Upon a Sleepless Sojourn to Follow Cricket
We live in unprecedented times — goes the now-tired cliche. But I’m not referring to The Rona, but rather being cricket crazy far west of the Greenwich Meridian. But that isn’t a recent phenomenon in itself. South Asians and others from cricket-playing nations have for long immigrated to the New World, far before cricket was even a thing. So what’s unprecedented?
a) For one, unlike the immigrants in the 1970s-2000s, you can actually watch cricket live — all you need is a good internet connection and a decent pop-up blocker (or if you’re a “grown up”, a VPN and a Willow subscription).
b) You can enjoy some quality cricket writing online.
c) And the cherry on top? Access to these writers through social media.
Let me explain.
As you grew up from your cricket watching days (on TV )in the 90s to pirated streams in the US in the late 2000s, you realised that the on-air commentary and newspaper articles that provided (what you then thought were) cerebral accoutrements to the game watching, turned out to be extremely vacuous and lacking in depth. It seems better to watch the game on mute and ignore the bland match reports in The Hindu and the Express. But something changed, starting in the early 2000s with a step-change around 2009 — Cricinfo. Not only did they provide live scores (I remember using their desktop notification since 2004) and insightful (increasingly so with time) ball-by-ball commentary with opportunities for followers to comment, they had match previews and match reports that weren’t the wetter-than-a-blanket-tied-to-a-cement-block-and-dropped-at-the-bottom-of-the-Mariana-Trench variety of The Hindu match reports. And in, I think mid-2009 around the 2nd T20 WC, they started Page 2, which included the immensely popular Heavy Ball. Apart from writers we were already familiar with through the blogosphere like Anand Ramachandran, Krish Ashok, Sidin Vadukut and Andy Zaltsman, we were introduced to (then, to me) new names like Jarrod Kimber, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, Alex Bowden, Siddharth Monga, Andrew Miller and Andrew Fidel Fernando, to name a few (there was also a curiously named duo of George Binoy and Binoy George). Witty, insightful, dripping with pop-culture references and irreverence. I don’t know if it was a transition or it was at the same time, they also did the live text commentary. Suddenly, the best way to watch a cricket game was to install a pop-up blocker, open crictime, hit mute and follow the ball-by-ball commentary on cricinfo. Once the game was over, keep hitting refresh until the match report and (my favourite) “Features” section got updated. While a lot of them were in the traditional cricket journalist mould, some, particularly, Andrew Fidel Fernando, Andrew Miller and later Karthik Krishnaswamy seemed to talk about more than just cricket. Andrew Miller’s gems during commentary are legendary. But take a look at Fidel’s NZ tour diary or Karthik’s WI tour diary. Especially when the latter sits down with a “dalpuri and beef with vegetables” in Port of Spain, one goes “Wonder if his Paati knows what he’s eating”.
Now why does all this matter? And why is this unprecedented? For the past five years, I’ve been living, first in Vietnam, and now in Peru. Not only was there a lack of cricket following, finding an expat to talk about the game is also often a fruitless endeavour (In fact, I’m reduced to playing underarm cricket on the roof with a stick during the lockdown in Peru). When you’re far from where you grew up, you can deal with the homesickness through Facetime calls, learning to cook home food and even watching the odd movie or two. But what if an integral part of your childhood was watching cricket and dissecting it play by play with your friends? Forget precise statistics and CricWiz data, anyone who’s watched Indian cricket in the 90s knows for a fact that Kumble’s early 2000s overseas slump wasn’t because the bowlers had figured him out or his revival since 2004 wasn’t because of the two-fingered googly but that fact that he sported an ungodly goatee during his lean years! Apart from the irreverence, another important part of the cricket discussions and thinking was about linking the game to the larger society around it that follows it. The Indian economic liberalisation — Sachin Tendulkar/Indian cricket’s monetary power link is well-known and exhaustively written about. But many more such examples are expounded upon in these pagesDan Brettig, Firdose Moonda, Liam Brickhill and Fidel stand out in this regard. Suddenly, you felt like you were having the same conversations that you would back home, with friends, except the conversation was now between the written word on Cricinfo and your head. Not quite the same, but close! And now you have them on Twitter where you can actually interact with them live as the twists and turns of the game unfold real-time.
So, if you, like me, are in faraway cricket-illiterate lands like Peru and are upon a sleepless sojourn (hat-tip: Fidel) to follow cricket, and receive succour from these brilliant writers, follow them, engage with them and let them know they’re not just writing about sports, but helping fans world over connect with the game they love and a time in the past they miss dearly.
I’ll leave you with one comment on the Cricinfo live commentary for the Eng-Aus ODI last year on why we do live in unprecedented times:
P.S.: I was listening to this lovely talk by Fidel on his book “Upon a Sleepless Isle” today and realised how much more than just cricket he can talk eloquently about, which inspired me to write this.