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Sunday, May 30, 2010

As India crumbled to a loss against Zimbabwe last week, I almost felt something like relief. Children - brought up on the cool, calculating winning ways of MS Dhoni - would want to kill me for treason but mature readers would identify my feeling as one of nostalgia. I was just back in the 1990s.
When the best one could hope for was that Sachin would plunder a hundred or Kumble would get a five-for. Indian victory was strictly rationed and given out only when everybody had switched off the TV and gone to sleep.

My favourite cricket story from the 1990s happened in 1998, when I was doing an internship for a consumer goods company in Calcutta. Assigned to a sales manager for 'induction', I was thrown to various markets of the city in April. He had a healthy - and justified - disdain for MBA-types like me and I was too scared to speak up in my first paying assignment.
One morning - 23rd April, 1998 to be precise - I reported for work with a fever. I was hoping to take the day off but my mumbles did not have any effect on him and we trudged off in the direction of Behala market for an honest day's work. I consoled myself that I could always pop a couple of Crocins (one of the company's products) if I felt worse.
After some time - probably half-an-hour, which felt like two - we took a tea-break and he lit a cigarette.
"Kaal khela kemon dekhley?" (How did you like the match yesterday?), he asked.
I mumbled that I had fever and had gone to bed without seeing the full match.
He chucked the cigarette and straightened as if something had hit him.
"Eto shorir kharap? Sheki, thik korey bolbey to? Jao jao, ekkhuni bari choley jao" (You never said you were so sick! Should have said so earlier. Go home right now.)
He immediately got me into a cab and sent me home. If I was sick enough not to watch one of the Greatest One-Day Innings of All Time, I had no business selling milk food to Behala shopkeepers.
More so, such things happened so rarely those days.

I keep saying this to younger colleagues. People like me - who had their most prolific movie-watching years in the 1990s - are bigger fans of cinema because we endured the worst to get to the best.
That's true for cricket as well.
To paraphrase Soumya Bhattacharya, we either had to endure an Indian loss or nothing. And nothing did not have Sachin scoring 143.


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