A few months ago, the West Indies took on Sri Lanka in a Test match in Colombo. This match was of such little commercial consequence that no major broadcaster bothered to cover it, and so the only transmission available was from the understandably ill-equipped Sri Lankan state TV. It would only be mild hyperbole to suggest that no one was watching.
Well, of course, except for me.
In the bitter bite of the East Coast winter, during the witching hours of the night, I stared red-eyed into the dull, blue glow of my laptop, puffs of breath swelling before me. Anyone entering the room may have suspected something salacious, but the flickering images were of the innocent merriment that is cricket in Colombo. They sputtered, stopped and sputtered again. The sound was, by turn, muffled and over-modulated. Large, pulsating squares, occasionally coalescing into a recognizable image, constituted the picture. Almost never, for instance, would I see what happened in the time between the bowler releasing the ball and the batsman reacting to it—the ball would slip between the edges of two flashing pixels before re-emerging in the keepers’ gloves.“Well bowled,” a stuffy, static Ranjit Fernando confirmed. Then, the free and probably illegal live stream froze, and darkness poured into my corner of Kalorama off 18th St.
Never an organic process, watching cricket in the US is no walk in the park. Not boasting much of a market, cricket is never on TV. You must have a link. Finding this link, however, is a science—only the most precise Google search and shrewd analyses of URL syntax will unearth a functioning stream. You compromise on quality—poor resolution, endless buffering, and the threat of malicious spyware are endemic. For a time you will have a reliable website, a portal of streaming certitude. A moment later, like all happiness, it vanishes. The more secure option is to purchase a link. However, for many, this is a violation of principal: “Why should I, a Pakistani, an Indian, a bona fide aficionado, pay for my goddam cricket?” But this being America, you soon learn that free lunches are hard to come by.
Watching cricket with others is an equally agonizing process involving S-video and HDMI cables, compatibility issues and TV resolutions—the seventeen inches of a laptop are not conducive to communal viewing. Even if technical support can be managed, the logistics of organizing a hospitable homeboy to host a pack marauding desis can tax ones social capital. There is also the small matter of time zone discrepancies—most cricket is played around four a.m., and not much warrants the labor (apart from World Cup semi-finals at Mohali).
And so cricket, here in America, is not only watched in poor quality, it is watched alone.
But this is solitude worth seeking. America is a busy, bustling, overbearing place: bills to be paid, work to be performed, revelry to be had. Step on the concrete side-walk and you are shoved into the hyper-competition of corporate ladders, immigration deadlines, and bar fights—success is survival. You’ll be hollered at by Tom Freidman and Sarah Palin; by Kim Kardhashian and Jon Stewart; by Libertarians, Socialists, Somali cab drivers and Korean dry cleaners; money in, money out. For us immigrants, non-natives, we often struggle to catch up. And though we consume beefy burritos and the VH1 Awesomely Bad Hits from the 90s segments like any red-blooded Americano, on some days, we wish only to savor a soupy plate of daal, or a pull up a starched cotton pajama. On some days, we wish to return to memory.
But on others days, memory doesn’t cut it. So, we turn on the cricket. And we go Live.
There, with the multitudes, cheering every flick-to-fine-leg and ball-that-beats-the-bat—our fists thrusting in triumph, our voices rasping in scorn—we are home. We know the players, the pavilions, the chachas in the crowd. We greet Ricky and Sachin like kin, abuse Lala and Gullay like domestic help. We pull up a stool with our guys-at-the-bar—old Tony Grieg and Richie Benaud, Ramiz bhai and Shastri, Ian Bishop and Ranjit Fernando too. We know them, we understand them, we inhabit their world completely. For us in America, cricket is terra firma.
But immigrant or native, as time passes our lives evolve and grow—the new washes away the old, and even friends become unknown. But some elementals endure. And for those who grew up with the game, there are certain environs—like the green-top Members Pavilion at the SCG, or the cascading concrete steps of the Feroz Shah Kotla, the stone-wall Portuguese fortress at Galle, or the wire frame cylinder that towers above the Oval—that have been fixtures in our lives from the beginning. The sights and sounds and sinews that populate these landscapes, constant since genesis, recollect how and why we love. And as our lives meander from schools to universities, from girlfriends to wives, pay-checks to pay-checks, we often wish to return to a simpler, unburdened time, a time of longer summers and softer drinks. A time when the roar of the crowd on TV was all there was to live for.
And so we are drawn, on solemn foggy nights, to our darkened bedrooms, in muted tones, to these sputtering streams of solitude. We hear trumpets, the din of the crowd, and we return to Colombo.
Article by Raza Naqvi