November 03, 2007

Six and in.

Appeared in the Hindustan Times on 12th November, 2007.

My six-year old friend, Vasudev has taken to cricket. Not in an air-fairy way, but in a possessed by the will of the cricket Gods kinda way. He was not always like this. Earlier, cricket was faddy, almost like something he took to perforce, because among the birthday gifts came a bat and a ball. And like the bicycle, scooter and drums, the seasons changed and so did his curious little interests.

Meanwhile, on my jaunts to his room, I used to request him for the cricket channel. He would almost always comply, but somewhat grudgingly shift from POGO. I would invariably feel the guilt of denying Vasu his daily dose of toons and make a hasty retreat, handing him the baton, the remote control.

Still I felt there was a hidden, almost waiting to be tapped love for the game. On the few occasions that we knocked around in the basement, and the street, he showed enough guile to take the ball on the half volley and smash it past my whirling waiting hands. Yeah, that’s the way you do it. Smash. Boom. Bang. Take no prisoners, kid.

When he was just a kid, (and that is a very small ballpark in kid years nowadays), little man Vasu floored me with his wide, unconventional batsman’s stance. Also did I mention, he was that rare breed – a Left Handed Batsman. Just like his grandpa, who had long given up on cricket’s avarice. However, when I did mention Vasu’s Gangulyesque style, he repeated, not for the first time, that he too was a Left Handed Batsman, and a wicketkeeper too. But that was it. Anyway, that was possibly the longest cricket chat we’d had in a while.

Next came the summer holidays, and Vasu was flung into a cricket camp. And I thought only Sehwag was batty enough to play through the Delhi summer. Evidently not. Yet the fervour was missing – possibly in both Sehwag and Vasu. Summer camp didn’t quite take off. And it looked as if Vasu’s waning interest in the great game was just another fling. You know how kids love to fling things around?

But then came the Twenty20. From no hopers and non-watchers, an entire nation embraced this new idiosyncratic form of cricket. I was glad to observe that Vasu and grandpa were both showing signs of growing up too – they were the new converts, diligently watching matches, lock stock and two smoking barrels.

And by the time India had smoked both Australia and Pakistan out, and won the T20 World Cup, both Vasu and his grandpa were yapping more cricket than me. Almost like Mr. Manmohan Singh reciting more poetry than Vajpayeeji. Hoola! Alaap?

The times are a changing. Vasu now fixates on even re-runs of antiquated games. We sit and watch no-brainers like India Blue vs. India Red. We chat up on Uthappa, MSD, Yuvi and Irfan. I sense the pulse and impatience of young Indian fans. If a savvy six year old city kid (already a captive market for advertisers) has forgotten about Sachin and Saurav, what will happen in a few years? How many heroes can the Indian cricket assembly line produce? Boy, it’s going to be tough capturing the ever-changing imagination.

Meanwhile, a minor setback. Vasu has not made his cricket team – he informs me cheerfully, as if he’s on the T20 victory parade to Wankhede. At first I don’t get it. Shouldn’t he be upset? And then I think about Uthappa and Gambhir – who in spite of their setbacks have only came back stronger. I smile. And ask him my pet cricket question, “ Who is your favourite cricketer today, Vachi?” Won’t you just love to know what he says?

Also in the same series: Cricket Santa!

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