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Depressed? I’m delighted it’s over!

Future generations will laugh in bafflement when they recall that it was for this that the UPA government violated all the principles of equity and ownership when it forced private sport channels, writes Karan Thapar.
None | By Karan Thapar
UPDATED ON APR 01, 2007 12:01 AM IST

I can’t help feeling a sense of relief. In fact the words that escaped my lips as India crumbled under Sri Lankan pressure were ‘Thank God!’. And, quite frankly, that wasn’t false bravado or deliberate provocation. I’m looking forward to the return of a normal life after India’s World Cup defeat.

Of course, I’m sorry we didn’t play better or progress further. But my starting point is I don’t like cricket and I was hugely irritated by the exaggerated, non-stop, loud and repetitive coverage of the subject. I think it’s a silly game. Just think about it — two flanneled oafs take turns to hit a ball whilst a third tries hard to fool them and ten more wait, usually pointlessly, for it to be hit in their direction. It’s slow, it’s interminable and it’s juvenile. At least football finishes in 90 minutes or ends in a thrilling penalty exchange. With cricket you can literally fall asleep and wake up to find it’s still continuing!

However, my dislike of the game was compounded by television’s obsession with it. News channels simply forgot that the world comprises a lot more than World Cup cricket. Not only was it the only headline but often the only story. Unwittingly they fulfilled Orsino’s injunction in toto when he said: “If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.” It did. And very quickly.

Yet I could go further. Our obsession with cricket has blinded us to the reality of our team whilst, paradoxically, fooling the team — and perhaps its so-called stars most of all — to the truth about themselves.

For a start, we don’t have a great team and I suspect that’s been the case for a while. I accept I’m not in a position to judge them, yet I’m pretty certain that any team that loses so often — and frequently under pressure — can’t be potential winners. Yet did our feverish and frenzied television programmes consider that? Not for a minute. We were too busy predicting semi-final outcomes to realise we could get knocked-out in the first round! Television misled us. And I wonder if it did so deliberately?

Similarly, our stars — and forgive me if today that word suggests sarcasm — have been so fattened with idolisation and commercial sponsorships they never for a moment thought they were being led to the slaughter. I suspect they’ve come to see themselves as their worshipful commentators describe them! The truth, however, is our cricketing gods had feet of clay. They were past their sell-by dates. Only the illusion of success was waiting to burst. It has.

Future generations will laugh in bafflement when they recall that it was for this that the UPA government violated all the principles of equity and ownership when it forced private sport channels, who control cricket rights, to share them with Doordarshan. Cricket, they argued, was too important to be missed. Thus the government had to come to the help of those who don’t have access to cable. Had they applied this logic for the benefit of the hundreds and millions who go to bed hungry every night, remain uneducated and, if they fall ill, stay unwell, I could have understood. But they didn’t. To them, the government has not shown even a moment of care.

May be I’m a minority of one — although I doubt it — but I feel as if a storm has passed, the clouds have parted and the first rays of sunshine are waiting to burst through. And the best of it is that it was over a lot sooner than I thought or could have hoped for! I had grit my teeth and was ready to keep my head down for weeks. But the Gods have been kind.

Now, from my vantage point of a rank outsider, I’d like to suggest that if we wish to see a return of Indian cricketing success, we must practise three simple rules of thumb. First, don’t idolise the players. If you puff them up too much they will turn into hot air balloons and burst! Second, keep the game in perspective. Cricket may be popular, but the government and the news channels should know its proper place. Third, remember your opponents are likely to be a lot better than you think. India is the only test-playing country not to have invited Bangladesh to tour. If only we had.

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