Thu, 28 May, 2020

Sports Through Thick And Thin

By Amun Kharel

I had no cable connection on my TV when I was in the 4th grade when other kids actively watched cartoons and bragged about cartoons in school and I always used to imagine what it would be like  to have cable connection in our house. Often I argued with my parents to have  cable connection but the only reasoning they would give me was that cable would spoil me and divert my attention from studies. And they also said, “If you want to watch cartoons then buy a CD. You can watch occasionally.” We had a huge VCD player with two large amplifiers which we bought in Dashain, when I was in the 3rd grade I guess. Not having cable taught me a valuable lesson though. I was patient unlike other kids who couldn’t complete their meal without completing an episode of Dragon ball z or Pokémon or whatever my friends in school used to brag about. They were bunch of whiny exasperating kids, No offence. We had three channels: NTV, Kantipur and Image Channel. I used to wait the entire week to watch a half hour cartoon show (Tom and Jerry). It was a weekly show and I used to book that time and no one else would disturb my moment of joy. Later, Kantipur started showing collection of cartoons which included 'Casper the friendly ghost', 'Simpsons' and many more which got me so excited. Soon, Kantipur became my favorite T.V channel. My father used to say, “I know a guy from Kantipur who organizes these cartoons.” After that, I idolized my dad and asked him to ask his friend to increase the cartoon time and add more cartoons. Well, that didn’t happen. Now that I remember, he lied because he wanted to become a cool dad and I loved cartoons more than anything else at that time. Soon, like my parents warned, I was obsessed with cartoons. I used to watch Kantipur all the time hoping that it would show some new cartoon series. But something good happened at that period, I used to listen to beautiful songs, watch world news and watch this sports show which was hosted by Sudin Pokharel in Kantipur channel. He was a handsome guy. He was a rapper at the time and had this awesome goatee which attracted a lot of teenagers at that time. My teenage cousin sister had a crush on that guy. Instantly, I fell in love with sports, football mostly. Three major sports grabbed my attention at that time, Cricket, Football, and Lawn Tennis. Sports was a new found art which got me very excited. I needed someone to talk about it and my maternal uncle, who lived with us to complete his Bachelors, was a huge Argentine football fan. Football was easily my favorite game. It had simple rules, more fan base and crazy atmosphere inside the ground. When I talked about sports with him, he used to tell me about Maradona, Batistuta, Crespo and all the Argentine greats. Soon I was persuaded in being Argentine fan. Our aunt whose house was about a 20 minutes’ walk had cable connection. I went there every weekend after I got obsessed with sports. I used to watch ESPN, Ten Sports and Star sports the entire Saturday. Hernan Crespo, an argentine legend, back then was playing for Chelsea football Club. I started following Chelsea, Premier League and then Champions League matches. I once went to my Aunt’s house in the middle of the week and watched the great Barcelona and Chelsea game in the mid night. This incident didn’t thrill my aunt and the madness had to stop. She complained my mom and my mom didn’t allow me to go their every week. She was still not convinced to have cable connection in our own house. Then came the World Cup of 2006 and my Mama (maternal uncle) said there is this wonder kid in the Argentine side who can single handedly win you matches. The wonder kid right now is arguably the best player of our generation if not the best sportsmen in history. He has 4 balon d’or to his name. No points for guessing but my mama would have made one hell of a scout since he predicted that 3 years before he won his first balon d'or. I watched the game of Argentina vs Ivory Cost in the group stage which had one of the Chelsea’s greats, Didier Drogba. I missed the other two games because it was not broadcasted on NTV. My Mama watched both the other matches where Serbia and Montenegro was thumped by the brutal attacking force of Argentina and were held in goalless draw against the Dutch side. He said Messi scored in that game in stunning fashion. I didn’t like him trying to make me feel jealous. “Wake up Amun, Argentina has scored.” My Mama was full of adrenaline. I watched the score in the TV after picking up my big harry potter specs. The score was 1-1 and it was just 20 minutes on the clock. I missed Hernan Crespo scoring against Mexico. There was no YouTube at its peak or Internet back then to watch the replay of that goal. You had to wait till the