Just not Cricket is a phrase that speaks for life much beyond the boundary ropes of a Cricket ground. It speaks for anything that is not fair, anywhere.

Alas, one need not have gone too far to understand the real meaning of the expression. The misfortune was right there in front of our eyes, on four gloriously flood-lit evenings at the Sardar Patel Motera Stadium, India’s second biggest stadium by capacity, the Motera stadium – which, curiously, now sports Gandhinagar as its guardian city – could have been mistaken for a place playing host to Vastrapur XI vs Shahibaug XI match on four of the five days when the big-ticket ICC Champions Trophy was underway.

Admittedly, even the final was not a packed stadium, at what is routinely called the home of Indian Cricket. (Unlike Mumbai, Lords is called the home of Cricket and not the home of British Cricket.) But, how does someone else’s poor batting helping your problem of bowling no-balls?

It is no one’s case that watching Zimbabwe battle it out with either Sri Lanka or West Indies is not the most enthralling of all prospects. But do Amdavadis let go a Shah Rukh or Hrithik film just because the supporting cast is not good? And even if that were the case, the truth coming across would still be that the passion is more for the players than the script. There’s nothing wrong in it per se; but it can never be the absolute thing. Shah Rukh or Hrithik are just as much a product of the craft of Cinema as  Sachin or Dhoni are that of the sport of Cricket. People have never been, are not and can never be bigger than the idea of life itself, right?

Yes, superstars are needed across the globe to make people throng stadiums. But why should the idea of superstars be restricted to a star player of our own nation? Don’t support them when they are taking the game away from us but why not support geniuses like Lara or Muralidharan in a neutral match?

The fact of the matter is that the majority of the city – and indeed the nation – does not really have the passion for the game. We merely seek to extract a good time at the expense of the finer details of the game itself. The difference is that between having a beer while being at a pajama party and sipping wine at an intellectually, emotionally and aesthetically fulfilling dinner.

Indeed it was the holiday season and a lot of people, including, significantly, the affluent families, were probably out of town. Holiday season brings along a host of other priorities too. But what then explains the choc-o-block restaurants, multiplexes and all places public in the city?

Also, while the apathy for qualifying matches (involving Zimbabwe) is understandable, what would explain the fact that even the India – West Indies encounter was not a full house? It probably was the biggest crowd of the entire tournament, but it was not a full house. Try to come up with a reason for a Lara Vs Sachin encounter failing to completely fill up a stadium in India. Your mind might come up with all the aforementioned reasons like it being a festive season, but chances are that your heart would remain unconvinced.

And what about the Lara vs Flintoff or Jayasurya vs Pollock encounters? When next would there be an opportunity to see Pietersen score an unbeaten 80 on Amdavadi soil to take England past a resurgent West Indies?

Obviously, watching a match on television – with its never-ending replays from all possible angles – is becoming quite a joyous experience in its own. The comfort of home and joy of listening to former greats while watching the match are definite pluses. But can that replace the sheer excitement of sitting under flood lights with 50,000 other cricket lovers? What about the sound of bat hitting the ball, which somehow always manages to get heard amidst the din? What about the child-like enthusiasm that every single participant of the numerous ‘mexican waves’ experiences? What about having all the eleven fielders in our view for every single ball of the match? What about having the once-in-a-lifetime joy of catching a Sachin or Lara six in the stands? What about feeling the adrenalin rush at the entry of a superstar on to the pitch to bat? What about hundreds of wacky t-shirts and head-gears worn by the fans? And hey, what about the free fashion statements by the better half of the crowd? The list can go on and on. And yet, it can be summed up with the assertion that watching a match live is like meeting your dear ones in person and watching it on TV is like talking to them on phone.

Watching a game live gives us a completely new perspective about field positions, the merits or otherwise of going over the top of fielders during various match situations, the effort put by the fielders to cover field positions like third man and the real pace and bounce of a quick bowler. Watching Jerome Taylor hit Sachin on the chest gives us the most accurate perspective on the options available for batsmen; just as vast open tracts on either side of the pitch (visible to us every single moment) tells us about the limitations within which bowlers have to operate.

Watching a game live at the stadium is like a hands-on learning that no ‘instruction manual’ like television can replicate. We have giant screens at the stadiums now; but can we have the stadiums in our home?

But the root of our apathy lies in our knowledge about the game itself. About the game outside the halo of superstardom i.e. We care more for the entertainment friendly and very little for the studious or the simpletons.

The idea behind introducing the two crowning jewels of Ahmedabad is multi-faceted. Firstly, we believe that very few in the city – including even the true lovers of the game – are aware of the enormity of the feats of both Jasu and Mukund. And if we, through this magazine, can give even a token of tribute to their efforts on the field, it would only be richly deserved by the two.

We also wished to bring into focus the fact that the game lives – and lives handsomely – outside the ‘super-stardom ring’ too. Players who are not or could not become superstars need not necessarily be lesser players. But to understand and appreciate that, one has to understand the nuances of the game. We might cry hoarse about lack of time for our lack of effort, but don’t we all give our all to things that we like? Don’t stock-brockers think, sleep and talk the share market? Do they not understand the value of steady scrips amidst the glitter of the superstar billings? Those who do not, are not the ones who understand the business of shares. Ditto for followers of the game of Cricket.

The larger issue, however, is the lack of environment for appreciation of pure forms of any facet of life. Just as a game involving small totals and no sixes calls for refined spectators, the so-called art cinema, classical music and belief in a long haul over short cuts are all features that make – as they say – men stand out from boys. To be able to do that, you have to be in love with a thing and not merely love it. Talk to a young lady to get the meaning of the quandary.
So, is Ahmedabad in love with the game of Cricket or does it merely love the star Cricketers?

The answer, unfortunately, would have to be the latter reality.

But what should make us all hopeful is the incredible improvement in the overall sports scenario of the city. Apart from very good performances by players like Sidharth Trivedi in Cricket, our junior tennis players – like Vaidik Munshaw – are making a mark at the Asian level. And he is not alone. Tennis players are being prepared by the city in an  almost assembly-line fashion. There are good swimmers, skaters and basketball players representing the city with distinction – thereby slowly but steadily improving the city’s  ‘instinct for sports’.

Yes, it would take many years for it to become an all-pervasive reality. But when it finally happens, we would be able to cheer Prosper Utseya’s men too. Now THAT would be cricket!


Author. Entrepreneur. Filmmaker. Journalist.

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