The only option for a cricket widow is to play the game
Shoba Narayan

April 13, 2014 Updated: April 13, 2014 16:57:00

I am a cricket widow. I didn’t think I would be one. Indeed, in the early throes of marital harmony, I thought that my husband and I would do every activity together. He would watch my soap operas and I would watch sport. That ended within a month and now neither of us is clear as to who crushed the spousal camaraderie that had been the cornerstone of our marriage – or at least our vision of it.

Now that the cricket season is starting, there are women in many parts of the world with ample time on their hands since their husbands are sitting in front of a television watching uniformed men run, bat, bowl and field.

In my building in Bangalore, we have formed a “cricket widows’ club”. On the days when there are big matches, we go out together to a nice restaurant for a meal, while our men make whooping noises and thump their fists at the television.

What is it with men and sport? What is it with men and cricket? I can understand the pleasure of playing a game. What beats me is how someone can watch, not for an hour or two, but for several hours at a stretch, forgetting wife and children, at a game that is essentially about cork meeting wood. I know that’s like saying Yehudi Menuhin played on spruce wood, but my dourness springs from the fact that I don’t understand why Indians are cricket crazy. Football, I get. Basketball, I appreciate. Tennis, I can tolerate. But cricket?

There are three things that define India: cricket, food and Bollywood. I can relate to the last two, but I’m flummoxed by the first. I think it is because I am a failed cricket player. As a girl, I was never included in the neighbourhood cricket games that boys played with gusto. They had the typical superior attitude that marks men when it comes to sport. Whenever I entered the ­playground, asking for a chance to bat, they would make me the wicket keeper. Or worse, the commentator.

As a teenage girl, I resented the cricket ball because it took the ­attention of the boys away from ­me. This was the beginning of a lifelong aversion towards the game.

Now that we have two daughters, my husband and I try very hard to raise them without any gender bias. We had hoped that our girls would give my husband company when he watched the sport channels. Even though my eldest daughter plays basketball and football, she somehow is unable to sit down for an hour or two and watch cricket. This is a problem, because I then become the proxy, or rather the patsy, duty-bound to providing company for my sport-obsessed husband.

With IPL fever spreading through the world, my husband and I made a pact. We will tabulate the times that we watch television. For every hour that I watch cricket, he will watch a Food Network show with me. I think that I have the short end of the stick because he actually happens to like watching the Food Network.

So, does anyone have any tips for me? How does a person who doesn’t like to watch cricket sit through two hours of this endless game? I tried surreptitiously texting my friends and catching up with my emails while my husband watched cricket, but he cried foul. In his mind, a trade was a trade only if my eyes were glued to the television the whole time.

Since I cannot win this barter, I have decided to join it, as it were. I’ve started cricket lessons. I’m not kidding. In my building there are a dozen 10-year-olds whose goal in life is to play cricket, if possible on a professional level but at least on a daily basis. I approached them and created a trade of my own. I promised them a ridiculously named and horrible tasting sweet called Sour Punk. For every game we played, I would buy them one Sour Punk. It worked.

This is, perhaps, the trick to learning to love a game: actually playing it. I discovered that for all my scorn, for all my suspicion, for all my derision about how easy cricket was, it in fact wasn’t. It wasn’t easy to apply bat to ball at the right time, with the right pressure and in the right direction. I also learnt the jargon about where the fielders stood and the different types of ball. My ­favourite is the googly.

It has taken a few weeks but now I can sit with my husband and watch the game. I may not (yet) relish it, but I actually understand what’s going on. That’s a first for me.

Shoba Narayan is the author of ­Return to India: A Memoir and Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes

Subscribe to my newsletter