Having been born in India (Polur, Tamil Nadu, to be precise), I grew up on a steady diet of my mum’s delicious South Indian “strictly vegetarian” food and cricket. Having six older brothers to play cricket with really helps to have cricket ingrained in your body, mind and soul, when you are a kid. Since my family was too far from any stadia and just couldn’t afford to send us to matches in Madras or have a television at home, the tradition of listening to radio commentary of cricket matches was an assumed birth right in our family and we would stay up at all hours of night listening to “short wave radio” of matches taking place at faraway places in distant countries, with commentary wafting through the magic box describing the action in fancy accents. Sure, if you wanted to play cricket, all I had to do was pester one of my brothers or just take my family’s “Sunny Tonny” bat out on the street and it was easy enough to find a bunch of boys for a quick “bet match”. [A “bet match” is a common occurrence in India, even today, where the winner of the match wins a “bet” – anything from a few rupees to a “cork” ball or your sister. No, I’m just kidding on the rupees part.]
The addiction with cricket only got worse as I got older – playing for my school team and discovering that I had the natural ability to bowl inswingers and hence, shifting from being an opening bat to a medium pacer. It further worsened when I went to a college where I stayed in a hostel – no parental supervision and cable TV meant I could watch as much cricket as I wanted and more importantly, whenever I wanted, which was basically all the time. I remember back to the days of watching on STAR Sports, the domestic cricket from Bangladesh!!! Yikes.
Having made a career move to pursue higher studies in the U.S.A. (a combination of being from Southern India where it was pretty much a norm – get a college degree in Engineering and ship up to the U.S.), I failed to recognize a potential breakup with the first love in my life till I landed in the U.S. They told me I could maintain the long distance relationship but I had to do all the work! It was the dark ages of internet – no Cricinfo, no hokey-pokey streams, no Willow TV and my love affair was doomed to expire, similar to the millions of cricket crazy ex-pats.
It was the summer of 1999 and couple of my mates figured out a way to catch the World Cup in England. Let’s just buy a satellite dish and get the subscription for this one tournament alone. Since we were all PIGS (Poor Indian Graduate Students), we formed a pool of PIGS that chipped in and decided to have the dish installed in a mate’s balcony. Watching Tendulkar crack that century only a day after cremating his father and the South Africans choking away the semifinals (and a small amount of India beating Pakistan) was well worth the effort of a few dish-installing, cricket-subscribing pioneers at the Penn State University. Soon, the word would spread across campuses in the U.S. and stories of brave graduate students shelling out the big bucks to install satellite dishes to watch cricket reached back to us and it warmed our hearts that we had started a trend in the U.S.
Soon cricket related sites started popping up on the internet with cricket.org leading the way which eventually morphed in to Cricinfo. Still, there was no viable and cheap (meaning free) way to watch all the cricket that I wanted to.
My stay continued and continued in Pennsylvania with no cricket solution in sight. In the mean time, the great series of 2001 and Natwest 2002 had happened (you know the ones I am talking about, right?) and I could only follow the ball-by-ball on Cricinfo and wait for the DVDs to come out to relive the action. The world cup in South Africa (2003) rolled around and we went back to the routine of satellite dish installation. It was during this tournament that a decision was made to revive Cricket at Penn State. Apparently, Cricket was played here in the late 1800’s and much of the 20th century as well but died many frequent and sudden deaths, only to be brought back to life by ex-pats. And so, the Cricket club was formed yet again and it was decided that the team from the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania would travel to New Jersey and Washington D.C. areas to play competitive league cricket in summer. That’s 220 miles one-way homies, every weekend (16-20 weekends in a summer) to play Cricket and these clubs teams were mostly Indian students but there were a few Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Aussies and Trinidadians thrown in once in a while. I am in the 8th year of doing this routine of traveling on weekends. Dear Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, Don’t even bring that “Cricket Tragic” shit to us. Ever. Okay? You have no freaking idea what that is.
Now that Willow TV pretty much covers all the action and for times when that cannot happen, there are always dinky streams. Kids coming to the U.S. these days don’t have a hard time catching up on live cricketing action from across the globe. I am soon to be 34 years old and married and my wife turns away to shield her eyes from the bright light coming from my laptop that I keep by bedside to watch the beautiful sport. During any marquee series such as India-Australia, Ashes etc., I cannot wait for the highlights to come up and have to catch the matches live. This usually means I am staying up really late or waking up at midnight and going in to work with only 1-2 hours of sleep. I become a caffeine-filled zombie for a few weeks and my personal life takes a huge hit. But as I tell my wife, “In all fairness, Cricket came in to my life first”.
So deary readers, what did you have to do to keep up with the cricket? Let me know.
Article by Subash Jayaraman