November 10, 2006

Dhoni goes for a haircut; and the media goes ga-ga

Some cricketers, it seems, can’t even go out for a haircut without causing a law and order problem. The Ranchi police chief, Mr Akhilesh Kumar Jha, is reported to have made a plea to the city’s celebrity cricketer - “I’d request Dhoniji to please inform the police before he goes to any public place, so that it would be slightly easier for us to deal with such situation”. The situation the police chief refers to was a drive Mahendra Singh Dhoni tookthe other day to a neighbourhood shopping mall for a haircut.

A news agency report had it that some 2000 fans mobbed the mall, locking in Dhoni at Kaya Beauty Parlour, Ranchi, for well over four hours. The police were summoned to rescue and escort him home. Wow! What a story. The Hindu even carried a picture of the crush of Dhoni fans at the Ranchi mall. It became a media event because of Dhoni’s propensity to pull a crowd at the drop of his hair. It shows we have people who are prepared to drop everything to be wherever a test player is sighted.

Such is our craze for cricket, which, as Lord Mancroft put it, is ‘a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented to give themselves some conception of Eternity’. My aged aunt’s take on cricket is plainly polemical. She says life would be a lot less miserable, if only they didn’t have the blessed live telecast. Her aversion to the game at any given time is directly proportionate to the level of her addiction to the daytime soap she is obliged to miss on the days of a live telecast of a cricket match. Her son and his son are cricket addicts, like millions of others who get glued to their TV sets, unmindful of the phenomenal national waste of man-days caused by cricket telecasts.

Every nation is entitled to its obsession. It is soccer in Brazil, baseball in US. Our consuming obsession is cricket. Unlike soccer or baseball, which has a season and relatively short duration of play, cricket is a day-long affair and played, nowadays, all the year round. Almost every match is telecast live and re-telecast during the ever shortening non-playing season. And there is a social dimension to the cricket telecast. It tends to interfere with your routine. You can't take the family out on days when a big match is on, nor would anyone visit you. And drawing room conversations, even within families, centre round finer points of something that someone did or didn't do at gully, slip or silly mid-on. You are made to look silly if you don't keep up with the live telecast. You can ignore the ball game at your social peril.

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