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Neutral venues, neutral supporters, better sport

August 2, 2010

The best thing about being an Indian viewer of the Football World Cup was that you were there only for the football. Sure, I had my evolving list of favourites through the tournament.I started off as a staunch Argentinian supporter, donned the German black-red-gold tricolour from the rounds of 16 upto the semifinal and ended the tournament hollering for a Dutch equaliser. In between I whooped when Drogba took the field, injured shoulder and all for Cote D’Ivoire (conveniently called Ivory Coast) and watched in awe as Portugal steamrolled the North Koreans. I was able to quickly turn up my nose at the poorly prepared French and the Italians and watched them fittingly eliminated in the first round. All I was interested in was, good football.

Cricket has seldom afforded us that luxury. Be it the world cup, a tri-nation or a bilateral series, an Indian cricket fan is burdened with expectations of victory.

It didn’t matter if a victory was only made possible by an opposition more efficient at self-destruction than our own or an inside edge that skims the varnish on leg stump before snaking to the boundary to accrue the winning runs.Win and all was well, lose and it was doom and gloom.

How many Indian viewers would be able to recall any good passages of play from the 2007 World Cup in the carribean, especially after India were dumped out in the 1st round? This tendency is not limited to just Indian cricket fans but to the legions of passionate team supporters around the world.

The advent of neutral test matches seems to have changed that for me. As India set out to cross the pond to play yet another series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan ‘hosted’ Australia in England and played some stirring cricket. Compared to hour  after hour of tedious uninspiring cricket in Sri Lanka, watching the Mohammeds, Asif and Aamer, the former wobbling seaming circles around the batsmen, the latter hurrying through them  for pace, was way more satisfying. The Australians done with Pakistan continues to play entertaining, albeit, inconsistently against England. India and Sri Lanka in the meanwhile, grind on, intent on avoiding defeat than to take games by the scruff of the neck. Is it a coincidence that the team with the most potent bowling attack in world cricket today has had the least exposure to the shimmer of the IPL? But that’s another discussion. For now, I’m much more keen to watch the next England V Pakistan game while probably not even bothering with following the other one online.

Maybe we need more neutral venues classified on the basis of competitive conditions and inspired teams rather than compulsory ‘watching grass grow’ series like the one on in Sri Lanka.

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