India's last World Cup league encounter against the West Indies here on Sunday will have a unique visitor in the stands. Japanese scholar Mari Sekiguchi, who specialises in the modern history of India, has made the trip all the way from Tokyo to catch the action at Chepauk.
Based out of Tokyo's Asia University, Mari is possibly the only Japanese to have penned a book on cricket — ‘The Colony Strikes Back' — and her interest in the sport stems from a broader curiosity of culture in post-colonial set ups.
Now that the historian has obtained a ticket to the game, through The Hindu, she is spilling over with excitement, much in the same manner as she was during India's nail-biting tie with England.
“I was just following the online text commentary. Yet I was so excited. My husband and daughter were asleep in the next room, but I knew that nobody, not even my close friends, would have shared my excitement,” she says.
Mari is likely a solitary cricket buff in a country where baseball and soccer dominate television listings and ‘cricket' is wont to bring up images of a chirpy insect than whites and sun-kissed fields. She has been to India several times in the past, brought here by her academic specialisation, but this visit might just turn out to be her most memorable.
“I'd never seen a cricket match in the stadium, so I entered an online lottery for a ticket to the quarterfinals. Obviously, I did not win.”
“Neither did I expect to get a ticket to this (India-West Indies) match. So, I thought I'll just watch it on TV. Now that I have a ticket, I hope it turns out to be an exciting game,” she says.
Just how a middle-aged Japanese woman got hooked to cricket is a story in itself.
She started out with an academic interest in the social history of South Asian nations, and gradually realised that a complete understanding of India would be elusive if she did not delve into a pastime that keeps most of its citizens enraptured.
“I stayed with Indian friends the first time I visited New Delhi as a student in the mid-1980s. I saw her entire family sitting in front of a TV for almost the whole day watching cricket. I was amazed. Even in Japan people watch baseball and soccer, but that's mostly in the evenings, and not for so long.”
“Then, when I went out, I saw children playing cricket in the street, in the downtown, on dried fields and in deserted lanes. That's when I realised that cricket was important to understand the concept of India, its colonial history,” she says.
Mari picks Australia to win the Cup, calling it a “stable” unit, considers India's lower middle order to be “suspect” and finds that ODIs strike a perfect balance between Tests and Twenty20 games.
Impressively, she rattles off the names of the current Indian squad, but prodding her for favourites elicits a non-standard ODI response. “Rahul Dravid, because he is so handsome, but he's not in the ODI team. Obviously, Sachin Tendulkar is everybody's superstar.”
Mari's interpretation of the different formats of the game also appears sound. “I think Test matches must be the toughest, but they take up so much time. They are too complicated for me. ODIs are nice to follow and Twenty20s are all about entertainment and big hitting,” she says.
Keywords: 2011 cricket World Cup