I’ve finally decided to start a self-help group for the Indian cricket fan who, despite being in constant pain, is unable to wean himself off the game.
Modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous, it will be called Suckers Hurt by Indian Team (SHIT). Members of the group will gather on alternate Fridays in an empty classroom or an available conference room. Each speaker will start by saying something like, 'My name is Sampath and I am a sucker hurt by the Indian team,' before going on to share his/her horror stories about obsessively watching cricket and irrationally supporting Team India and the extreme suffering and self-flagellation they’ve had to endure on account of being an Indian cricket fan.
Regular readers of this column would know by now my views on jingoism, idol-worship, nationalism and flag-waving. And yet, when it comes to cricket and Team India, it's as if some primal neurological reflex kicks in – a bit like VVS Laxman outside off-stump – and I go fishing for some vicarious glory that every rational cell in my body knows is simply me asking for the spectatorial equivalent of water-boarding.
But then, isn’t that how addiction works? Your intellectual comprehension of the utter stupidity of expecting some happiness from watching a game of cricket is powerless to save you from subjecting yourself to another session of pulling your hair out in frustration. (Now you know what happened to the hair on my head – yes, the BCCI took it. You can see it on display at the CCI.)
I've been following the game for a quarter of a century. Guess what, I’ve also been trying to stop following the game for a quarter of a century. But I realised recently that I have the same problem as Sachin Tendulkar – can't call it quits though I know it's time to do so. And this is not surprising, for Sachin and I go back a long way.
As a school boy, around the time Sachin was putting together that marathon partnership with Vinod Kambli for Sharadashram Vidyamandir, I wasted my afternoons following North Zone versus East Zone on the radio. I nearly flunked my class XII Boards because I couldn't not watch every single game of the 1992 World Cup which, held in February-March, clashed precisely with the one-month 'study leave' you got to prepare for the exams.
In college, there was a phase where I would watch the whole game, from 9am to 5pm or whatever, if it was an ODI, then catch the highlights at seven or eight at night, and then watch the video-recording of the match from ten till five in the morning, managing just two hours of sleep before waking up to go for my classes.
My cricket addiction reached its peak during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. I think I must be one of the few elite losers on the planet who managed to watch every single match of this tournament live, including the Canada, Namibia and Holland matches, and then followed it up by reading all the World Cup-related coverage in three newspapers, memorising the scorecards and fall of wickets and bowling figures and the number of maidens and no balls and wides delivered by bowlers who I didn’t even know existed until the World Cup, like Sanjayan Thuraisingam, for instance.
Of course, those were the years of magical thinking, which usually centred on a boy with the curly hair and the straight bat. Even if India was decimated, and literally had its nose rubbed in the grass, as happened almost every time we played abroad, you at least had the satisfaction of watching a Sachin straight drive; or a Sachin leg glance, or at least a Sachin adjusting his crotch guard by doing half-squats, which was still an endearing novelty in those days.
But then, there comes a time when every Indian cricket fan has to confront the reality of being a SHIT, and for me, that time is long past. In my 25 years of cricket addiction, four things have not changed: one, BCCI’s mismanagement; two, the inevitable degeneration of fresh-faced, noble talent into selfish, greedy mediocrities who take the team down by holding on to their places long past their sell-by date; three, idiotic team selections, and four, our infinite genius for conjuring defeats no matter how strong our talent pool, how favourable the conditions, or how weak the opposition.
The ongoing series, where we should have been on our way to thump the Englishmen 4-0 but are now likely to go 1-2 down, is the 33,970th time (that’s one more than the runs scored by Sachin in Tests and ODIs together) I’m telling myself, 'Buddy, give up! Stop being a SHIT!'
So all you SHITs who want to make it to the first SHIT meeting, mail me and I'll send you the venue details. Until then, if you really have to watch a sport, my advice: stick to beach volleyball.
The writer is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.