next morning to watch the entire match highlights on NTV. It was midnight. We were nervous and hungry the entire game since the game went to extra time. Then I saw something magical, I saw Maxi Rodriguez score one the most superb volley of all time for Argentina in the dying minutes. We jumped in joy after that goal and went to bed after that exciting sporting moment. Next up, Argentina was against the mighty Germans, I watched the game all alone since my Mama went to his friend’s house to watch the heartbreaking encounter. People still talk about the game and how referee favored the Germans when Abandon Ziere was kicked in the stomach by Miraslav Klose, an all-time top scorer in world cups, and was not shown a red card. The keeper was badly injured and was replaced. Miraslav Klose equalized for Germany. They lost the game in penalties. My Mama later returned to our house with a packet of glucose in his hands and tears in his eyes. I was deeply hurt seeing him that way. I experienced my first incident of trauma in my simple non-happening life. How much I hated Klose after that incident. I had indorsy life back then but I started getting outside. My dad owned a stationary and I asked my dad for one of the Mikasa footballs from the shop and I got it. Kids surrounded me for my football and I started getting popular among the kids. They used to scream, “Amun” from  outside of my house. I used to get out with all the confidence in the world. “Fun is coming outside, don’t worry guys. I am here to save you from boredom and your pathetic lives” I used to say that to myself, True story. We soon formed a club and were named it after our town’s famous temple, Chamunda Football Club. We were small guys who played against big aged guys and we were beaten badly all the time. Those days, I missed too many chances and my team was against me playing for the team. They bought their own football. I swallowed my pride, took my football which got really dirty after its outer cover got peeled out with me and stopped playing football. I was done playing football. I felt maybe it is not as easy as it looks on TV. Like all the other time, I was alone, pale and indorsy. It was a low point for a kid like me who lost his passion, friends and was brought back to reality. Next phase was cricket craziness. “Good morning, I’m Mark Nicholas. We have an exciting encounter ahead of us today.” How much I loved that voice and the other voice that recently died this April. Other one, Richie Benaud used to say in his old and groggy voice,” Yes, Mark we are all excited about the encounter but how about the atmosphere here at MCG.” They were the two most unforgettable voices in cricket. I used to wake up 5:am in chilly winter which gave frost to your legs while watching a Boxing Day test match which is the beginning of summer in Australia. We had an electric heater in our room but my dad didn’t use to allow me to use the heater just for the luxury of watching cricket. I fell in love with Australian Cricket due to the aggression in the captaincy of Ricky Pointing, two legend openers Gilchrist and Hayden, calmness of Hussey and Clarke in the middle, finishing touch of Symonds and Bevan, speed of Brett Lee , lethal pace and swing of Glenn McGrath and unbelievable spin of Shane Warne. It was quite easy supporting that Australian team, it hardly lost a match and the players that I mentioned were all legends of the game. The world cup they won in 2007 in the Caribbean was no surprise to me at all. It was all just a formality. But the Australians started to lose their way after legends retired one by one. Now only Michael Clarke is playing out there in the Australian team with his continual struggle with back injuries. The worst moments being an Australian fan was losing to India in the 2011 world cup and Test Series that followed after the World Cup. Andrew Symonds retiring from cricket without proper send off due to disciplinary issues also makes it to my worst moments. He was a fearless big lad with a dread locked hair. He seemed like a fighter every time he came out to bat. He looked like a freak in test matches with his lips covered in white sun protection, anti-dehydrate cream. I used the same thing when I played cricket to look like Andrew Symonds. Everything I ever did in my childhood was influenced by some sportsperson. I used to get my hair done like the one of Brett Lee but my hair was never as feathery as he had so that it would give the same effect while jumping like he did every time he took a wicket. God Bless the blonde feathery haired Australians. I used to take guard like Shiv Narine Chanderpaul, a West Indies legend popular for his batting guard, while batting in order to pick the ball comfortably in the leg side. My coaches in Shangrila Cricket Academy always use to