Friday, May 12, 2006

Beyond Boundaries

Reading "Fever Pitch" has been one of the most pleasurable experiences I have had. Anyone who's read the book knows it is not your average sports book. It captures the entire life of Nick Hornby with football and Arsenal just being the perfectly weird backdrop. In the end, however, I had to ask myself if I could ever be an obsessed fan of a team or a club the same way Hornby was before he found enlightenment, as many sports fans are today (I'm not sure if it was ever different). Why would I hate Manchester United or Liverpool (them scouses!) forever? Surely, it is the football that matters? I guess one of the defining characters of sport are the fans. To an extent, sport would lose some of the passion, the 'human angle' if people were just satisfied with a peach of a goal, a la Maradona, even when it hurts their team. But then, years later, who remembers Terry Butcher or Ray Wilkins? What we all remember is the Hand of God and the feet of Maradona. So in essence, that is what it was all about, all along. Which brings us to why we love sport, any sport, in the first place. Personally, I love cricket because it reminds me of some of the better moments in my life, both as a player (at whatever level) and as an observer. Without a doubt, the first of the two is the dominant factor. The smell of the leather, the winter mornings in India with the dew still fresh, the feel of grass, the sweet touch of a well oiled bat (in the good old days), a beefy clout, the ball lodging nicely in the palms at slip or the rattle of the stumps, sometimes even when I was the victim. That's what it's all about, for me. Growing up, I never wanted the West Indies to lose, even when they were playing India. The brand of cricket the West Indians played was pure nirvana, and in my judgement, they deserved to win it for that reason alone. Never mind that most of the time there was never a predicament. That is also why my idol was Kapil Dev, who at the best of times was not a calculating individual. In a way, I tried to find bits of myself in the players and the cricket they played, which is why I could never bring myself to admire Graham Gooch or Kepler Wessels, for instance. Why then, do I wonder, are people obsessed with 'their' team? When I lived in Manchester at the turn of the century, I hated the club and was generally thrilled when they lost, which was a moment to savour considering they hardly ever did. But I like the club now, and admire their achievements over the years. I am not particularly enamoured of their style, and I may never like them as much as I love Brazil. But that's how it is; your love or lack of it for a team should be a consequence of the way they play the sport, rather than just parochial considerations. It also means that my support for the Indian cricket team is not a granted thing - they have to play particularly well to win it (the thing is, you win most of the time if you play with a certain skill level). May be the good baron Pierre de Coubertin saw it through all. The olympic ideal is the one to imbibe. - NK

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