My earliest memory of cricket is sitting on my grandpa's lap, reading out the scores on the last page of the Times of India. The game didn't matter. From Test cricket at Lord's and the MCG to Kanga League scores, everything was digested with equal gusto. Then the same game was replayed in my drawing room where I was batsman, bowler, umpire, fielder, audience, commentator, everything.
We had a TV at the time, but the offerings on TV were slim. Cricket was not "seen" as much as visualized. On the pages of the Sportsworld (and later Sportstar), on shortwave radio stations of the BBC and ABC, on weekly snippets of the "World of Sport" (Sunday 4pm). You learnt things like connecting long copper aerial wire to your radio antenna to catch radio frequencies that your radio normally couldn't, just so you could catch the Saturday Test Match Special on BBC radio.
My first live cricket game was a belated 9th birthday present at the 1987 World Cup when England played Sri Lanka at the Nehru Stadium in Pune. A completely boring game that England bossed in, but to see names like Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch in the flesh was something that I never thought was possible. Even the subsequent sunstroke couldn't wipe the grin off my face for weeks.
The emotional investment also meant that you had to create heroes and villains. The mere sight of Javed Miandad at the batting crease could get me to chew my nails even today (and he is 63!). You inherited adversaries like the entire English cricket team from your freedom fighter grandfather. You chewed gum all the time, simply because Viv Richards (nuff said!!). You asked for test match updates in your lunch tiffin that came from home from via the dabbawalla. To watch cricket was to experience it. You had to live the game. You had to be a fanatic, because going through such hoops was impossible for the casual fan.
It helped that India was generally terrible in all departments of the game. What is fanaticism after all without pain and suffering?
You wail in anger when Srinath and Raju are ball watching instead of going for the 3rd run, and cry along with Kambli at 120/8. You become an atheist when Sachin's back goes twannggg with 17 runs and 4 wickets to go. You blame yourself every time they are 66 all out or 81 all out. You get angry at Jaywant Lele's predicting a 0-3 series loss - not at his apparent lack of patriotism, but because you know he's probably right. And he was.
Somewhere along the way though, life intervenes. For all your principles about never missing a test match, you end up getting married when Sehwag is blitzing to 195 at the MCG. World cricket interferes with career prospects, and watching cricket doesn't pay. You have kids, and rules about when to (and not to) watch TV. You move to the US, where the timezone really doesn't help. And there's just so much cricket available. It used to be high-end art cinema, it is now porn. How do you build the emotion and anticipation for the game?
I was thinking of all this, and more, as I entered my son's room to wake him up that morning. As I shook him gently, he looked at me with half an eye open and asked - "What happened in Chennai?".
"India 192 all out." I told him. All the euphoria of Australia had snapped back to reality.
I could see his heart sink at the bad news. The 9 year old wept like he had lost a pet.
My priorities may have changed, but the game is in good hands.