Professional cricket writers tend to live and work in a vacuum. The press box, where they sit, watch the game live and the replay of its crucial moments on television sets, before they form their opinions, is completely cut off from the ground, both literally as well as metaphorically. The thundering cheers of the crowd or their silence, the joyous or disappointing reactions of the people and their participatory nature, never permeates the enclosed space. The sport here is clinically dissected, like a doctor would examine his patient.
Having spent most of my life in this isolated environment, where the game it seems is being played for your benefit and microscopic scrutiny, any whiff of the outside air is considered an affront to our professional judgment.
This winter, perhaps for the first time in my career, I did not step into the press box while watching India play the South Africans at Mohali and Delhi. I must confess, it was a liberating experience to be part of the crowd, to respond like a fan and be a participant in a collective emotional sense rather than pretend to be a pedantic observer of a clinical trial.
Mohali, in the absence of any crowd, especially where I was sitting, wasn’t so exhilarating an experience, though the cool breeze and the benign sun while watching the match in all its three-dimensional aspects, was a refreshing contrast to the stifling atmosphere of an air-conditioned press box.
Delhi was a revelation and it had to do with the numbers at the ground. The stadium, an ugly mass of concrete, was brought to life by a throbbing, lively crowd which turned up in thousands, to transform even an extreme pessimist to believe that there may still be some hope left in the future of Test cricket.
Since the Test was being conducted under a retired Judge, Mr Mukul Mudgal, better known in cricket circles as the man who cleaned up cricket, tickets were easily available and sold at much cheaper rates than the organisers have in the past. In what should be considered a pioneering step, children from various government schools were given free access to the ground. It was these children, around 8 to 10 thousand in number, who not only filled one side of the stadium, but through their raucous and intense involvement, brought the ground alive.
Test cricket, it seemed, through this imaginative step, had been given a new lease of life by a judge, who is more of a cricket fan than an administrative wizard. Justice Mudgal has set a new template for how to get crowds into the Test matches, for the cricket administrators to follow in the country. And there were lessons for insular professionals like me: Step out of the closed rooms of a press box, for there is more to sport than just mere cold statistical numbers.