I told myself, “You couldn’t possibly be getting goose bumps. After all, there is not a single player on the ground!” But no, the goose bumps were absolutely real, as I set foot into Lord’s, a cricket ground that is considered “The Home of Cricket.” I was in London recently for a business trip and just two hours after I checked into my hotel on Sunday, I walked to the ground for a 100-minute tour. It was a tour that I had booked online (or so I thought, as you will discover soon). As I approached the ground, I started seeing signs that pointed to the ground. I started feeling a little nervous. Don’t ask me why. Then, I approached the booth to pick up my tour badge. And, the elderly lady behind the counter asked, “What’s your confirmation number, Sir?” I pathetically replied, “Ma’am, I didn’t get my confirmation number via e-mail.” (Note to self – there is a reason why the “PrtSc” button exists on the keyboard!) She politely but firmly responded, “There is not much I can do without a confirmation number, Sir. And, we are sold out.” Sold out? This was the last tour of the day. Plus, I had work the next day and I had to travel to Birmingham the day after. I pleaded to her, “Ma’am, I am an ardent fan of cricket. I have come from the USA and I am here for a very brief visit. Could you please accommodate me? I can buy a ticket now!” Einstein’s theory of relativity was proven beyond doubt for the next two minutes when she was on the phone with the tour guide – two minutes seemed more like 120,000 milliseconds! She got off the phone and said, “Credit card please!” Credit card? I would have given my entire bank balance for this ticket! Brilliant, as the British like to exclaim!
|Lord's (Photo Courtesy of...my cell phone!)|
I walked through the pavilion, the England dressing room, the visitors’ dressing room and the players’ balcony. That balcony where Kapil Dev, with his toothy grin, held the 1983 World cup trophy aloft. That balcony where the cheekily irreverent Krish Srikkanth blissfully smoked a cigarette as players were celebrating the win. That balcony where Sourav Ganguly decided that it was too warm and took his shirt off. (Of course, I am kidding about the warmth part!) The tour guide mentioned that Ganguly had been fined his entire match fee for that act. I am sure that Ganguly considers that the best money that he has foregone! I was feeling so euphoric, so light that I could have been levitating! I then looked at the famed honors board. Players’ names go up there on the board when they score a century or take five wickets. As I saw the names of some of my favorite cricketers – Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ian Botham, Rahul Dravid, to name a few – I was gleaming with pride. And by the time, I heard the tour guide say, “This is where Sachin sits,” pointing to a place in the visitors’ dressing room, my euphoria entered stratospheric heights! After I profusely thanked the staff for accommodating me, I took a stroll outside the ground, just internalizing and reflecting on the sheer joy that the visit gave me. As if there was any confirmation needed, I realized that I didn’t just enjoy the game, didn’t just look to get entertained by it. I loved it. Absolutely LOVED it.
The love stems from the fact that the game has given me a lot and has taught me a lot. My own cricketing skills have ebbed and flowed over the years. But that’s not really the point. The game has given me some of my best friends with whom I would not have bonded as much if not for the love of the game. The game has made me fight with my friends (when we were younger) when things got really close. Over the years, the game has made me see value in cherishing victories (be it when playing or watching) with others. But it has also made me see the beauty in the grace that comes from accepting a hard fought defeat. It has taught me to reflect, to introspect when things go wrong; and I am not talking just about cricket. It has taught me that failure can sometimes be a very hard-nosed but an undoubtedly perspicacious teacher. That to maximize one’s ability is of paramount importance. As I have matured, I could see that the game kept teaching me ethics - that it is not okay to cheat, be it ball tampering or match fixing or whatever other means. I could even see that what I enjoyed was not watching people sledge but players putting an arm around an opponent following a close game. The players – they are the ones that make the game what it is. Not the rulebooks, not the colorful jerseys, not the lit-up stumps, not the scorecards, not the records. The captains that become great leaders through a combination of skill, strategy and psychological acuity. The players that become great followers through a mix of talent, industry and fortitude. As much as they make or break the game, it behooves every player, irrespective of their stature or level of the game, to respect the game for what it gives them. It is not okay to tarnish it in any way, shape or form. As Mr. Spiderman said, “With great power, comes great responsibility!”
|Ashes 2005 - Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee after England's narrow win in the Birmingham Test (Photo courtesy of "The Telegraph")|
While I admit to feeling indignant and getting furious at the Indian team whenever it lost (especially if the game was there for the taking), I realized over the years that the people in the game that have inspired me aren’t always the monstrously talented ones that broke records and scaled tall peaks. It was also those indefatigable workhorses (like Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath) that were rarely in the limelight but yet worked hard and played passionately. They have taught me a thing or two about putting in one’s best foot forward and, as Harsha Bhogle once eloquently said, “...perfect the process of performance and don’t allow the pressure of the result to choke your performance.” Does it apply to things beyond cricket? No prizes for guessing the answer.
As I reflect on all of the highs and lows that I have experienced, watching my favorite players succeed at times and fail at others, I realize that cricket, as a sport, is like religion, to a large extent. Cricket is capable of bringing great unity and great divisiveness. But it is essential to see that a rival is different from an enemy. Those that ‘get’ the core of what it is – be it cricket or their religious faith - can see its full beauty and get comfort from it. Those that misuse it for their own advancement, like some players or administrators that we have all read about, bring a sense of shame to their country and those that believe in them. Not too dissimilar from politicians that play the religion or caste card for their own gain. After all, if cricket is like a religion, a cricket ground is akin to a shrine. Eureka! That explains the goose bumps that I experienced. Lord’s, the “home of cricket”, is in fact an important shrine of the religion that is cricket. Am I glad that I was granted entry!
Cricket, I love you. Truly, madly, deeply…I also bow to you. Sincerely, passionately, respectfully…