If you grew up in India in the ’80s or the early ’90s, you might not remember your first brush with cricket because it was, well, all around. But it’s unlikely that you’ve forgotten the specifics of your first 5.30 am interaction with Test cricket from Australia on a quilted winter morning. There was no social media then to proclaim victory over those who hadn’t woken up, or share the triumph with fellow warriors who had. But you knew that you’d conquered the day by tuning in to a Channel 9 telecast when all was quiet in the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
For me, those mornings were in the company of my maternal grandfather, a cricket buff who had honed his passion through radio commentary but who wisely offered little in terms of insight when the likes of Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry were in the commentary box. It was this dogged quality of making sure I woke up with him, but not overburdening me with his own opinions on the bouncing ball (being a former political journalist, he had strong views on plenty of other subjects) made him a perfect first-session companion.
Those mornings were important for middle-class India, still a decade away from the effects of liberalisation, because it was our first immersive experience of something familiar but different; for want of a better word, something ‘foreign’. The score was inverted – 2/5 rather than 5/2, though with India it wasn’t always clear which of the two depicted the correct runs-to-wickets relationship. Deliveries rose chest-, shoulder-, chin-, nose-, forehead-, sometimes even head-high. Weeping ducks walked back with the batsmen and planted themselves on scoreboards. And the sound of the ball hitting the bat was eerily different – harder, with a greater punch, and as you got used to it over the season, almost mellifluous.
It was also a happy time for Indian cricket because the team was going through an international awakening. In the 1970s, India realised it could compete abroad by winning matches in England and West Indies, but the patchy run solidified a decade later through the game’s shorter version.
If Kapil’s Devils on the Lord’s balcony in 1983 put India on top of the world, the champagne-drenched players taking a victory lap inside and on top of Ravi Shastri’s Audi in the 1985 World Championship at the Melbourne Cricket Ground showed it belonged there.
Since then, there have been joyous trips, ignominious trips and controversial trips Down Under, but the relationship between India and cricket in the land where it looks like it truly belongs (at least on TV), has been cemented forever in the minds of those who experienced those quintessential Aussie mornings.
For newer entrants to cricket from Australia, the experience has remained not so exhilarating for four principal reasons. One, there is so much cricket these days, most of it of the slam-bang Twenty20 variety, that the joy of watching a Test match in its entirety has slowly been rendered meaningless.
Two, the explosion of TV in India has made the best of entertainment – live sport or otherwise – so easily available, that we don’t have the time to engage with events, just to consume them.
Three, over time cricket pitches in Australia have become different characters altogether – Perth is no longer menacing, the Gabba in Brisbane is no longer zippy in the mornings and early evenings, and a straight six at the Adelaide Oval is no longer the stuff of fairytales.
Four, for those who were willing to brave through these societal changes and remain cricketing purists, at some point in the last decade, someone decided to ‘Indianise’ the cricket telecast from Australia by shipping our own commentators, removing the walking ducks, and even the ultimate travesty of re-inverting the score. (It’s akin to travelling on an exotic holiday but insisting on eating only Indian cuisine.)
So, now that another India tour of Australia is underway, I try (but don’t always manage) to wake up in the mornings and spend a couple of quilted hours, cherishing the game’s purest form, raising a toast to nostalgia. You should too, and perhaps we can celebrate our shared triumph as fellow warriors.