Sunday, April 3, 2011

World Cup Gripes

As hinted at earlier, I've been in a phase of nirvana-esque placidity: of calm smiles, gentle words and very little activity. But because the World Cup happened to coincide with my realisation that I'm a Dudeist, there were times when I was jolted out of my complacency. Sport very rarely lets you maintain your equanimity - unless it be a Test match on a Sri Lankan featherbed. Since I've never been poetic enough to describe the highs, I'll just whinge, thank you.

1) Sidhu. Much has been written about the mediocrities of the commentary teams. But mediocrity, I can handle. The world is built on the stuff, and we're conditioned from childhood - in no small part by being made aware of our own mediocrities - to accept it, and to ignore it. The trouble with Sidhu is that he's inanity on a Citizen Kane scale. He preens, he hogs the mike, he shouts down those around him, and he seems to earnestly believe that his "Sidhuisms" are sayings of supreme wit and insight - every answer has to have a prologue, even if in no way related to the question asked.

Though I've met no one who admits to liking him, he must have his legions of admirers. I can think of no other reason why ESPN-Star, one of the few sober sports channels we had left, chose to have him on their team. Bhogle, for all his experience, has had little success with shutting him up, contenting himself with a pained expression on occasion. Ganguly and Simon Hughes, often finding themselves at Sidhu's right and left, prefer to hang their heads and grit their teeth. I kept my sanity by mostly keeping the TV on mute, but what happens when he's on at the same time as Tony Cozier, a commentator I love? Do I hurl a handy chair at the screen and run screaming from the room, or do I put up with that bottomless hole, the prince of the loud-mouthed egotists, the sultan of cringe, just to hear "the voice of Caribbean cricket"? 

2) The obsession with numbers, personified by the tragic case of the deification of Jacques Kallis, and the still more tragic case of the reduction of Tendulkar into one number after the other - and the really, really much more tragic case of the lowering of him to the level of the Gods (coming soon; watch this space... or rather, the space above this). 

3) West Indies. I grew up listening to awed talk of the great West Indian batsmen of yore; of Richards, Fredericks, Kanhai, Sobers, Headley and the like. Sad, therefore, to see this lot play as if the spinning ball is a nasty contravention of the spirit of the game. 

3.92) South Africa. Unquestionably the best side of the tournament...  on paper. Also, as per de Villiers, the "opposite of chokers." Uh-huh. 

4) The ads. Apart from the glorious promo and the Super ZooZoo ads, there wasn't anything memorable at all. Idea showed the most promise by signing up 6 World-Cup-winning captains and displaying great topical awareness by making corruption the theme of the ads. But then they followed it up with a series of the lowest-IQ ads ever seen on TV. Get Idea, indeed. How about Get Clue? Also - and I'm looking at you, Royal Stag - I can't think of a sillier thing to do than "looking your opponent in the eye and telling him: I will make it large." You'd be lucky if your opponent didn't smack you on the forehead with a rolled-up newspaper. 

5) Shahid Afridi. Gone are the days when I could blithely claim that I'd never support a Pakistani team that had him in it. I even secretly enjoyed Ian Chappell's over-the-top criticisms of him - his "wicket" celebration is ridiculous, isn't it? And then came the semi-finals. He watched his team-mates drop Tendulkar four times, three of them, three, off his own bowling, and then follow it up by consistently giving up wickets with bizarre shots every time they had the target in sight.

Any other captain - one playing the most important match of his career, to boot - would've been reduced to a wild-eyed, apoplectic blob of jelly. But he said hardly a word - even managing a smile on occasion. At the presentation he was grace personified and, still smiling, went on to offer a warm, congratulatory speech to the Indians. Don't you just hate it when people make you do an about-turn, from complete loathing to something near unconditional love? 

6) The lost cliche opportunity. When Misbah dropped Tendulkar, I'd just about got an idea for a Facebook status on whether, for the second time in twelve years, the World Cup had been dropped at mid-wicket. But then Tendulkar went on to play one of the scratchiest innings I've ever seen him play - rivalling Nasser Hussain's century in that finals at Lord's - and the Pakistanis, for their part, went on to drop him so many more times that I was left in a daze. Which allowed someone else to sneak in with a "World Cup needs super glue after all those drops?" status update. 

7) "Let's do it for Sachin." That turned out well in the end, admittedly, and no one deserves it more than him, but it's still not cricket to hear a whole nation and a good many members of the Indian side say stuff like that. The World Cup, you'd like to think, is the ultimate sporting symbol: of proven superiority over the cream of world cricket; of an achievement that will be remembered for as long as the sport is played. Something rather more than the sporting equivalent of a gold watch, or an honorary Oscar, is my point.

