January 16, 2017

How do I explain cricket to my first-born?

Prakul Chandra
Living in the US, far away from the beating heart of the game, a father wonders how he can get the next generation to fall in love with it


The American Dream is a seductive mistress. Eight years ago, I too rolled the dice and travelled across the Atlantic, following the permanent migratory patterns of many physicians before me. Despite my new domiciliary allegiance, I remained tethered to the game of cricket. It is perhaps a mutation, inbuilt within our genes, passed on from one generation to the the next, which causes us Indians to irrevocably fall in love with the game from the very first time we wield a bat in our hands. A cricket fan(atic) for 25 years, a father for a week, I was forced to think last night how I would explain India's preoccupation with the game to my first-born.

Inevitably, every Indian's kid's first brush with cricket is the competitive chaos that is gully cricket. Multiple matches in one field, one objective in all these multiple matches: to win, because the winning team always gets to bat first in the next match - the only rule that stays constant in the gully realm. Turf wars, trial balls, "common man", "baby over", "one-tip-one-hand out", dubious decisions, unorthodox bowling actions are all part of the idiosyncrasies that we have come to embrace.

Every generation also injects cricket's rich history with its contemporary anecdotal experiences. Some of us remember huddling around radio sets listening to John Arlott's articulate commentary in awe. Some of us have stories about our autograph-hunting expeditions in the lobbies of hotels. Almost all of us have cried ourselves hoarse from our seats in a stadium, secretly hoping that the ball is hit in our direction so that we can attempt to catch it in spectacular fashion. To claim our five-second slice of television fame.

I have my own experiences. I did not grow up watching Sunil Gavaskar. I only heard about how he braved the West Indian pace battery without a helmet. I wasn't lucky enough to see Kapil turn around and run back to pluck Viv's skier out of thin air that brave summer of '83. While I was learning how to grip a bat, India were getting skittled for low scores in both formats whenever they toured. I grew up in a time when the opposition felt quite comfortable posting 220 in an ODI against us.

For the longest time, I felt Indian cricket stood on the back foot and I grappled with my reluctance to come to terms with our mediocrity. Then came Sachin Tendulkar, and we, as a nation, devoured him as if emerging from starvation. Mentioning even a fraction of what he did to the psyche of the Indian cricket fan is beyond the scope of this article. His batting ignited the cricketing cauldrons across the world.

The early 2000s shook me to my very core. Cricket's adulterous tryst with match-fixing meant that the train to innocence was permanently derailed. The seeds of malignant doubt were sown. Everything was now viewed from a lens of scepticism. The cricket fan in me felt cheated, like the disgruntled runner who gets called for a run but is then sent back only to haplessly watch as the keeper takes the bails off before he can make his ground.

The rest of it is a knapsack of memories. Of soul-crushing losses and nail-biting wins. The lows punctuated with the highs. How a certain Bengali took his shirt off in celebratory euphoria at Lord's. How two mild-mannered Indian batsmen didn't give their wicket away the entire day at Eden Gardens and turned that Test match around. The emergence of new gods. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. The belief that they instilled. The sense of calmness that Dhoni brought to the team as he stretched the laws of thermodynamics to absorb all the pressure (super)-humanly possible in high-tension chases. The fearless brand of cricket that Kohli now demonstrates and his trailblazing exploits, which have his adversaries doff their caps in admiration. For us, he ushers a second renaissance after Tendulkar and makes commentary clichés tolerable.

My son's initiation into cricket will not be an easy one by virtue of him growing up on a continent that thinks of a stridulating arthropod rather than the game when the word cricket is mentioned. Raising him in a country that thrives on its staple of baseball and American football, how does he get a good measure of the romance that this sport begets? How do I explain the rich history of the Ashes to him? How do I explain the swagger of a certain gum-chewing Antiguan, who could smack the leather off a cricket ball, or the collective gasp in the room at the sheer elegance that followed a certain Trinidadian's exaggerated back lift?

