“You should’ve seen it coming”, my PT sir said. He was right. What he didn’t know then was that I was a pre-teen with all the hand-eye coordination of a drunk panda. So, when my classmate threw the cricket ball at me during catch practice, I miscalculated the trajectory and moved my face directly into its path. The next thing I knew, I was staring up at the clouds and my nose was twanging like a tuning-fork. For a brief moment, I considered that I might be dying and thought fondly about all the tributes my classmates and teachers would be forced to pay to me. Like so many things in childhood, the reality was far less dramatic. My nose healed in about two days and all I got was (a) the calm awareness that I possessed too large a nose to ever be considered for Bollywood, and (b) an everlasting fear of cricket balls.
I’m not sure if this childhood trauma had anything to do with it, but, for as long as I can remember, I have been a cricket agnostic. While cricket atheists actively deny the supernatural origins of the sport, I, as an agnostic, hold that it is impossible to prove or disprove that cricket is a divine game. And I will neither confirm nor deny that we have had Gods walk among us in the guise of cricketers. I respectfully stand by my family as they worship the trinity (for my family: Bradman, Tendulkar, and Lara) and also as they pay obeisance to more local deities like Dravid and Kumble.
In fact, I have actually had a lot of cricket in my life. Some of it is due to the devout nature of my husband. For the seven years that we lived in Australia, we never missed a single Boxing Day test match. We would queue up outside the MCG at about 7.00am on a cold Melbourne morning, for a 10.30am match start. It was a bit like going to Tirupati. Apparently, this was the only way we could get seats that were exactly 20 degrees south-west of the silly median. By about 11.30am, the action would really get going, and then it would be time to put down my novel and watch the game. I would train my binoculars on a rowdy section of the crowd, usually the ones seated in the infamous Bay 13 of the MCG. At the end of every over, the police would haul up someone in Bay 13 by their belt buckles and evict them. Occasionally, there’d be a little commotion on the actual field. This was usually a good time to go get coffee or fries since the queues would be thin. At the end of the day, as a good wife, I would politely enquire with my husband about the state of play, and commiserate or celebrate as required.
I really enjoyed these test matches. I would get into the spirit by dressing up and painting signs, and, for these troubles, I have even appeared in print and on TV, looking for all the world like a serious cricket fan. It is true that I was not moved by the game like so many others, but I like to believe my Zen-like detachment was encouragement enough for the team.
In this manner, I have made many a pilgrimage to various holy lands, including Bowral and Lord’s. Some years ago, we went to Jalandhar to see how cricket bats and balls were made. I learnt that cricket balls, were not, as I imagined, made from deadly igneous rocks, but by wrapping wet string over and over a piece of cork-rubber. The final product is so perfect and hard that it can withstand the repeated impact of a sports hero’s bat or a schoolgirl’s nose.
I feel like I must put this all down in writing after what happened to Maria Sharapova last year, when she said that she did not know who Sachin Tendulkar was. She was tried and punished for her crimes in the hallowed courts of Twitter and Facebook. Now, I’m not a celebrity like Miss Sharapova but, in the off-chance that I do become famous someday, it is quite likely that I too will fail to recognise a cricketing deity. I hope then that this article would suffice as evidence of my faith. The defence rests, Milord (and has a misshapen nose to show for it).
[This is a version of my column that appeared in Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age on 19th July 2015. ]