The Cup at our feet

WAS that not a 'Diopen' goal into which Pape Bouba shot to world fame? Kick-startling the World Cup as he 'Senegalvanised' the global title defenders into questing for an equaliser that never came? France's Cup was full to the brim. Even as France went hell for leather to salvage a prestige point from the wreckage, Muttiah Muralitharan transiently looked like regaining his magic 'hold' at Edgbaston. How many watched? The whole of Sri Lanka did, of course. So was all India (as a nation of ODIdol gazers) captive to the carnival spectacle of Sourav's India being on 2-1 Calypsong at Port of Spain. Cricket is here 'one-day' and gone tomorrow, TV's football conquest of all living-room space is complete. Former international soccer referee Steve Bucknor is but one of those billions compulsively viewing this mega-mega event as it heads for the half-whistle stage.

This is the amazing thing about your having a ringside idiot-box seat on the World Cup - the action is for your and 'For Your Eyes Only'. A.F.S. Talyarkhan, as the doyen of Indian sports journalism, always did believe football had willy-nilly to emerge as India's number one game. AFST, as the one who pioneered radio commentary in India, was accused of a love-hate attitude towards cricket. Yet AFST (so remembered for his path-breaking Looking Back Looking Forward DD one-man show) remained steadfast in his conviction that football was the one game all India could afford to play. Today India might still be nowhere in football. Yet you divine, as you watch the World Cup spellbound, that AFST had a point. A point France vainly sought to gain as that champion nation was 'Senegale' swept away (1-0) for starters.

Beginners Senegal certainly looked on tissue paper. That is the beauty of football as the game with the telegenic name. Cricket, remember, is played only by the coterie of nations making up the Commonwealth. While football (by 'contrast' on your remote right now) is a League of Nations interface in the full UN sense of the term. It is TV transporting you to another 'world' altogether. What comes as an eye-opener is the way India's MTV-Channel V-oriented tele-youth has responded to World Cup Football. Ask this segment of youth about Beckham, Zidane, Rivaldo, Figo, Ronaldo, Batistuta, Olisadebe, Delgado, Nesta or Kanu and their eyes brighten the exact way striker Sachin's 'black buttons' do at the sight of the red cherry.

It is this euphoric involvement of India's youth in World Cup Football that should truly mean pooling such total absorption into a significant investment for the nation's sporting future. But no such miracle is due to 'happen in India just yet. World Cup Football remains a mere visual celebration in our country. The point will be made anew that our TV and media have promoted cricket at the spot cost of football. Foul enough! It was M.J. Akbar (as a fresher on the editorial staff of The Illustrated Weekly Of India) who hurled the charge at me: "You have pages only for cricket! Why can't you once put football on the Weekly cover and see?"

I pointed towards Khushwant Singh's cabin and reminded M.J. Akbar about the circulation chart behind that eminent editor's bulb-shaped chair in there. The circulation department just then would not entertain the idea of football on the cover. In an era when, for Khushwant, the number of copies sold was the be-all and end-all of editing a magazine. Today things are diametrically different. Every other magazine has football on the cover. Every other magazine also has to strain every nerve to keep pace with the speed at which 'TV, Instant TV' delivers on the game. So much telly action packed into just 90 minutes of play! The whole match occupying, on the narrow screen, no more time and space than does a single session of Test-match cricket!

In the vivid wake of the visual fiesta that World Cup Football is, could cricket possibly recapture the third eye of our mindset? World Cup Football, make no mistake, snowballs into a caveat against cricket in India. "Yet football is for now, cricket is forever!" So ad lib the ad boys though they dare not open their mealy mouths right now. Football all the way it is to the grand-finale Sunday of June 30. For all that, it is with a certain prurient interest I wait and watch how long the Indian viewer's passionate rendezvous with football lasts.

Without question all India will view, all engrossed, World Football till the Cup Final day of June 30. But will the explosive experience lead to 'Seoul-searching'? What's the bet it will be Sachin-Pepsip show business as usual (on the small screen) soon, very soon? With Sunil Gavaskar there to tell us that Sachin-xerox Sehwag needed to be Coca-Colambasted for that June 1 first-ball zero dismissal at Queens Park Oval. For playing a 'bottled-up' shot against which Sehwag had been soft drink-dismissal warned by Sunny during Veeru's 21-run rotund comeback-telematch itself at Bridgetown on May 29. Side by Sunny side, there is Navjot to tell us: "A bee can either sting or make honey!" The Singapore hive from which Navjot thus hove to eloquent view makes "To 'bee' or not to 'bee'?" the Sachin-specific Harsha Online query to address, all over again, come July 1.