Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and generations before ours, did not have access to many sources of entertainment. India and Indians were rather besotted by cricket as a result, with cinema being the only other option on offer. International cricket matches were few and far between in that era and much looked forward to. We would discuss animatedly with our school mates each straight-drive that Sunil Gavaskar played and each wicket that Kapil Dev’s out-swingers claimed. We were eager to savour the performances of our cricketing greats even if our team mostly lost.
The 1983 World Cup victory was like a manna from heaven and ‘Kapil’s Devils’ rocked the collective imagination of a nation thirsty for success and accomplishment. We as a nation started believing in ourselves a little more. India then claimed the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, Down Under, under Gavaskar’s leadership, and Ravi Shastri was declared the Champion of Champions, with a spanking new Audi car being the handsome prize.
Our own confidence surged to great heights when we saw our heroes do so well. It was as if the Indian cricket team carried with it the aspirations of millions, and it did. Defeats were common too in those shaky days and we would spend many evenings brooding at their failures.
The advent of Sachin Tendulkar, a cherubic looking young man with a blade as broad as the Marine Drive, made us sit up and rub our eyes in disbelief. The manner in which he belted the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Curtley Ambrose, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath was simply mind-boggling.
We lived our dreams with Sachin and worthy compatriots like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag and Saurav Ganguly. They made us proud when the Indian team scaled the pinnacle of the ICC Test Match rankings. Then came MS Dhoni and his men who made winning a World Cup seem like a walk in the park!
Something changed after the 2011 World Cup high though. The IPL took over all too soon. And it became too much for us. Though the IPL attracted newer fans who had not hitherto understood the nuances of the game, it killed the freshness that cricket used to have.
There was hardly any time to cherish and relish international successes. We were bulldozed by a plethora of cricket matches of the pyjama variety and very few matches remained memorable. They were held with such alarming frequency that a sense of ennui overtook even die-hard cricket lovers.
Human beings tend to be captivated more by that which is difficult to attain. World class cricket became available to us to view at our beck and call. The click of a TV remote would display the pyrotechnics before us of global giants like Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, along with our own superstars. We fell out of love with the game when we were presented with it on a platter in our living rooms every day.
Other entertainment avenues had opened up in the country by that time. The social media galloped into our mindsets and cricket was not a passion for most of us anymore. We lost sight of our first love, even though we delved sporadically into watching quick highlights!
Tendulkar’s brilliant retirement speech was as if our own. All our heroes had faded from the firmament. We too tucked away our figurative willows and moved on.
But now comes a man called Virat Kohli, a true swashbuckler, with his band of brazen and ‘disruptive’ youngsters who do not believe in the word ‘defeat’. They play with sheer joy and grace as well as astounding skill. Whether they turn up to play for India in Test Matches, or ODIs, or T-20s, these boys are plucky and fiery, zesty and feisty.
And we have started to take notice again. Our hearts are throbbing once more. We jump up and down in front of our television sets as we did back then.
Kohli has publically vowed to bring unbounded joy to our hearts with his team’s performances in the years ahead. And we have fallen in love with cricket; once more.