Cricket is cherished and valued more than religion and politics in Indian subcontinent. Many people love cricket more than their lives and belongings. We have numerous examples of people committing suicide or falling prey to cardiac arrests when their favorite teams suffer a defeat or when their favorite cricketers underperform. Breaking television sets or bursting firecrackers worth millions of rupees, at the end of a cricket match, is a common sight in the subcontinent. People are ardent and passionate about this game. Cricketers are seen as superheroes and role models. They enjoy stardom at par with Bollywood actors and political leaders. The game is full of charisma, passion, money, emotions, drama and luxury. The game has been enormously instrumental in high TRP of different television sports channels. Even not only cricketers and other associated staff earn hefty amounts, but, now, cricket lovers also win lakhs and crores of rupees on different digital platforms and apps. The game is emerging as one of the greatest industries in the sports world. Every budding cricketer wishes to represent his/her state at top levels. The game offers sumptuousness and richness, which our elite career options fail to offer. But, it is not as easy as you think to play cricket at the top level. It might be easy to crack IAS or NEET like examinations but it is very difficult to find a place in the national eleven of a country, particularly in the subcontinent.
Besides the above-mentioned exhilaration, enthusiasm and excitement, cricket gives us pleasure and contentment. Watching a cricket match anywhere in the world is a treat for any spectator, particularly for a cricket lover. It benefits both players and spectators because we derive great amount of pleasure from it. In our part of globe, the game is more popular than other games like soccer, handball, hockey, kayaking, canoeing etc. Though we have produced many soccer greats, our handball team has done well at national level, we have given some heavyweights to water sports, but it is cricket which attracts our youth to playfields, and commoners to television sets. We hardly watch movies and other sports events when a cricket match is telecasted on television.
The era of 80s and 90s was more thrilling because Indo-Pak bilateral series were held periodically then. And we all know that Indo-Pak cricket encounters are always more thrilling and exciting than masala packed Bollywood movies. During the last two decades of twentieth century, when television industry had not its wings expanded fully, radio commentary was a cherished hobby of youth, then. Radio sets on broad windowsills, blasting on high volumes, broadcasting live commentary on cricket matches, was a common sight in every household of Kashmir. Many had their packet transistor sets to enjoy the live commentary anytime and anywhere. Hassan Jalil, Munir Hussain, Chishti Mujahid and others were some favourite voices in the field. " Incomes tall, lanky Wasim Akram,bowls to Shrikant, and has clean bowled him!!! ". Such words would add moments of unimaginable joy to our hearts.
I, as a child was quite passionate about the game. I would hardly miss the commentary on radio. I vividly remember how I would switch on my transistor at 3am when subcontinent teams were playing their away games in New Zealand or Australia. The sport undoubtedly had not been lesser than an ambition for my childhood friends and me during 90s decade. We would leave no stone unturned to play cricket and to keep a close vigil on different international tournaments and series. We had our own favourite cricketers. And we were equally passionate about playing the game. But, our cricket was confined to Fridays only because most of our teammates and friends were carpet weavers, as they would enjoy Fridays as holidays, instead of Sundays. So, our Fridays used to be quite festive. We used to play cricket in a bigger courtyard, with a soft cricket ball, which was indigenously made of cloth rags wrapped in an old sock. It was a skill to make a sock ball, and some of our friends had a passion and the required expertise for it.
Unlike today, our playgrounds were often deserted for six days of week but there used to be great hustle and bustle on Fridays. We would go to any extent to play our matches. Skipping a meal, a prayer or a school day for playing cricket was quite fair and legitimate for us. Though the last decade of twentieth century acquainted its teenage folk with yucky situations but the grownup boys would go to any extent to be part of a cricket team. It was not as easy as one would imagine today, to be associated with a cricket team. Purchasing a bat from market was a herculean task. So, our all eyes used to be on the wooden railings of one of our friend's lawn. One of our teammates had the required skill and ambition to design the handle from the wooden piece with the help of an axe.
And purchasing a ball was equally difficult for us though it cost lesser than a bat. I vividly remember the day when my teenage friends decided to buy a tennis (Plastic ball) ball. We had probably decided to give up playing the game in the compound of one of our teammates. The sock ball containing rags was now too sluggish to move. We had now great energy and power in our muscles. We were no more children now. But, it was a daunting task for us to arrange rupees ten to buy a tennis ball. It took us almost a week to get the required amount by collecting equal shares from all the players. Everyone made a contribution of rupees two. Poorest of the poor were spared.
It was not all about money to play cricket during those days. We were often reprimanded by our parents for playing cricket because our ambition for the game would often disturb our studies. In the past I have received multiple bashings from my father for missing a few school days to play cricket. We would invent new pretexts to take leave from school for playing a cricket match. And some of us had a unique talent to melt the hearts of our parents.
Our cricket matches used to be very simple. We were not in a position to buy all the necessary equipment’smeant for the safety of players. So, at times, we would decide not to bowl faster deliveries. Things were amended according to our tastes and interests. Our innocence and simplicity had no parallels in the world. How beautiful were thosedays! Our matches would involve the bet of rupees five or ten. Now, things have changed drastically. Now, cricket matches have been turned into gambling cesspools. Another peculiar beauty of our cricket was our sweet bickering with our teammates. We would often wrangle with our friends for a poor performance in a match or for a dropped catch. But, would share a pack of biscuit, a candy or an apple, equally among our friends. We were closely binded together in the bond of love. Our memories and reminiscences associated with the game are precious and very dare to us. Our new generation has different tastes and preferences. They have become couch potatoes. Sticking to television and smartphone screens has turned them lazy and handicapped.
(Author is a Teacher and Columnist)