Regardless of whether Rahul Dravid had said what was initially attributed to him – the point about cricket’s credibility being in dire need of restoration, given its veritable, periodic avalanches of scams and scandals – the question that seemed unavoidable was: how was it that very few of India’s A-list cricket celebrities had never blurted it out before?
Cover drives, of course, are easier topics than cover-ups, what with so much cash up for grabs nowadays, but the pretence is hard to maintain when virtually everyone knows the story from cover to cover.
It&’s an open secret, after all. It isn’t as if cricket, as a subject, is beyond the boundary of informed discourse in the media in this land.
We’re always talking it. Standees and grandees, experts and dilettantes, urchins and oldies – we’re all gabbing 24×7 about it because there isn’t any comparable, alternative sporting experiments to it that we can fall back on should anyone decide, whimsically or otherwise, to get away from cricket for any length of time.
And television just can’t do without it, much in the same way as it needs all its vapid staples, and they’re far too many to be listed here.
It&’s really been absolutely stupefying, all these years, that when sub-continental cricket’s uttermost unreliability as a competitive sporting entertainment has called academia’s serious attention, books have been written and read and the media has exposed dirty doings galore here, there and everywhere, and some major cricketers have copped a varied range of punishments, it’s been business as usual on sport-specific television. Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil – and bob’s your uncle.
Former players explained the game technically, never revealing why such a plethora of behind-the-curtain mysteries remained unexplained, and the more their presence, presumably, pulled in advertising revenue – for wonders never cease – the more the whole thing appeared outrageously silly because they were all taking you, or your stupidity, for granted.
But, incredible as it might seem, credibility wasn’t perhaps being insisted on even by the game&’s new-age patrons, implying those who fill up the stands or grab the chairs closest to the telly when a game is shown.
Two years ago, students of the Statesman Print Journalism School, fanning out around Eden Gardens before an Indian Premier League match to ask people why they were wasting a holiday to watch a match whose competitive authenticity wasn’t really above all doubt, elicited an answer that was breathtaking in its uncomplicated candour.
No one, apparently, cared whether it was a genuine contest: it was fun even if it wasn’t a sleeves-rolled-up fight.
They knew it wasn’t even meant to be taken seriously – and they didn’t.
That, in a way, was modern sport, goaded into being reliant on television for its sustenance, fulfilling itself: it was merely a minor extension of televised fiesta, warts and all.
No more and no less, like it or lump it. Everything – soaps, serials, sport – is make-believe, unmaking everything about sport you’ve always believed true and genuine.