As I hover metaphysically over Estádio Nacional de Brasília, along with the cameras that keep criss-crossing and snooping in the field, my daughter asks me a question in the middle of the simmering knockout fixture between La Albiceleste and Les Diables Rouges. She pops it innocuously enough while a troika of Belgians are busy stamping the ankles of Lionel Messi out of existence, a much-loved man in this household. ‘Say papa, say you are asked to choose between an all-expenses paid trip to a football world cup and a cricket world cup, where would you go?’
Transcended back to my rickety ribs, I realise I’ve not been breathing for a while. Briefly weighing her words in my mind, I decide they have many more ounces of curiosity than mischief. I wonder though if she knows the answer already. It seems such a Hobson’s choice in the heat of the moment.
I close my eyes to a picture of an exhibition match of cricket in my mind between India and Pakistan, circa 1989. I was a very young man then, but the lad I was watching was younger, probably just 16 or so, if I am not mistaken. What is still vivid to my memories is an over when he whacked Abdul Qadir out of the ground, again and again and again, and he had this placid look on his face as against the horrors writ large on the cumulative Pakistani countenance. Abdul Qadir, who could put invisible fetters on the feet of the best batsmen of the terra firma with his inscrutable bowling, had silenced the willow of a fiery Srikkanth in the previous overs.
The aficionados of the game would soon learn and remember the name of this tormentor of bowlers across the Cricket-dom, he who’d be endorsed and toasted by none other than Don Bradman in years to come, he who could be talked of in the same breath as Vivian Richards, he who’d morph into ‘God of Cricket’ to a massive population. Now if only the whole world knew that cricket can be more than a petulant insect that chirps at night! Or perhaps they have heard of the game but pay no more heed to the phenomenon than to the pesky katydids. So long, Mr Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, and thanks for all the fish.
The furore and outrage of the fans will surge and ebb. Maria Sharapova’s Facebook page has been mobbed and pelted. The Internet is agog too with the names of countless sportsmen who won medals for India in the Olympics and elsewhere but who are now merely a notch better than beggars. If a feckless, cricket-besotted nation finds it hard to acknowledge the existence of its priceless gems other than from cricket, what right has it got to foist Mr He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Known on the conscience of bewitching stars of Tennis?
Eventually, the question that drove me to write this post turns out to be a no-brainer to me, as my daughter is kind enough not to challenge my meagre faculties in their declining years. Cricket may have transformed itself from timeless marathons to explosive Twenty20s, but it retains its soft nature in spite of the Bodylines and ball-tampering, in spite of the apparent anonymity. I may periodically love the parabolic kicks and astounding head-butts of football, the spellbinding control of the one-pound sphere amidst the stampede of adversaries, but it is hard to digest the brutal, meditated charge over the players of the other team, the stunning blows aimed at humans. In a world where violence and intolerance are turning into epidemics, it is less than acceptable from a sporting event based on the premise of universal brotherhood to begin with. The Colombian assault on Neymar Jr’s vertebrae was merely a symptom. Brazil may have survived the encounter in question but the game was delivered a sudden death in the afternoon.