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Game for tennis?

columns Updated: Jun 06, 2009 21:56 IST
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It’s the tennis season again. At least till Wimbledon Sunday on July 5, when the men’s final is played, the sport of kings will dominate television. The only competition will be the T-20 World Cup, which is a great pity. Unlike conventional cricket, which is slow, boring and interminable, but, of course, the perfect cure for stubborn insomnia, the 20 over version is fast, fun and full of frolic.

Millions of you, I guess, will opt for T-20. Not me. I shall stay loyal to tennis, particularly now that Rafael Nadal has fallen in the French Open and the way is clear for Roger Federer to win the only grand slam that eludes him.

First, however, let me explain why tennis is a game made for television and why cricket most decidedly is not. It’s got little to do with the two sports but a lot to do with the character of television.

TV is at its best handling individuals. They fill the screen and the camera seems to transport them into your home and make them part of your life. This is the case whether you’re watching a profile of a fat, loud-mouthed billionaire, a Chinese acrobat somersaulting in the air as you sit in silent wonder or Prabhakaran’s corpse with a cold, dry bullet-hole in the middle of his forehead. The camera intensifies the focus and magnifies the impact.

Well, tennis is a game between two individuals. The size of the court is perfect for comprehensive coverage and the game itself — hitting the ball to and fro — creates an opposition that the cameras enhance. When necessary, a single shot can capture it all.

Cricket, on the other hand, is a team game. At any given time there are 13 men on the field. They’re spread across an enormous area, usually at significant distances from each other. Consequently, a single frame can never show the totality. You need a multiplicity of cameras and a collection of quick shots to see what’s happening.

Cut to a wide shot and everyone is too small and too distant to be discernible. Cut to close ups and you end up concentrating on a single individual whilst ignoring the rest of the team. That’s, of course, perfect for tennis. But it’s not quite cricket.

However, I can’t claim television has made me a tennis fan and impatient with cricket. That’s just me!

Odd though it may seem, I don’t recall a childhood watching cricket matches. I have no memories of evenings glued to television as India played — and, I’m told, usually lost. But I do remember sitting at the edge of my seat as the Wimbledon semi-finals and finals were played on Doordarshan’s flickering black and white screen.

The most excruciating moment for me was in 1979, as Bjorn Borg faced Roscoe Tanner for his fourth Wimbledon title. At the time Fred Perry’s tally of three was the record to beat. I was in Simla watching Pakistan television. DD, for some reason, decided not to show the match.

Tanner had a booming serve. It was said to be the fastest in the world. Borg was playing with his trademark wooden racket. The light metallic ones were still unknown. He stood six feet behind the base line. We went through four tough sets but finally the score stood at 5-4 in Borg’s favour in the fifth. With three successive winners he gave himself three championship points. “It’s his moment to make history”, the commentator babbled breathlessly. The excitement was palpable.

And guess what? PTV cut to the news! I had to wait for 30 minutes of local Pakistani politics to end before PTV announced the result. Of course, Borg won.

The cricket moment I can’t forget happened when I was at Stowe. I was 17. The Indian team were on tour. If I’m not mistaken, Britain batted first and scored 642 (declared). We were all out for 42. As the news spread through school every boy seemed to burst forth with the same question: “Hey Karan, what’s the score?”

Fortunately, the T-20 final is on June 20, well after the fun at Roland Garros is over and safely before Wimbledon starts. So may be…