Prem Panicker

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Prem has been writing about cricket since 1996 -- and sometimes wishes he hadn't.

It’s just another game

It's just another game.

No, seriously. It is.

Yes, there is a World Cup final berth at stake -- but two teams played yesterday for the same stakes, with no one pretending that the fate of the world hung in the balance (in fact, television channels were banging on about today's game while yesterday's was see-sawing through its course).

Today, two other teams are playing for the second berth -- and that is all they are doing.

They are not, as politicians from Manmohan Singh down (or up -- it depends on your point of view) would have you believe, taking a big bold step towards peace in the sub-continent. The game is not, as it is being made out to be by the hypemeisters on television, a watershed event that will end terrorism, open borders, revive the glory of akhand Bharat. (Just as, if India and Sri Lanka happen to meet in the final, the game will not be played through the prism of the Indian army's peace-keeping activities in Lanka or Rajiv Gandhi's assassination or the ceaseless influx of Lankan refugees onto Indian soil or the growing influence of China in the island nation or, indeed, any of the historical baggage between the two nations. That will be just a game. Just like this one is.)

We've been down the road of public posturing before. It didn't work then, it won't work now. The problems that confront us are too serious; their roots, nourished with the blood of so many innocents on both sides, go down too deep, for a mere game to set it all to rights -- and those that pretend otherwise, including the holders of the highest offices in the land, do us all a disservice by trivializing these problems when they should be working to find lasting solutions for them.

You can understand why the hype machine does this -- lazy minds seek instant narratives that can be packaged into TRP-bait, and manufacturers love the opportunity to flog a few more products.

But frankly, it cloys. Like a surfeit of too-rich sweet, this non-stop barrage of "opinion" and "commentary", that seems to encompass everything but the game itself, began to cloy within hours of our knowing the identity of the two contenders. And now, as I write this, with about 3 hours for the game to begin, there is an excess of excess.

It is not my contention that there is no rivalry -- there is, and the sport is richer for having two storied teams from one neighborhood engaged in intense, if sporadic, rivalry. Just as the sport has been richer for having England and Australia -- the colonizers and the colonized -- engage in give no quarter battles for the Ashes.

But to burden the game -- and the 22 cricketers who will do duty in Mohali today -- with all of this excess political baggage is to do serious disservice to the game itself. It deflects the attention from the real importance of a high-stakes game (a chance to make the final of the quadrennial showpiece of cricket), it adds needless fuel to the fires of jingoism and thus, by needlessly upping the ante, it inflames the very passions that are sought to be doused; and most importantly, it devalues the cricket by making this about everything but.

Can we, for the space of half a day, just sit back and enjoy a match-up between one team that has gone through more turmoil (much of it admittedly self-created) than most teams endure in a lifetime, and another that in the field is attempting, in stirring fashion, to perform beyond its on-paper capabilities?

Because after all, it is just another game. To channel Boris Becker, at the end of the day, no one will die -- at least, not because of what either of the teams do or fail to do today.

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