“Pyar deewana hota hai, mastana hota hai…Har khushi se, har gham se begana hota hai!”
Writing about your first love can be a vexing task. Especially when that love never consummated in anything substantial…more so when that first love was a sport…the grand old game of “flannelled fools” – cricket!
Most of you probably remember something or the other about your early days as a child. It could be your favourite toy, your (least) favourite relative, or how you’d go to sleep. Some of you probably had a favourite lullaby…others might have had a “security blanket” or a favourite pillow which you tugged in between your legs…some probably stuck a thumb into your mouths…while others probably clung on to your mother or father before falling asleep. I’ll tell you – not half-ashamed – of how I’d find my way through to Sleepville!
Its early morning at Eden Gardens (or sometimes Wankhede, or Chinnaswamy, or Chepauk). Patrick Patterson does his usual kick-start at the start of a seemingly endless run-up to the crease…and as he bolts down with a menacing expression aiming to maim or kill, I tighten up as I lock eyes with the predatory fast bowler from the West Indies. As the ball comes down, I decide on my choice of shot. Anything full is either driven through the off side or clipped off the legs. Short, and it is met with a horizontal bat and disappears through the point region. Occasionally, when in a generous mood, I duck and weave out of the way or shoulder arms. At the other end, Sunil Gavaskar applauds by lightly tapping the bat against his gloved palm.
This is going back at least two decades back. Okay, so now I’ve established I was (and still am) slightly cuckoo! But what explains this passionate love affair and its origins?
The number one reason why little boys play cricket couldn’t have applied here. In case you’re wondering what, I think first place belongs to “impressing the chicks”! Emulating your idols and making a career come a close second, simply because these factors become tangible to you once you’re into your teens. But then, Mother’s International never had a cricket culture…so reasons one and two have to be discounted in my case.
Perhaps it was the genes.
My late grandfather was a major driving force behind how I’ve turned out as a person. A retired scientific officer with the Ministry of Defence, Dadu appeared to know all there was to know about atomic physics, matrices and determinants, the periodic table, as well as the Indian cricket team’s tour itinerary! My father was a chip off the old block too. Spending his first 15 years at Kanpur as he did, he spent as much time on his studies as he did perfecting his forward defensive…and when teams came down to play at the Green Park, he was a regular. So growing up (both for Baba and myself) Dexter and Compton, Weekes and Walcott, Borde and Adhikari were as much familiar figures as Isaac Newton, Oscar Wilde and Sher Shah Suri!
And so charged by a “grand” paternal influence, a young boy set off on a magical journey. His earliest playmates were usually twice his size and three times his age (we moved into our present home when I was five, and the area had very few kids my age for some odd demographic reason). I should like to believe that gave me an extra edge to prove that I belonged…bowling quicker than my slender frame should have ever allowed me to, and batting with a panache borrowed from my childhood heroes – Azhar and Aravinda! Occasionally I’d get hit, but in a weird way that fellow-cricketers would identify with…it only pushed me further into. “Bring it on” I seemed to say whenever ball made contact with flesh and bone!
Years went by and the boy slowly but steadily turned into young man. The love affair only got better with age…such that while my mates spent February and March of 1997 preparing for the Board exams (arguably one of the worst exercises in the history of human academia), I spent those months perfecting the art of bowling inswing and leg-cutters. It was a happy period, till my best friend’s back gave way…and we spent the rest of the time pontificating on reverse swing without having the luxury of trying it out for ourselves.
Luckily, St. Stephen’s happened two years on. Here I was, surrounded by men who also played for Delhi in Ranji Trophy (a certain Gautam Gambhir would join Hindu a year later) and playing with and against them provided a sense of belonging. Our Chemistry department had a pretty good team too. My own classmates Tathagata and Gaurav joined me in a fairly formidable top three. ‘Tots’ was all touch and finesse, Gaurav was more crispy style and aggression, while I complemented the two with a mixture of cheek and defiance. Together, we ensured Chemistry always performed well in the Inter-Departmentals against what looked like scary opposition on paper.
By 2001, I was certain I had it in me to make it big in this sport. And the ironic thing was, I was willing to give it time in spite of my other commitments. Too many things were happening in my life…and soon the bus left before I could hop on. Perhaps it was not meant to be…but then c’est la vie, right?
It’s been four and a half years that I have been in sports television. Yet, the number of work hours I have spent on cricket mustn’t amount to more than a month at the most! But I am not sure if I mind that…what it does is allow me to maintain my distance from the sport I love…to obsess about it as a spectator rather than a Producer!
And who says I don’t play these days? Sure, the reflexes have slowed down…my deliveries these days would be lucky to frighten a toddler…and barring the flick and the leg glance, I don’t play any shots remotely as well as I used to… But then like they say with love, where’s the place for logic and reason? I still find myself breaking into a straight drive when waiting for an appointment with a doctor…or occasionally (very rarely these days) revisiting those magical days at the Wankhede…smashing Patterson, Ambrose, Marshall and Walsh to all parts…while a packed stadium goes delirious, chanting “Debayan…Debayan…“!
PS: This piece has been written by Debayan Sen.