Why triple-hundreds are revered in Test cricket and how an under-arm bowling incident steamrolled the spirit of cricket. How catches were dropped and World Cups were won. Why a ball that initially appeared to harmlessly pitch outside leg stump would be dubbed Ball of the Century. The Duckworth-Lewis is a system that even I haven't legitimately understood, and I swear by the power vested in Billy Bowden's crooked finger, I have no earthly idea how I can help him truly grasp the reverence behind "Bradmanesque" and what it stands for. This task is as exciting as it is daunting. More daunting, perhaps.

Cricket has come a long way, especially in India. From being just a pastime of its colonisers to amateur hour to a polytheistic religion. It is as unifying as it is divisive. This beautiful paradox. This extraordinary game of cricket with its extraordinary history. How do I tell him about it? Where do I begin?

The author is an amateur slip fielder. A professional practitioner of medicine. And a poor judge of a single

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • teesar4192331 on January 25, 2017, 3:28 GMT

    If you get tired of 'medicine' take up writing, you are good at it! I was in the US for 30 years and 5 years ago found out that cricket was played in America from the 1600s and continues to be played till date! I ended up writing about it in my book titled, "Flannels on the Sward, A History of Cricket in Americas," which is available o Amazon. Do take up writing on the side.

  • Chiranjeevi on January 24, 2017, 20:57 GMT

    Hello Prakul - First of all congratulations on your newborn! That was some writing, my friend! I think you should quit practicing medicine and start writing for Cricinfo instead. You could probably start covering all cricket matches played in this part of the world and may be one day you'll get a chance to take your son to see the Indian team play when they come to the Caribbean islands! See, easy solution for you right there! :)

  • Raj on January 24, 2017, 13:11 GMT

    Great article and I can fully identify with the author. There are plenty of opportunities, especially in big cities across the US, to provide exposure to the game to our younger generation. I live in Chicago and there are several cricket leagues here with over 100 teams playing on any given weekend in the summer. I started playing the game again in 2005 after a break of over 15 years when I last played in India. I used to take my son to my matches when he turned 10 and started serious coaching for him when he turned 12. He played active cricket till he was 18 when he went away to college. He has developed into a really good fast bowler as he is a big and strong kid. We have played together on the same team I as an opening batsman and him as an opening bowler. My greatest joy is seeing him make the batsmen uncomfortable with his pace and bounce and picking up wickets. To all the Americans who criticize the game all I say is - ask your baseball players to take off their mittens!

  • 22mihi4300265 on January 24, 2017, 5:09 GMT

    Espncricinfo. Gr8 article. U r one of the leading and best cricket websites. Now take a step further. Write articles in support of expansion. Write articles related to the format of the so called going to be initialted odi, t20i league. Write articles abt advantages of expansion of cricket. But now it is ur hand espncricinfo.Through the power of ur articles, pls force icc to expand the game. I am definately sure that 90% of icc memebers will be espncricinfo users. They will read these articles.

  • ghuges1613617 on January 24, 2017, 1:22 GMT

    Thank you for such a great article. We also enjoy cricket in Stavanger, Norway only in summer due to weather being harsh in other seasons. The following blog is written by Andrew from Britain. I request to espncricinfo to cover some stories from Norway and around europe as well. http://www.lifeinnorway.net/2016/07/cricket-stavanger-norway/

  • Pranav on January 23, 2017, 17:33 GMT

    Such a wonderful Article Praful. Just read it and made my day as it resonates with how I feel. I have been playing here in a league in Southern California. Quite a few dads have their kids in the youth program here and they are doing really well. My team has the dad and his 2 teenager sons playing in the same team.

  • umezbhatia@gmail.com on January 23, 2017, 17:09 GMT

    Nice read. Thanks for the nostalgia of gully cricket with its lingo and the feeling that was Sachin!

    Keep your son close while you watch the games, esp India vs Pak. Your passion for the sport is bound to rub off on him. He may also feel some patriotism to India.

  • Anirban on January 23, 2017, 16:48 GMT

    Wonderful article... me being a dad of a 10 month old are in the same boat. I have told my wife, that my son rather not play anything than play basketball / American football. Cricket has a different romance to it, and its a challenge for us NRIs to get our future generations get hooked on to it.

  • akash.4805743 on January 23, 2017, 16:13 GMT

    Wonderful article I love this article. I am a 21 year old die hard cricket fan and always love this sport.