In my childhood, I had two dreams: (1) to play for the New Zealand cricket team, and (2) for there to be cricket on television every day. In view of the fact that I am currently here writing this article instead of in Sri Lanka with the Black Caps, we can safely assume that (1) did not come true. (2), however, most certainly has, and in amongst the deluge of statistics and ludicrously controversial no-balls, I finally understand that old maxim: be careful what you wish for.
The 1992 World Cup was my heavenly introduction to cricket. This was back in the days of only three TV channels, one of which broadcast every single match free to air, and I sat down to watch the tournament opener while the rest of my non-sporto family got on with their lives in other parts of the house. At seven years of age I of course had no concept that New Zealand's victory over the world champion Australians was in any way noteworthy, or a surprise. All I understood was that one guy Crowe batted good and another guy Harris was a really good fielder. The game also seemed to share my fondness for statistics; in particular, the inclination to lose oneself in them for hours.
Once the tournament was over, and my conversion complete, I spent hours scanning schedules for the next cricket match, placing precious circles on the paper of each week's TV listings. 'Cricket days' became my greatest joy, and those were the days when cricket was actually on TV. Test or one-dayer, I didn't care – I'd be there, my energy levels steadily building rising with every leg break and straight drive, until I had to run outside and bowl a tennis ball at the back fence for half an hour. They were carefree days that I recall now with more than a hint of nostalgia.
If I met my former self, I wouldn't have the heart to tell him that 365 potential 'cricket days' a year would be a burden, a frustration. The market is saturated to a farcical degree: we have a World Cup of some sort every year, often twice or three times; we have the IPL circus each season and its upcoming, irritatingly tryhard offshoot, the Champions League; we have international tri-series so regularly that it no longer matters who's playing. In India at least, all of this is played out live on television, complete with endless punditry and reaction that bleeds into the news channels. Then there's Cricinfo, a constantly updated resource on which one can easily read or follow matches for an entire day. I literally can't imagine what it must be like for the kids growing up today, who are essentially living my dream. It's odder still that I feel sorry for them.
Perhaps the tipping point was the famous Wanderers game, in which South Africa somehow surpassed Australia's record-breaking total. It was a delight in every way: boundaries galore, heroes and villains, the romance of winning the series in the final game. It gave the chance to compare whose innings was more astonishing, Ponting's or Gibbs'. It offered flashes of greatness that most others might have quickly forgotten, such as Bracken's brilliant 43rd over. And, of course, there were world records galore. That was four and a half years ago, and since then, everything seems to have been an attempt to recreate that incredible March day. There have been so many fours and sixes, and so many new statistics, that cricket now seems to fill its own separate universe.
This, I feel, is where the problem lies. Cricket, and its aam aadmi appeal, has been taken away from the grasp of regular folks and catapulted into self-awareness: a swiftly expanding void comprised of Bollywood babes, a dozen 'next big things', astronomical paychecks and obviously, an overabundance of actual cricket. The purity of a confrontation at the local park over whether or not your mate overstepped is blinded by the glare of what is effectively a neverending, mega-budget advertising reel. You can look at it, for a while, but you can't reach out and touch it; even if you can, its slickness and gloss feel unnatural, otherworldly and not at all like how used to be.