The Armchair Cricket Expert (ACE)

Without a doubt, the armchair cricket expert (ACE) is one of the most thriving species in the Indian landscape. The large numbers of the ACE coupled with its vocal timbre make it hard to miss. Anywhere.

Yes anywhere.

You could be rushing to work perched on the footboard of a Mumbai local train with the same skill as that of a yogi doing Ekpada-asana, your position safe enough to make your life insurance provider shudder. The smell of sweat concocted from assorted individuals attacks you from one side, and the ominously nearing electric post from the other. You wonder how you will survive this and make it to the other end of your journey. Probably you are not alone; the other commuters might also speculating about their immediate future. It is in such extremely trying circumstances that two ACEs show their native resilience.

ACE1: Yaar, what was Sehwag thinking when he played that stroke?

ACE2: Yea man, he has forgotten the basics. Too flashy for his own good.

ACE1: And couldn’t he read that ball? Come on, it was the straight one. Just should have made room for himself and played it through the covers.

Yea, as if making room is easy, you think as a 90kg six-footer steps on your foot.

This is but just one example. ACEs can adapt to even more life threatening situations. Add this trait to Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the fittest’ and you know why the ACEs are such a common sight.

Not that I complain. Hell, I include myself as one of the late entrants to the ACE culture. This is because fortunately, the ACE is truly open to absorbing new members as long as they can mouth the right jargon and be passionate about anything remotely connected to cricket. But I digress, so let’s get back to the agenda of this post i.e. a deeper look at the several sub-species of the ACE.

A. The technical expert (TE)

A specimen of this subspecies will be quiet even while his buddies give each other high fives when Virat Kohli straight drives Malinga for six. Perhaps this was a rare occasion when VK let only his bat do the talking. All the more reason for the loud cheers maybe. But no, the TE remains unruffled, his eyes glued to the screen. He will also be stoically still when an Indian fast bowler sends the middle stump of an opening batsmen flying into the wicketkeeper’s gloves on the first ball of the innings. The crowd around may then be going gaga over India’s newfound pace spearhead, showering the bowler with epithets like ‘TN Typhoon’ or ‘Rajasthan Rocket’. The TE however, does not yield to such emotions. Instead, he waits for the euphoria to die down and then states with an air of wisdom, “That was extremely well bowled. A dipping inswinger is the best way to get wickets on this grassy pitch with overcast conditions.”

Then he moves his hand demonstrating the inswing action, “Like this.”

Never mind if the only cricket he played was not on a grassy seaming strip under a blanket of clouds but on an empty asphalt road under a searing sun when the city vehicles had stayed off the roads in obeisance to a political party’s humble request to keep their vehicles parked safely near their homes. Nevertheless, he does deserve fair credit for acquiring such expertise in the sport even though he has been as close to it as Bangladesh is to being the number one Test team.

B. The patriotic expert

This subspecies is the antithesis to the technical expert. If the TE exudes sophistication and finesse, the PE takes these qualities and drowns them in the Mariana Trench. His patriotism is commendable for he can turn almost any cricket discussion into a eulogy about Indian cricket.

The scene could go like this. A Test match (not involving India) is being aired on television. Shoaib Akhtar comes steaming in and bowls a 150k bouncer at the batsman (whose name shall not be disclosed to protect this writer from legal action). The batsman now has to decide what he loves more – playing the hook or safeguarding his head. By the time he decides one way or the other, the ball has decided he can have neither, and the batsman lies floored on the pitch. The commentators ooh and aah. “Let’s hope he hasn’t injured himself too badly.”

The PE then makes his entry. “Mark my words, our Sachin will soon hit this Shoaib all over the park. Let’s see how many bouncers he can bowl then.”

Another onlooker: “But this isn’t live. It’s a repeat telecast.”

“So what? Sachin will still beat Shoaib.”

“But Sirji, Shoaib Akhtar has retired. Two years ago. Maybe you are talking about Shoaib Malik?”

“Yes yes, Sachin will hook this new Shoaib’s bouncers for huge sixes too!”