give me hard time by suggesting me not to copy others and create your own comfortable guard. I went to Shangrila Cricket Academy for months every Saturday. It was located in Kupondole, Lalitpur. I had to switch two buses to get there. It was a struggle for me to get there every time. My parents were not completely supportive of the prospect of me joining the academy but at that age I was a stubborn kid. I was in my 7th grade when I joined the Academy. I passionately wanted to become a cricket player. I used to see Nepalese legends like Binod Das and Paras Khadka play in that Academy and it was a great experience. Our school started providing cricketing facilities in the 8th grade and I stopped training in the Academy and also there was also this huge plan of building an International Stadium and Academy near our school which was near Mulpani. I got really excited since the construction of the Stadium was ongoing. The construction was very inconsistent. It was on and off which is often the case of anything merely related to the government. We used to hang out and play cricket in Mulpani every time construction works were stopped. Our school matches used to be played there when the construction was off going. Unlike football, I was good at cricket. I was the captain of the school team and I used to lead crucial matches. I was an all-rounder meaning I could bat, bowl fast, bowl spin and amazingly I could bowl with both my left and right hand. I used to play cricket with far more aged people than I during the 8th grade but cricket was a mind game unlike football. Anybody could play if you have consistency in batting and bowling and mental strength. My senior brothers in my locality used to take me to play with them in crucial matches when I was a rookie but I never disappointed them. Only bad thing about me was I was really stubborn and always wanted to bat and bowl first. One of the most unfortunate incident happened to me when I was in my 9th grade playing school cricket. I was standing as a wicket-keeper without my helmet on when I got hammered in my face with a 1-1.5 kg of bat straight in  top of my mouth while the batsmen was trying to slog the ball in the leg side. I never remembered the incident but my friends from school later told me I was unconscious, full of blood and they even thought I died at that moment. But one of our teachers took me to the nearest hospital when he realized I was still breathing. You know, what my worst cricket moment as a fan is, actually it is the death of Phillip Hughes because I could always relate to that incident. Everything was blurry when I first opened my eyes. I was in the hospital with a bag of saline attached to my right hand. My mom was crying beside my bed. My entire cricket team was outside the room. When they saw me open my eyes, they came closer to visit me. The first thing I asked was, “Did we win the game?” Honestly, I thought the game was still on and I thought I missed the game but the game never continued. It was a stupid thing to ask but I was not in my right state of mind at that moment. I was discharged after a couple of days and I got chance to see my face in the mirror. I lost two of my tooth, had a scar on top my mouth and my entire face was swelling. I was ugly as hell. I thought I was going to be like this for the rest of my life. But the pain faded, as did the swelling after couple of weeks. I got my tooth and face fixed visiting dentist the entire 9th grade and that was that. I never played cricket same way after the incident. My parents did not allow me to and also I was scared of bats and balls for couple of months. Every time something good was happening to my life, someone/something had to take me down a peg.  It was my life. “Son, go outside and explore the world and you will be fearless.” My dad always said. But exploring depended on how far the number of channel in TV would change. TV was my window pane to the world outside. Exploring, meeting new people and being fearless are what society would call growing up. I knew I was far from growing up but I was always going to get there. I learned to appreciate artists and sportsmen who were strong enough to pursue what they wanted to do in life. I also realized not every person is going to turn out the hero to save the world. Hero wouldn’t be a hero without his/her fans and supporters. “Success is like a mirage in the desert, you think it’s there but the closer you look, the less you see of it.” The quote couldn’t have been more right. Messi is always praised for what he does in the club but a little mistake in his national team and he is dragged right to where he started emotionally. Fear and darkness will surround you if you are trying to reach at the top. But sports taught me there is no top and it is all about the peace of mind.