A.G. Gardiner, through his felicitous essays, can be said to have made cricket a glorious game. And he portrayed cricketers as the true heroes and the finest of gentlemen. He made K.S. Ranjitsinhji, the Jam Saheb of Nawnagar, and other princes with the bat and the ball, immortal. With his matchless pen he made this essentially British game, and the Lord's cricket ground, a greater empire of sports than the political Commonwealth.
The princes of the game are worshipped with affection, not out of any authority that they wield but from sheer idolatry. Where they play is hallowed ground. The pitch, the stumps, the fateful wickets. The bowlers with their killer-balls are sacred, and the players look regal in their attire.
The bat and the ball meet, and then a boundary or a no-ball, a catch and an ‘out', with expectations suddenly darkening into dismal doom. A million faces brighten with a sixer in the sky. When centuries soar with each ball or stroke of the bat, every cell of the excited spectator throbs. Vibrant bodies turn into a marvel of wonder when the last batsman is bowled out of what was once a hallowed pitch. The game is over and your pocket is poorer, but your heart is warmer. Your ‘eleven' has won or lost, depending on a hundred factors, the most unpredictable of them being the weather — as happened in Kochi in mid-October. Sections of the media had even appealed to the rain god to be kind to the players, and to the eager thousands who had parted with their money for a glimpse of the great game.
Excellence in action on the turf. Missing a fine catch, but sixes and boundaries and ducks and run-out in a second by a slip and sometimes your wicket by your own bat. Glory and gloom. Double centuries and suddenly a duck, depending on the luckless leg before the wicket. The lovely googly when the ball deceives the batsmen into a disaster. The exquisite uncertainty of rain and sun. All this is cricket, as in life.
Cricket is a royal game among other pedestrian games. A Don Bradman is the rarest of the rare who with a turn of the willow banishes the ball off the earth to find it fall beyond the boundary. Gardiner wrote: “The greatness of an artist lies in the economy of his effort. Schiller burns a whole city to produce an effect of terror and Shakespeare drops a handkerchief and freezes our blood.”
Ranjitsinhji turns the willow as the bowler puffs, breathes fire and spins the ball. The next moment the ball is at the boundary and the great batsman has not even moved a bit. He was a prince of a little state but the King of a great game.
Look at the magic of Little Master Sachin Tendulkar, lionised by the world not only for the magic of his batting but his culture. He is still a wizard with the bat and the ball. He opens his chest not only to face the fastest bowlers but also to offer all he can to alleviate distress among every one of the deprived and the lost.
Yet, cricket is indeed life with its pathos and bathos. Often cricket has villains to encounter. The penniless poverty of the little Indian in his hundreds of thousands, but with the passion to buy pleasure out of his home in the open, to escape from the slums, huts and hovels, and the concrete holes that rise high, apartments that are sometimes elegant only in appearance.
But, for Kochi, the Queen of the Arabian Sea, it was a day of dismal despair, for the match was off. Some triumphs, some tragedies.
A couple of crores of cricket-lovers, sans caste, gender, race and religion, gather in a fraternity. All eyes are focussed on the ground, the wicket, the bat and the ball. Each is praying for fine weather and victory for his or her XI. If the weather is bright, the bosoms of the masses would sing, otherwise it would sink.
This game is indeed life with its pathos and bathos. Look at the havoc weather could play.