I began watching cricket as a school girl because my father was an avid follower of the game. He was an athlete and played in his college days. Soon I too got hooked. I remember the discussions at home and I also remember the rush of adrenaline during the numerous matches that we watched in the hostel and the numerous fights that I had with my friends at office on the greatness of Sachin Tendulkar. Amidst all this never once for a moment did I doubt that what I was watching was not real.
Cricket has given me immense happiness. Seeing Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly bat over the years, watching Srinath, Zaheer and Co. bowl over the years and watching the team win including the World Cup this year have been moments to savour. When passions run high it is unbelievable to think that any sportsman can lose a game deliberately.
I, like so many others, liked to believe that sportsmen are not the product of the system and the society that that they live in but they become what they become in spite of the system. For me they are the epitome of talent, truth and patriotism. That myth was shattered when in what can be said to be a sad day in the annals of Indian cricket, former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin along with Ajay Jadeja, Ajay Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar were banned in the year 2000 for their involvement in match-fixing.
It was equally shocking when South African skipper Hansi Cronje and former Pakistan captain Salim Malik were found guilty of being involved in match-fixing.
The games that were played subsequently were looked at with a lot of suspicion and I remember every time that India lost, the common reaction was – ye match fix hoga. In sports you win some and lose some and it was not justified that every cricketer and every match was looked at with suspicion.
It took the greats of the game, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and Javagal Srinath to pull Indian cricket out of one of its most difficult and dark periods. These men are greats of the game for me not for the number of runs that they have scored or the number of wickets that they have taken but for the impeccable integrity and their conduct on and off the field. Taking over the reins of the team at a very difficult period, Ganguly not only led the youngsters just on the field but moulded them off it too.
The Indian fans will always be indebted to these Men in Blue, who wore the India cap with the pride befitting a soldier, for bringing the faith back in the fans. Once again we began to believe in our team and our players.
So when the three Pakistan cricketers - Salman Butt, Mohd Asif and Mohd Amir – were handed jail terms for their involvement in spot-fixing controversy that rocked cricketing world in August last year, my first emotion was not of anger but sadness.
I was sad then, I am sad now.
Yes, these cricketers deserve the punishment that they have got. Probably, if they had just been banned, the message would not have been the same to future cricketers. Being banned is one thing but going to jail is another.
I guess after all sportsmen too are a by-product of the system.
Pakistan has always had players with amazing natural talent – they go to no cricket academies, have virtually defunct domestic cricket circuit but manage to produce one talent after another. In such a scenario they need a leader like former Pakistani fast bowler and captain Imran Khan to lead and mould them like he did in his playing days.
They need the likes of Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble to tell them that they just have keep it simple – play cricket and fame and fortune and accolades will follow. Otherwise once again talented players like Asif and Amir who had the potential to become greats will be lost in the corridors of ignominy.
We all love the game of cricket and that is why I like millions of fans want a cleansing of the system by all – by players, administrators and ex-cricketers.
Yes, it’s a wakeup call - players are going to jail – if not now, then when.
When I watch a game next I want to think that what I am seeing is the real thing – the best talents at work - playing in a competitive environment - because no sight can compare to the sight of a great sportsman in full form.