, bats with a Miandad-like stance and a penchant for the leg-side. He is pissed every single time he is unable to connect and has to be explained that play-and-miss is part of the game. I am tempted to add that it is a part of life but fear that it will be too much. I confine myself instead to telling him that even MS Dhoni, the one player he knows (from ads), misses often. At times, I call him to watch when Dhoni is in. He sits, waits patiently for the misses. They rarely come when he is watching. I worry that he will grow up thinking of his father as a liar. Or worse, cricket-ignorant.
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Born in Jamshedpur, Manish Dubey bowled with some distinction for his mohalla team, was floored by Arun Lal's batting exploits in the mid-1980s, hates T20s and hopes to write more - and better - on cricket. He currently lives in Gurgaon and works as a consultant on matters of public policy and governance.
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