The cricketers’ best years are lived spending more time with team mates than with family. It is the moments after each victory, celebrating with team mates in the dressing room, that seduces cricketers to keep repeating them.
It is the reason why many cricketers choose to get involved in the game as administrators, commentators, or journalists after they retire, for it is the banter with colleagues and team mates they miss most.
Cricket, they say, mirrors life with its vicissitudes. It seduces sensitive men into it and throws them out of sport when still in their thirties.
Many cannot fathom why cricketers find it difficult to lead a life outside cricket because they cannot understand the camaraderie and bond cricketers share. They like life in each other’s company. They like the celebration and cursing their company brings, as well as, of course, the respect.
It is the celebration in the dressing room and at bars and at hotel rooms later they miss the most. Not to mention the many stories that are told after every significant victory or achievement.
In the days of yore, after a day of cricket was complete, it was customary that the hat was passed around the bar to buy the player of the day a pitcher or two. People have had a soft corner for cricketers since time immemorial.
Ian Chappell says the reception Sanath Jayasuriya got at a bar in Singapore after hitting the then fastest one-day hundred was among the best he has ever seen for any cricketer. It is the respect and admiration of colleagues and fans that cricketers seek. That is why it is perhaps so difficult for them to seek a life outside cricket.
The idea of life without celebration with teammates and public adulation after each success and victory is unthinkable and unacceptable. Perhaps that is why cricketers are so wary of failure and it also explains why more cricketers than other sportsmen commit suicide.
It is one bad inning here and one bad spell there that can derail the confidence of a cricketer irrevocably. One weakness exposed can bring a soaring career crashing down to earth.
David Hookes was the larrikin that destroyed bowling in Shield cricket in Australia as a young boy. He hit the English captain Tony Greig for five successive boundaries in the Centenary Test in 1977 on his debut, after Greig provoked him in no uncertain terms.
A brash young South Australian had become the darling of the nation and just when his career was tipped to soar to dizzying heights, a Joel Garner bouncer broke his jaw, and with it his confidence at that level.
He later was reduced to being a great First Class cricket but he never fulfilled his promise for Australia. Perhaps he carried that disappointment to his grave after his life was taken away in a bar fight early in 2004.
Steve Harmison has not been the same bowler after he started England’s Ashes defense in Australia with that wide through to second slip at Gabba in November 2006.
It is only a select few that get to have a long and fruitful career in cricket. It is only 11 that get to represent one nation at a time. For the many millions who dream of wearing the nation’s colors, it is a dream that is shattered and which might be never fulfilled.
A promising career might be passed by for a more experienced player or for a younger player. Once a precedent is set for a selection, the stigma sticks till the dream is shattered. It isn’t any easier for those fortunate and good enough to make it. The world takes more satisfaction in finding faults and ending a career.
It takes tremendous effort and endurance to survive this ruthless test. Those that come though the Test victors are the ones who are courageous enough not to give in to the criticism of detractors and critics.
Batsmen are identified as swashbucklers who put the bowling to the sword or as grand technicians who endure good bowling for long hours to accumulate runs. It is generally one or the other.
The world will want to know "Why not both?"
Many have lost it by trying to become what they are not, but the successful ones are the ones that overcome temptation, criticism, self-doubts, and public scrutiny. Bowlers are criticized after each bad spell. Not every day the body responds to the will of the mind. A niggle to the knee is overcome by exerting more on the shoulder and the back with long-term repercussions.
Sport, like life, is never fair. And those who make it deserve great credit. And those who don’t make it need to be applauded for making the most out of their ability and pursuing their hope to their full capability.
The best of men don’t get everything in life. It happens only in movies and in fairy tales. Best sportsmen don’t have it all. Whilst the quest of each batsman and bowler is to strive to be the best in their trade, it is the collective success and failures that they take with them when they are finished with the game.
That is why World Cups and Test victories over the archrival are so fondly recollected decades after they are achieved. Cricketers want to taste the joy of a World Cup win and bask in the glory of being tagged the World Champion at least once in their lifetime. It is the biggest stage in the sport and they want it sometime or the other.
It becomes their legacy and their countrymen recall a World Champion side every time a World Cup is around the corner. It is that tag of a champion in their sport that people want to take to their grave, no matter what their personal accomplishments.
Sporting success of world recognition is hard to come by in the sub-continent given the scarcity of infrastructure and money involved outside of a few select sports. Terrorism and civil war have cast a huge shadow of doubt over sport in this region.
Pakistan has become a no-go zone following the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore earlier this year. Australia pulled out of a Davis Cup tie against India earlier this year. Sri Lanka is coming to terms with life after its civilian war.
That between them they have represented in all World Cup finals since 1992 is a testament to what they have achieved in cricket over the years and what cricket means to the people in this region.
We, as fans, will perhaps never get to know what goes into the making of a cricketer. We should continue to cheer for out homelands as we must and should. A cricket match holds the collective interest of a billion people in my country.
A victory is celebrated with as much gusto and grandeur as any festival. A defeat brings more attacks than what is seen on a war field. It is under these surreal expectations that cricketers play today.