“Mama, come fast.”
The words forced me to leave the comfort of the razai on a cold, sunless day in January 2021. As I walked into the living room, I encountered the rare sight of my family gathered around the television. On most days, everyone was on their mobiles and computers in their respective chambers.
It was India versus Australia – the last match of the Border–Gavaskar Trophy. The glow of the heater reflected on my son’s and daughter’s face as they discussed whether India would win the contest at Brisbane. Over the last 32 years, Australia had never lost a game at the Gabba.
More years than the combined ages of my kids.
“Driver, dada. Please can you drive faster,” I pleaded with my stony-faced driver as our car lumbered over the dusty Grand Trunk road, taking us back home from school.
For a second, I thought of getting down from our white ambassador car and boarding the yellow minibus to reach home faster. My brother laid to rest my plans. The year was 1987, and the 50-over format of the World Cup had come to India. My brother and I felt giddy with excitement that the coveted trophy had left the shores of England for the first time. India had been a world champion in 1983, but we were too young to register it then. We both dreamt of India’s victory; of seeing the tricolour unfurled at Eden garden.
Alas! It was not to be. India lost to England in the semi-final. We refused to eat any food that day despite our mother’s coaxing. We covered ourselves with sheets and slept on an empty stomach; I can still feel the heat on my red cheeks whenever I recall that day.
We changed cities, married our partners and became professionals. We saw Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman taking on the best teams. We did win an occasional test abroad, but it was a rare occurrence. Who could forget the 2001 test series, India versus Australia? That time too, India had lost the first match decisively. A whole generation grew in self-belief when it won the game from a follow-on position. That turnaround happened in Eden Gardens.
“Bhabi, you follow cricket?” is a common refrain I hear when people realise that I follow cricket passionately. They were no women’s teams playing on the distant shores. Rather, even if they were playing, we did not know about it.
I saw myself sucked into a vortex called life. On some days, cricket did catch my attention – like India winning the T20 inaugural cup, India winning the World Cup at home in Wankhede and M.S. Dhoni becoming a legend – but my kids followed football more.
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Then, the IPL arrived. My small children followed teams, depending on their mood and favour. Somedays it was Mumbai, other days Chennai but never Delhi. I let my love of cricket slide easily, like taking off a bulky sweater.
The pandemic paused our lives. I saw my family watching IPL on mobiles in the faraway UAE. I could hear Anjum Chopra in the living room as she expertly commented on cricket, There was also a women’s team playing the IPl. Virat Kohli’s announcement of taking paternity leave even before his crew landed in Australia left a sandesh taste in my mouth. Mithali Raj’s exploits managed to penetrate our world.
“Mama, where are you?’”
I was back in the present. I was dimly aware that India had lost to Australia in the first match – 36 all out was a new low; the team had put strong resistance even as Ricky Ponting had predicted a 4-0 whitewash. It was January 19, 2021. We had to chase 326 in the fourth innings. Had it been a team of the past, they would have settled for a draw. But not this team. It had Mohammed Siraj, Shubham Gill, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara. A team made of not even second choice were destroying the fortress of Gabba, one square and four runs away. They took body blows, cheeky runs and sixes.
My kids were calm, and then they roared. Cricket mania gripped us as India won. Cricket was solidly back in our mind-space. I saw myself explaining the game’s nuances to my kids as if I had an unlimited supply of coloured pencils. We had something to look forward to in 2021.
It was not to be. Wasim Jaffer, the man who had scored more runs in the Ranji Trophy than others, resigned; headlines shouted about religion. Just like that, my heart broke again – as if it was possible even after the days of 1987. I was back to being the girl with red cheeks who wished to crawl into bed and never get out.
Cricket o’ cricket, it’s now or never. You pull our heartstrings, but don’t pull so hard that the bond snaps. I understand you have millions of supporters, and one voice lost will not cause a dent in your popularity.
Prove me wrong.
Farah Naaz is an advocate and a writer who has a pulse on things which bothers her. Her Instagram handle is Farahnaaz3.