A madness called cricket
First, a confession! I started writing this column last Saturday and then, discretion being the better part of valour, chickened out. I didn’t want to be pelted with rotten eggs, if not beaten black and blue when I stepped out of my house.
But now that a week has gone by and sanity has (largely) returned, aided, no doubt, by the two consecutive defeats of the Indian cricket team to Australia in the one-dayers at Kochi and Hyderabad, I can say what I wanted to a week ago. And most right-thinking people would have agreed too; in their saner moments, that is (read, when they are not touched by cricket madness).
But let me start by setting the records straight. I am proud to be an Indian. So though I am not cricket-obsessed, like many of my countrymen and women, Monday before last I watched with unabated glee as Sreesanth held on to that ball lofted by Misbah in the final over of the inaugural Twenty20 championship. And joined wholeheartedly in the impromptu celebrations that broke out at the dinner where I happened to be that night.
But by Wednesday much of that pride vanished as I watched with dismay television scenes of mass hysteria and sheer bedlam in Mumbai when the winning team landed. Sure, we had every reason to celebrate. Victories, even in cricket, have become rare. The last time we won a world title was in 1983.
The winning Twenty20 team was young, was largely untried and reflected the new raw energy of an India on the move. For a country on a collective high, it exemplified the Chak de India spirit. No wonder cricket fans in thousands braved the rains and fought for every conceivable inch of space enroute to the Wankhede stadium to cheer the team.
Yet did that justify bringing ordinary life in the city, the country’s premier metropolis and main financial centre, to a standstill? On Wednesday, as crowds thronged the roads, the entire 30 km long route from the Chhatrapati International Airport to Wankhede stadium in south Mumbai was completely blocked.
Ordinary citizens who wished to use those roads, whether to get to their places of work (remember cities like Mumbai have a large number of daily wage-earners who get no wages if they don’t make it to their workplace on time) or take a sick person to hospital, or a child to school had no option but to grin and bear it.
‘We heard Mumbai is always on its feet and never stops. Today we brought it to a standstill.’ The victorious Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been quoted as saying in many papers. Ironically, no one seems to have questioned the right of cricket fans to hold the city to ransom.
Or the complete abdication of responsibility by the city’s civic authorities! Their first job is to ensure ordinary civic life is not hampered. On the contrary, the attempt, especially of politicians, was to grab the best ringside seats for themselves.