Once upon a time, when cricket was just a game

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Rolling greens. Shady, immense trees, laden with fruit, skirting the open emerald vastness. Silver-white sheep grazing on the hillocks in the far distance. A carpet laid out under the trees. Muffins and cake. Biscuits and tea.

Idyll pervades the air. Joyousness and soft laughter. Softer banter and quiet bonhomie. Where time moved like a languid brook. And the men on the ground looked like distant figures in eternal slow motion.

A game of cricket on the English highlands. Perhaps almost a hundred years ago.

When bowlers were friends and batsmen almost waved an apology if they hit a boundary. Where fielders went after a ball with the same hurry as indolent grandmothers sitting by the fireplace, knitting mittens. And the voice remained perfectly well-behaved while the umpire was being asked the question.

Cut to 2006. Cricket has moved on. Perhaps like the world itself. Feverishly. With maniacal force. Where it is played with the same rush and razzmatazz as a desperate bullfight.

When people throng in their thousands to watch a game where two sides battle it out like gladiators in the ring. Where decency, goodness of spirit, unhurried joy, the delight of free spiritedness, even the gracefulness of accepting defeat is lost in the melee. Where money is the mantra. And victory should be got whatever the ‘tantra’.

Where the game has long lost its innocence, its sublime character. Where everything is for the consumption of the strategically placed television cameras on the ground that look like medieval cannons taking a menacing aim.

Where technology and its use has been tragically overstated. Robbing the game of its human elements; of its foibles, its follies and its charm. With everything looking so terribly orchestrated. So mechanically motivated.

Every single move of every single player is put under the microscopic purview of commentators who hold forth on the goings on with the method of a judge handling a legal case of serious national implications.

The field placements and the rules governing them, especially in the one day format of the game, make it all look like a game of military manoeuvring of toy soldiers laid out on a cardboard.

Where you have not just two umpires officiating but three. And a fourth one doing the refereeing! Where the judgments of the umpires are analysed, scrutinised, debated upon and put in perspective like DNA strands in forensic laboratories!

The game of cricket still holds millions in thrall. No doubt. It still has its moments of magic. It still has the power to attract. But somewhere, somehow, we seem to have lost that rather indecipherable element that so typically characterized the game before the advent of primetime television.

That impossibly charming way of playing the game with a lot of human frailties thrown in. Not to speak of the genius of sterling performances.

The banter, the rib tickling, the sheer unfettered joy of playing naturally without really bothering about too many regulations imposed upon by those who run the game.

May be all this resembles an old fashioned lament. May be all this doesn’t cut much ice with Gen X. May be all this reads like the ranting of someone caught in a time warp.

But how wonderful indeed it is to be old-fashioned. Especially about cricket. Ask your grandfather. And he’ll tell you a few things. If he was a cricket lover, that is!