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Evolution of the Spectator


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There was a time when I was a kid. I could return from school by 1 or 2 pm in the afternoon and then watch a cricket match on TV. If it was a test match – one could watch at least the second half of the day. In case of an ODI – second innings. And in the rare case if it was a Day-Nighter – Yay – full 100 overs of cricket to be seen, broken only by pretending to study a little every now and then. And peeping through the key hole when in the study room.

And that’s only for the matches in India. In case the match was in England, South Africa, West Indies, Toronto or Sharjah, once again very convenient (ok – West Indies – not so convenient ) – but you get the drift, watching cricket as a kid was easy, especially when there was at least one elder in the family who was interested (in my case it was my late grandfather). And yes, weekends were truly weekends and there was no stopping the men (and the boys) in the family if a cricket match was on.

As I grew older, I went to a college in Kolkata, whose timings were 6 am to 9.40 am. Yes, you read that right. I could be back home latest by 10.30 and watch as much cricket as I liked. Tuitions and studies were minor irritants, but I never let them get in the way of watching cricket. Matches in Australia and New Zealand were a bit of a problem, but no matter what the timing, some part of the match could always be watched. And of course (am I sounding like Dhoni ?) were you out on the streets for some unfortunate reason, a quick pit-stop at the nearest Electronics Store would allow one to catch the action, with plenty of criticism, witticism and expert advice thrown in by fellow onlookers.

And then when I started going to an office and along with it travelling, working from 9 to 5 as they say  (in my case it was more like 9 am to 5 am the next day  but that’s another story), watching cricket became difficult, especially on weekdays. And even on weekends when I worked, which was almost every weekend. Following a cricket match took an entirely new dimension.  And so, over time, the internet has replaced TV as the medium for following a cricket match. Every now and then a highlight show on TV caught between having breakfast or dinner provides momentary relief. People talk about “Bits and Pieces” cricketers, I had become a “Bits and Pieces” viewer.

Following cricket on internet makes for a very different kind of experience. When you are watching a match live in the stadium or on TV, you can see the field placing, perhaps whether there is particular plan put in place by the fielding captain, the bowler’s run up – in a sense a viewer gets a lot more perspective and background to what is coming up when the ball is delivered. Following cricket on a site like Cricinfo, however is a bit like being a day trader watching the stock market index go up and down on your terminal. And what’s worse you can’t buy or sell your team here as per the trend, you just have to hope that you get the result you wish for.

Having “followed” a cricket match in various places across India on alternate mediums, there are many funny and memorable incidents to recall. The recent 4th innings run chases by India in the last three test matches ended up in glorious victories. Yet, for a generation which still has Port of Spain, 1996 and Chennai, 1998 at the back of their mind, the entire office doesn’t relax till the last run is scored. Especially, if the match is as close as the one in Mohali was.

On the day of the finals of the T20 World Cup triumph, I was in a tea garden deep inside Assam. There was a television in the guest house, but as the match started I was in the office and being superstitious I followed the entire match on internet, with regular updates being provided by the client manager, security and other people who were following the match live. And when finally – the screen shouted – Misbah OUT! India Win, the superstition of not watching the match on TV was rewarded.

The most memorable incident which stands fresh in the mind is of course the day Sachin hit 200. Being a sort of slow work day, I was generally following the match on the Net. And then it suddenly hit me after all these years, that I had a radio in my mobile phone. So out came the ear plugs and the legendary All India Radio commentary of Sushil Doshi & Co. was revisited all over again.  As he went past 150 or so, the Cricinfo servers crashed I am told. But Cricinfo had been blocked in office all day anyway, so we were following score on other non-descript sites like cmdn.com. Suddenly someone realised that the msn cricket site was a good alternative and the entire floor then shifted to that. At around 6 pm, with Sachin in the 190s, All India Radio – decide it is time for some news, not realising that CRICKET IS THE NEWS. Damn. There was one round of celebrations as Sachin crossed 194; the ghost of Saeed Anwar was banished forever, 5 more to go for 200. So the scene resembles something like this now: People checking scores on their screens and mobile phones (I am constantly refreshing twitter on mobile). Some have called up their family members at home who are watching the match on TV for live updates. And with Dhoni for some unknown reason refusing to give Sachin the strike for a long time the tension is unbearable. Finally it happens; I get a confirmatory phone call from a friend whose brother has confirmed at home that indeed he has reached 200. The screen refreshes a moment later and I do a Print Screen to “capture the moment”.  Brilliant!

And so as time passes and it becomes more difficult for folks of my generation to watch a cricket match, the cricket fan in us will keep improvising. So, whether it is testmatchsofa.com for alternate cricket commentary or your very own HoldingWilley.com for checking out COW (Chance of Winning) or just twitter, we have the tools at our disposal, if not the time. And once in a while, bunking work can be a good idea, just keep it within limits and for the big games only. You don’t want your appraisal to be affected – do you?


[PS: Would love to read the readers’ stories on following cricket in creative ways]

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