Perfectness like most things in life keeps running away everytime someone pursues it hard. And yet every now and then, the randomness of things and the folly and fervour of beings, assisted in conspiracy by a probable Unknown, provide us a glimpse, if not a probe, into perfectness, of the glories that might have been and of lifetimes spent in search of them. Yet as irony would have it sport, that hallowed turf that breeds unremitting competition and demands open-ended improvement, seems to appreciate the imperfect result with one side winning and another losing far more than a result where there is nothing to choose between the two sides. If the reactions to the tied Group A one-day cricket match between England and India in Bangalore, which I have been privy to, are anything to go by, it seems to me that we have missed the point about sport as being a celebration of life by taking it too seriously.
I reckon a number of decibels, reams of paper and bytes of virtual space would have been spent in the last twenty-four hours in arguing why it was a tie. An equal amount of passion would also have been spent, mostly by Indian fans and the cricketing media - which sometimes blur, for right and wrong reasons -, in trying to work out the shape of Dhoni's skull that decided in giving the 49th over to Piyusha Chawla. Amidst all the hullabaloo, the men who made it such an enthralling contest would have been unfortunately relegated to the background by fraying opinions. We in some parts of Asia revere the game so much - and as a consequence take it so seriously - that we fail to celebrate its nuances, the Practical Joke it plays on its exponents and thereby on their followers, the unseen grace with which it evens things and how it stands tallest when two sides vying tooth and claw are not able to sneak a yard past each other even after seven hours of boisterous pandemonium. In my opinion, a spectator who has an overwhelming preference for his team's victory - and I was once that kind of spectator too - over a humdinger of a game is rather like a student who studies for ranks with knowledge having little more use for him.
The England-India game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, afore arguably the most educated albeit ebullient crowd in the country behind Chennai, demonstrated two things: the cofluence of sparkles of individual brilliance into something close to collective perfection in a team game and how a tie in a cricket match is something even cricket scoffers, and those who think it fashionable to bemoan the game, would have to concede as unique if unwittingly.
In favour of the first point, there is ample evidence from yesterday's game. Tendulkar's 120 and the manner in which he blunted Swann in particular gave yet another account, if one was amusingly needed, of why Tendulkar makes his country's cricket fans go bananas after more than two decades in the game. If Sachin's ton was an incredible revelation of how he continues to respond magically to a world of expectations from the heartbeats of one country's fans, then skipper Strauss' 158 was a lesson in the art of setting up a chase and would go down arguably amongst the most purposeful and aggressive innings played by an Englishman in the one-day game. Tim Bresnan's five-for, which proved crucial in the final analyses, prompted just why death bowling is beautiful and critical even if the opposition has gone hammer and tongs thus far with a scorecard already reading in excess of 300. And finally Zaheer's spell during England's batting power play when everything seemed lost for the men in blue and the Bangalore crowd was a wonderfully written action piece on the subject how to make the ball talk! Give me one strong - foolproof - argument for why one of those deserved to be at the smiling end of the game, I will provide two such arguments for the others. I rest my case.
Shifting focus to those who pooh-pooh cricket, cricketers and cricket watchers, especially those with such craftily contrived undertones that debunk cricket every time they delight in praising the sport they owe allegiance to, what would they have thought of yesterday's tie? Well, if one of them said not much I would not be very surprised. But sample this: how precious can "same scores" be in a game of football played for 90 minutes and a few more of extra time if scores are level at the end of the 90? Even the most fervent football fan may have to mutter a "not much" because scoring goals is a devilishly hard task compared to getting wickets, let alone runs, for which reason a tie may actually be the more default result in that sport. Tennis? There is a tie-breaker that eventually resolves a tie, so tennis does not even allow itself to know what a tie feels like to its players and fans.
Enter cricket: even if we stick just to One-day internationals, we are still speaking of about seven hours of play. A wide here, a leg-bye there, an ungainly slog somewhere, a poor umpiring decision or a run out in a crunch situation are all so commonplace in the game that they can spoil one team's party by the narrowest margins. Yet when the artifacts and the very nature of the game, which seem so besotted to discriminate rather than unite, do conspire to even things after hours of battle, the result is not even remotely like any other that cricket or other sports can dare to script. As Strauss rightly opined one must celebrate games like yesterday's: a "historic high", submerging the twin disappointments of not winning, is what I imagine a tied cricket match gives to those who partake of its cusp of earth-bound perfectness. No wonder we have had only four ties in eleven World Cups! If a passionate hater of the game chooses to remain unconvinced still, I can readily understand. But if a highly educated detractor shakes his head wilfully, all I can offer is a quiet smile.
There is so much more I wanted to convey through this post but I surmise those thoughts can wait for another day. I shall end on a humorous note based on TheVenk's tweet which jocularly suggested that India and England should give their tie to some corporate person. I would fully agree with my friend for once, but with a small tweak to his suggestion: they should probably gift it to a Body Corporate which goes by the name International Cricket Council as it would help immensely in ICC's bid to save the one-day game from dying a quick death.