As is evident here, the PE has an indefatigable spirit and an almost endless optimism about Indian cricket. This is even more evident when the PE is an avid follower of cricket websites. Sample some of his comments.

Article headline 1: Cricketers trade punches for beer after loss.
PE’s comment: Our Rahul or Anil would never do this. Not Harbhajan either. A friendly slap maybe, but a punch? Never.

Article headline 2: Ashes Test shrouded in DRS controversy
PE’s comment: See, our Indian team was always right in rejecting DRS. When will the other nations learn?

C. The statistical expert (SE)

The SEs are the nerds among cricket experts. Early in their childhood, they learnt their physical abilities did not see eye to eye with their sporting ambitions. This was revealed to them not by a divine epiphany but through a series of incidents – a well-connected pull pocketed at forward short leg, a ‘powerful’ straight drive directing the ball to gully, and a ‘brilliant’ attempt to catch the ball at long-on, only to realize while they were in mid-air that the umpire had already signalled a six. They could never understand how their efforts never got the ball even though they knew more about kinetics and projectile motion than their teammates.

As the years rolled by (with several more experiences of the aforementioned type), they understood that their hand-eye coordination was below the poverty line. They made peace with their messed-up coordination genes and went back to their strength: their memory. Reading everything about cricket they could lay their hands on, the to-be SEs formed statistics in their head. They devoured cricket quiz books and sports yearbooks, and were soon able to rattle off scorecards of the first World Cup final or the first tied Test.

Mostly their hard work pays off. The SEs are regarded with high esteem in their circles, and are often called on to resolve disputes about the best batsmen or bowler based on their batting averages, centuries, strike rates, economy rates, blah blah. This is most evident in barroom conversations when an SE, however inebriated he might be, will still recount with precision the number of matches in which Glenn McGrath did not sledge or the number of catches Kamran Akmal has dropped. Or the number of singles Inzamam-ul-Haq may have missed out in his career.

On a particularly lucky day, an SE could also be consulted to determine the best twelfth man.

And the rest

Apart from the big three subspecies mentioned above, two other breeds also deserve a few lines.

The Cliche Expert (CE) will have a dozen oneliners any of which he will blurt out at the slightest opportunity, context be damned. Some of his favourites are ‘This is going all the way down to the wire’ (wire?!), ‘Something’s gonna give here’, ‘What India needs right now is a couple of wickets’ (even if the opposition is already nine wickets down), and one of his most famous ones – ‘he threw the kitchen sink at it’. The last line is mostly uttered when the batsmen in question is of the physical stature of Ishant Sharma or Venkatapathy Raju, so the viewer wonders how a puny tail-ender had the strength to heave a sink. As one might guess, the CE idolizes Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar. Lately, he has also been influenced by the commentary skills of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan.

Then there is the purist who will lament the death of Test cricket even after he has religiously watched all the IPL matches. This breed winces every time an aerial shot is played, as if he were watching an elephant walk a tightrope. The purist is also vocal in his disapproval of sledging. After grimacing at the sight of an Australian bowler giving the choicest words to the batsman, the purist mostly vents out, ‘These bastards are so foulmouthed, they’ll do anything to fucking win the game.’

With such diverse subspecies the Armchair Expert tribe has enough genetic material to dominate the Indian ecosystem for several centuries. This author surmises that in the coming decades the ACE will have produced enough new variants to warrant an entire encyclopaedia and not just this short blogpost about its clan.

Unrooted

New roots have sprouted from my feet,
They also have wings.

They tell me they do not want to live the old way
like their ancestors did
Stuck to a place,
stuck in form,
stuck in thought.

They don’t want to get entrenched in the earth.
They want to dig into the sky.
They want to look at the earth as it rolls by.

They pluck ideas from the wind and lend them to me,
bounce them and then laugh at their superfluity
when then crash with their insides out.

Sometimes these roots of mine
snigger with me at the idols and the isms.

Mostly these new roots of mine make me unrooted.

And that’s a joy.