Since television become a household object in India, when we discovered the Mexican waves, watching FIFA world cup matches beamed live, thanks Doordarshan, in the late, oh so late in the night it was just a little before the earliest morning – I have held a fantasy – India will one day play, and yes, win the World Cup football. That is what happens when as a 13-year-old I let the 1986 World Cup made an inedible mark on my eidetic memory.
Come 2018, the heroes of those days, from Maradona to Valderrama are egging their teams form the sides, and I have reconciled to the Indian limitations in sports to not ever expanding to subsume supremacy in soccer. It is not, I realise, a fatalistic conclusion valid for my life but also the lifetime of football.
India cannot, will not, shall not, ever, ever, be one of those 32 teams in the finals of the World Cup. And here, if the 'e' side of the equation is clear, let me make the MC2 side of the equation as proof.
Since it is only fair that such a doomsday dismissal of Indian soccer prowess for all times to come should have a viewpoint, not of a cynical middle-aged man alone, I interviewed kids in my neighbourhood who sports IPL colours, paint their faces and watch 20/20 for why India won't and here are the top reasons they gave me for only watching football, not playing it.
Behold, the dark future speaks for itself.
- No Bat: Listen, said the first kid, the balance of the universe lies in there being a bat when there is a ball around. From cricket to baseball, lawn tennis to table tennis, even hockey to billiards provide you with a bat, some kind of a stick, to hit the ball. Football does not. Sorry, he said, but since time immemorial our sense of power comes from a hand-held device. Like the bows and arrow of Lord Rama, or the chakra that Lord Krishna uses. I think I just met a future historian or mythology novelist.
- No Stopping after every delivery, or serve: There is a complicated relationship between sports and fitness. Like you stop the game for everyone to collect their breath after every delivery. Then more stoppage after every over is completed. And if a batsman wants to stop a bowler coming at him, what does he do – just raise the hand, and that is it. Football.... Non-stop running, pushing, jostling, falling.... Too much work without a break. Not for me, said the second kid, who seemed to be liberal with his diet of chips and colas. I bet my money he will get into a government job.
- 3. Unlike wickets, goal post is too big: The third, ostensibly the keeper, felt that which we should aim for should be small, narrow – like the wickets in cricket or the net in table tennis. The goal post is like a 70 mm screen, just too big to keep. Nope, he said, dismissing the very prospect. You must have two fielders at least for that much of a distance, surely. Do you agree he will found a religious or a spiritual empire, this one?
- Too much running for zero runs scored: The next kid, slightly seriously, pointed out that unlike cricket, there are no runs scored in football despite all the running. You would think that fella Messi must have scored over 75,000 international runs by now, don't you? What does he get for credit? Not my kind of a game, he said, who surely will become a lawyer when he grows up.
- Hands-free game: Football, pointed out the kid who looked like he played none but must be the star in debates and quizzes, pointed out was a hands-free game. Welcome in a gadget, a great technology feature for most of our lives, but not in a game. Games are about using your hands, not getting fouls and punished. Imagine, the ball goes up in the air and only one member of the entire team can take a catch. I see a tech start-up already here.
- 6. No helmets, no pads: What? A car without seat belts? A bike without a helmet? Or a game without pads, helmets, or an abdomen guard? And you can just push the other guy? Again and again? A game without adequate safety is not recommended in a civilised world, don't you think, he asks menacingly. This kid, methinks, is giving their family a bureaucrat in times ahead.
- 7. Gentlemen's Game: We must stick to our Gandhian values in every aspect of life, including and especially sports. What values would you be recommending to us young children if we are to reject non-violence and truth in pushing and kick another human being, or lie about being injured to fetch a foul for another? What about when someone from that side visits our side of the ground, a guest, being treated so badly by the hosts? You guessed it – here is a future activist, a liberal, who will work in a non-profit for sure.
- Spin or Fast: We must make adequate disclaimers in advance in the interest of transparency and fairness. Each bowled tells the batsman to prepare well if he is bowing spin or fast; over the wicket or around the wicket. Watch carefully and you will see CR7 can spin a fast one. Imagine that? It is nothing but cheating, isn't it? Yes, TV anchor of the future, I get it.
- No mathematics: The human calculator that every Indian is keeps ticking as the game goes on. Run rate required, runs scored, bowling statistics, batting averages, run and balls needed all are dynamic calculations; don't by us without a paper. What are the numbers involved in football? 1-0, 2-1, 3-2? I mean... while watching it, I must keep adding the numbers behind the shirts of the players? Yes, economist or data scientist, keep going.
- Beat 31 teams: How do you become a world champion, he asked? You can surely agree that it is no easy job having to be better than 31 other teams to win the World Cup. What is it in cricket, like eight, nine? What are the odds? You think you can calculate that much, for a football fan? He asks with scorn, making a powerful point, his vision of making Indian a world champion and his passion for excellence as an output of a strategy apparent. Entrepreneur, hats off!
- Don't celebrate the individual: Running around crazily behind a football means you have to truly belong to a team. Pass the ball at the edge of the dee to another player who will score takes some ability to put the team ahead of you. Cricket, everything is your own. It is an individual's game, every ball, every run, every catch... disguised as a social activity. Team games which are truly team games don't really represent the Indian idea of a pseudo-collectivism. Do we need to stay of this dangerous game? What can a defender claim at the end of his career? Or a goalkeeper? He asked with candidness. All hail: I salute the leader of the masses a few decades from today.
Sriram Karri is the author of Autobiography of Mad Nation; an avid columnist and political strategist.