As my well-tanned fellow classmates were making their way back last Sunday from Costa Rica, I spent the hours of 2.30-9.30am in front of a TV at MIT. Why, you might ask? Insomnia? Jet-lag? No, the more accurate reason would be mass hysteria.
You may know (or you may not) that the ICC Cricket World Cup final was contested on March 23rd in Johannesburg between India and Australia. And I was one of 1.25 billion people around the world watching.
“Cricket?” I hear you ask. Isn’t that a six-legged green insect of the family Grillydae that makes a funny noise with its hind-legs? According to Dictionary.com, there are twelve definitions for cricket, including, a small footstool, a small false roof, a type of bird and a type of frog. But it is also one of the most important sports played in a large part of the world, mostly within the British Commonwealth, including South Asia, England, the West Indies, South Africa and Australasia.
Take the amount of passion that one sees for baseball or football in the US, and multiply by a thousand. That’s the level of passion the sport generates in the Indian subcontinent. When a game is underway, streets are empty, schools are barren, workers pull sickies, and wherever there’s a television, there’s a crowd. And woe be unto the losing team – fans have been known to literally pelt losing players with the proverbial rotten eggs and fruits.
Good players are treated like heroes, while great players are worshipped. And I mean that literally – people have been known to build temples for their favourite players. The greatest Indian player to have played the game, Sachin Tendulkar, the closest thing the sport has to Michael Jordan, is so popular that he is mobbed wherever he goes. As a result, he only leaves his house at night, under the cover of darkness, and has been known to don a wig and false beard when going to the cinema. And in a cricket-crazy country like India with over 1 billion cricket fans, Tendulkar also makes a Jordanesque wage – approximately $5 million a year in fees and endorsements (which, for the more BGIE-minded folk among you, is about $25 million in Purchasing Power Parity terms), making him one of the 20 richest people in India. People often go to a game to just watch him, and get up and leave when he is out (think baseball). And to prove his talent to all his supporters, Tendulkar had a storming World Cup, and was awarded the equivalent of MVP for the tournament (a 1 lb. solid gold trophy).
But I hear a dissenting voice. “Doesn’t cricket take five days, and sometimes there’s no winner?” That is also true, but to use another clich‚, it’s a game of glorious uncertainties. There are intricate tactics, deep strategy, hard-nosed psychology and games that ebb and flow, with multiple swings of fortune. A team game can turn on a brilliant individual performance, and equally, team spirit can win the day over a collection of brilliant individuals. There is all the blood, guts and glory you could want.
Which is why I pushed myself out of bed at 2.00am on Sunday morning after having been on a plane for seven hours the previous afternoon. And also why I sat through a crushing defeat for my team. And why I came home disappointed but still happy. A glorious game with glorious uncertainties had just witnessed a supreme team at the top its form. But how do I even begin explaining this to all of you…