It is a warm Friday night in March. The ICC World Cup Cricket series is on in the West Indies. Do you know where your spouse is? My husband is a cricket freak. Not the insect belonging to the genus Gryllotalpa, but the bat-and-ball game that originated in 13th century England. Ram once had us nearly thrown out of our stuffy Manhattan housing cooperative because he wanted to install a satellite dish outside the window to catch a World Cup cricket series. The co-op board called it “view impairing” and threatened to take legal action against us.
I thought Ram was an anomaly in his rabid devotion to the game. Turns out that there is a whole species (or, should I say, sub-species) like him. These are grown, seemingly normal men. They hold jobs, pay mortgages on time and have families. Like crickets—the insect—they thrive in the most innocuous places. Ram’s colleague, Imran, for instance, is from Pakistan. They talk trades during the day and plot secret trysts to watch cricket at night. Ram and Imran disagree on almost everything, ranging from the stock market to Kashmir. But they are united by their love of cricket.
Cricket, as everyone knows, is a craze in the subcontinent. What is new and a fairly recent phenomenon is cricket groupies: Men (and these are mostly men) who have the means to follow cricket matches all over the world. Word has it that a top executive in a German bank based out of London is a card-carrying cricket groupie. When the World Cup was held in South Africa, there was a sharp surge in the number of multinationals who held “conferences” and “off-sites” there. I should know. I was one of the attendees.
Normally, Ram is a devoted father who hates long business trips that take him away from our two young daughters. So, when he threw in South Africa, almost as an afterthought, I was immediately suspicious. He had to attend a conference, he said, and since he was “already there”, he might as well catch a couple of matches, because, oh, by the way, the conference was in South Africa and, by a miraculous coincidence, the World Cup one-day series was also taking place there.
I heard only two words—cricket and South Africa—and decided that I was going with him, not because I love the game, but because I hate it. I loathe cricket for a simple reason: It has taken away every man I have ever loved from me, and hell, as Shakespeare so succinctly put it, hath no fury like a woman who has been upstaged by a mad, mind-numbing sport.
My resentment for the game goes back a long way. As a girl, I was excluded from playing it by the boys in my neighbourhood. As a teenager, I was jealous of the cricket ball because it took away the attention of all the young hunks that I fantasized about.
As a newlywed, I hated the game my husband and four of his buddies hared off to Australia in the middle of our honeymoon to watch Pakistan play and win the World Cup finals, an event—Ram assured me—“that might never happen again.” He meant the match, not his disappearance.
Ram’s plan for South Africa was very simple, he said. He and his four cohorts would fly 15 hours to catch a test match between South Africa versus West Indies in Cape Town that was sure to be a killer. Then they would fly to Port Elizabeth to catch West Indies versus New Zealand because God only knew when thoese two teams would play against each other again. Of course they couldn’t miss India versus England in Durban. Since they were flying out of Jo’burg, they might as well catch the finals.
My eyes narrowed. “What about your conference?” I asked silkily.
Ram looked flustered. “Oh, that,” he said. “The conference will be… well, in between.”
Men have always travelled for the sake of sport. Nothing new in that. Some take golf vacations; others go heli-skiing in the Himalayas or fly-fishing in the Andes, thus combining a familiar activity in a thrillingly exotic place. What’s unusual about cricket is that it involves expensive vacations and exotic places, not to play a sport but to watch it. And the participants are erstwhile athletes who have given up their cricket clogs for banker’s togs. Some are British, most are not—cricketing fever has, by and large, shifted to the colonies.
To think that all this hysteria was started by a group of bored milkmaids in 13th century rural England, who began throwing stones at wicket gates while waiting for their shepherd husbands. The first cricket club was formed in Hampshire in 1760, but the most influential club is the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which is headquartered at Lord’s Cricket Ground. And it was at Lord’s that I had my lightning flash or realization about cricket and our marriage. Some families have ski vacations; ours has cricket vacations. Our itinerary is determined by one single factor: the cricket players. Wherever they go, we—like self-respecting rock star groupies—follow. Not just us, but four other families. We all have kids around the same age. Cricket vacations are our way of connecting and, for the wives, indulging in spa treatments, while the men watch matches.
Like I said, if you can’t win them over, you join them… at least on the massage table.
Shoba Narayan is a card-carrying, cricket-groupie-wife. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org