Cricket came back into my life through two Facebook posts. The first, the Chris Gayle controversy regarding sexist overtures to a reporter on live TV. Second, I was reminded of Rahul Dravid’s birthday. Cricket after so many years. There was a time when I was a cricket enthusiast; nay, a time when I was cricket-obsessed. I remember many a temper tantrum that I staged just to be allowed to watch a match and not study for my board exams. All to no avail, of course, crumbling against my mother’s steadfast resolve to make a high school graduate out of me yet. In Vasco da gama, the spot on the street outside my house on F.L. Gomes road was notorious for motor accidents. Once, I was so engrossed in watching a match, that when the noise of a car crash blasted through the window, I ran to see what happened, and, at the window, I waited patiently for a replay to be telecast.
Truth be told, I would have liked to play the game. But my family was anything but sporty. My father didn’t enjoy the game, neither playing it nor watching it. My mother loved watching it and knew a little bit about the game thanks to older brothers who were cricket aficionados. But I don’t think my parents would have known what to do if either of us, daughters, had exhibited prodigious talent in sport. May be, out of this consideration, we didn’t! My school in Mumbai did have somewhat of a sporting culture. But girls played volleyball or badminton. Cricket was the exclusive preserve of the boys. Fast forward to Vasco da gama, Goa, I had entered that horrible part of adolescence where boys played and girls preferred to sit and talk about everything all the time ensuring their dupattas were in place. I enjoyed gossip, ofcourse. But keeping dupattas in place meant not too much running around with balls. Another girl, PS, also demonstrated an interest in cricket. And it was at both our initiative that we played cricket. We played cricket inside our classroom; the bat was a broken piece of desk; the ball was a densely crumpled paper; and the wicket was in the aisle between two rows of benches. PS, me, and some other girls joined in. But it was a very constrained sort of game we played. Why didn’t we go and ask for a bat, ball, and stumps like the boys? Why didn’t we play in the massive grounds that were part of our government school as the boys did? It never occurred to us.
Chris Gayle’s comments were definitely in poor taste. But it is one man being an ass to one woman, albeit on television. Sexism in sports, though, has deeper roots. Sample this reaction by ICC CEO David Richardson, who said “Despite Chris Gayle, 40 per cent of viewers of ICC cricket tournaments are female. Our strategy is to use the T20 format to attract the females the world over to watch them,” I find it sexist that you need a different version of the game to attract female viewers.
Sexism ensured that my obsession took other forms. I remember taking a small interest in the cricketing careers of our class boys. There was SC who was a promising pace bowler. I read sport magazines and learnt a lot about the game by reading (my family understood reading!). In language class, we were given writing exercises; writing letters to public officials, friends, family etc. about something specific. All my letters were addressed to Pakistani bowler Saqlain Mushtaq or to Indian batsman Rahul Dravid. I still remember my friends’ (Sam, Sha, RTB, Shi, Swap and Sim) farewell gift to me in Mumbai in 1997 was this larger than life poster of Rahul Dravid (RD). My father, generally disapproving of my obsession, was the first to buy me a Sport Star issue because it contained a RD poster. Soon my room was inundated with posters of Azharuddin, Jayasuriya, and many of RD. I also decorated my grandparent’s room in Bangalore with posters of RD. I once told my grandmother how much I loved RD (not least to shock her, I guess), and she coolly turned to me and asked, “so is that the new heartthrob these days? In our days, it was Lord Mountbatten.”
I particularly remember RD’s first One Day International century. Playing against Pakistan, India lost that game in Chennai. The highlight of that game was Saeed Anwar’s 194 runs ( a record at that time). Chennai’s magnanimous crowd applauded the game and the winners with a standing ovation. But two little adolescent hearts beat for RD exclusively. Yours truly was watching the game in Goa. The other, Cousin R, was fortunate to watch that game live in Chennai. Cousin R, like me, was obsessed with RD too!
Sometime in 2000, after my move back to Mumbai, it all fizzled out. I stopped watching cricket just as suddenly as I had started it. I did like Irfan Pathan for a brief period, but not particularly for his bowling action :P Funnily enough, I forgot all the technical stuff I learnt about the game during that period as well. But I still remember the heartache I felt everytime I saw Rahul Dravid fielding bravely at Silly Point.