Are you going to watch the Cricket World Cup? I would think that’s a fairly straightforward question. And I would normally tell people that I have watched all World Cups since 1992. But it’s actually a little more complicated.
Spare me a bit of indulgence. During the ’92 World Cup I usually saw the first half of many games – with one eye on the TV set and another on gobbling my breakfast and packing my school bag. I only got a peek of the day-night games – I remember watching Jonty Rhodes’ brilliant fielding against Australia on a black and white TV set in the teachers’ staff room – and occasionally, especially when India were playing, summoned the courage to sneak in a transistor into class and tune in. Of course, the scores were then written in chits of paper and passed around the whole class.
Four years later, I mostly caught the second half of the games (if at all). It was also tough to watch the games without feeling guilty – it was before my finals and I was at an age when your whole world is apparently supposed to be focussed on the board exams. I spent a lot of time switching the TV on and off, was highly distracted while studying and quite conflicted while watching the matches. It was all a bit painful.
There were more exams in ’99. There were also exam results, depressing phases after which I felt more guilty watching cricket. My parents were convinced that cricket was going to eventually ruin me. And when I saw my grades I realised they actually could be right. So I watched those matches without much enthusiasm. And maybe for the first time in my life actually tried really hard to study. It wasn’t as if the Indian team were really lifting my spirits anyway – bumbling against South Africa (when Ajit Agarkar handed the game to Lance Klusener in the matter of one over), shriveling against Zimbabwe and surrendering to Australia (one of those days when Azzu decided he would field first in a big game)
The point I’m trying to make is that most of us don’t really get to watch every cricket match. We’re at school or at college or at work or on a holiday or sleeping in a different timezone. We’re all tuned into the cricket but often not watching every bit of it. At work, we may not be anywhere close to a TV set but we will always have one eye on the monitor or on the phone or on the guy two cubicles away, who is getting updates via texts.
The longer the format, the longer cricket hovers. A day is planned around the timings of some matches. A two-hour work meeting is a pain under any circumstances but more so because you can’t surreptitiously keep glancing at your phone with just five colleagues around you. Often you need to find an excuse for an early lunch, to catch half an hour of the run-chase in the cafeteria. Or to make that phone call to ask your buddy about how the pitch is playing.
I’m sure all sports fans feel this way but cricket brings to it an added dimension of time. I’ve had similar experiences with football and basketball but those games are on your mind only for a short time. Ninety minutes. Done by the time you’re finished with one boring lecture in college. But cricket – Tests and ODIs, at least – mess with you all day.
Fans who watch matches at a stadium have some kind of bond with the thousands of others in the same ballpark, that feeling of oneness in watching the same spectacle at the same time, taking in the same noise, experiencing the same ambience.
But I think fans who don’t watch the games fully (but are tuned in nonetheless) have a bond too: it’s something they may never realise, especially when sitting in a workplace full of Scandinavians, but it’s a bond all the same.
This World Cup is going to be tough to watch for various reasons. I will be asleep when most games start and at work when they end. But I will stay tuned: on Twitter, on Cricinfo, on streaming links that infuriate me, on radio commentary, on Test Match Sofa, on Guardian minute-by-minute. I will occasionally hit an English or Australian pub for breakfast to catch the game on TV. And I will end up with bloodshot eyes.
But I definitely won’t be alone. I’m sure a lot of you will also ‘not watch the World Cup’ with me.