7.11) Euphoric first-morning-post-World-Cup-win gripe. Dhoni, after looking completely out of touch up till the finals, played a truly magnificent captain's knock last night. And we all love him. And we want to know everything about him, from his favourite chutney to where he stands vis-a-vis the pot when taking a leak. But we still don't want to see interviews of his in-laws. (Apologies if the other news channels are all restrained and dignified: I'm at a friend's place and all we get here is Headlines Today.)

8) My nerves. My childhood being spent following a team that never won anything, I'm used to watching cricket with a certain fatalism. I'd slept like a baby after India lost the semi-finals against Sri Lanka in 1996, and the finals against Australia in 2003, because I'd never really believed they were going to win it anyway. But things have changed. I don't know whether the matches were really that good (a neutral will have to tell me that), but the knockouts were so nerve-racking that I felt quite ill during parts of it. Against Australia, I opted for a shower and a long walk during India's chase; and against Pakistan, a 25-minute shower during India's innings and a 45-minute break, when an urge to get all my marks cards from college scanned hit me during Pakistan's chase, were the only things that kept me from collapsing to the floor. 

9) Minnow bashing. They added a lot of colour to the tournament, and I, for one, have been converted. I'm sorry to hear that the next World Cup will have only 10 sides. There is an argument that their presence makes the teams for the knock-out stages predictable. The thing is, no more than 6 sides at any given edition have any real chance of winning it, anyway. Better to have a predictable line-up at the knockouts, than have an unpredictable one that'd guarantee predictable results, if you get my drift.

As to the argument that the league stages have no meaning, well, that's true, but what of it? Philosophers have long argued that life itself has no meaning and shit, so why should the league matches of the Cricket World Cup be any different? Besides, what's so bad about watching the world's best teams assembled together, even if the matches are meaningless in the broader context of the tournament - it's still cricket, right? Yes, they could schedule more than one match per day, and also make sure there isn't too much of a gap between "competitive" match-ups, but that's about it. Keep the minnows! 

9.83) I must bid a mournful farewell to England bashing, too. Never again can I indulge in it, for never before has any side come so close to  impersonating one of my favourite sportsmen - Goran Ivanisevic. They had half their squad return home with a series of complaints that included, of all things, depression. And they went down rather tamely in the quarter-finals. But still, for their exploits in the league stages, for tuning their performances to the exact frequency of their opponents (majestic against India and South Africa, and as pathetic against Ireland, the Netherlands and Bangladesh), for always keeping the spectators' interests at heart with six nail-biting contests on the trot, this team has to be the most exciting in the history of sport. 

9.99) Ponting bashing. I was conscious of much sadness as he walked off the field after the loss to India. I'd never liked him, and was therefore surprised at the depth of my feeling. As things turned out, he didn't retire. So I doubt this will be as permanent as my farewell to minnow-and-England bashing; doubtless, he'll soon do something that'll make me start hating him all over again. 

10) It has often been said that the people behind the scenes get little of the credit for anything. Little does the rest of the world know of my contribution to India's wins. I hit upon the formula quite by accident during the match against Australia. When India's batting, so long as the TV is on mute, we do ok. This was proved beyond doubt when, in the match against Pakistan, I briefly turned the sound on to find out what the kerfuffle between Ajmal and Harbhajan was. I forgot to turn the sound off, only for Bhajji to get stumped off the next ball.

I managed to further refine this during Pakistan's innings by figuring out that when India's fielding, if there's a partnership building, the best way to get things rolling is to go for a walk. And then, so long as I'm within 3 minutes of my flat, or within earshot of a webcast (passing by under someone's window does not count, if I cannot legibly hear the commentary), wickets fall regularly.

There, I too won the World Cup for Sachin, didn't I?


missjane said...

You do have some epic whinging powers: after 28 years your team wins the World Cup *at home* in an awesome game despite Sehwag and Tendulkar getting out early and you can still post a list of gripes?

I didn't think the game against Australia was that good (but there are no doubt reasons for that) but I enjoyed last night's so much I stayed up til 4.30am watching it. These things are much more enjoyable when you're neutral.

Rohan said...

Well, I'm one of those grounded people who remain essentially the same pricks no matter what fame, money or World Cup wins bring us.

Besides, one of those was titled a "euphoric gripe," which is an altogether different, more wholesome, proposition to a grumpy gripe, no?