9 February 2007

Cricket and me

We share a strange relationship, cricket and I. Ask those who know us both. Cricket gives me strange pleasure every time I see him. I marvel at his beauty, his unpredictability, his crazy anecdotes. He seems at times to have all the time in the world, yet sometimes he's in such a hurry. He's changed so much since people first got to know him. Being with him is not like your usual one night stand. No. I keep going back. And it gets better and better.

Those of you who know me know that I'm crazy about cricket. Those of you, however, who've had the unfortunate experience of actually playing with me know that I can't play to save my life. I just watch. And feel. Some say you need to have played the game to really appreciate it. Maybe. But I think the pleasure it holds for the player is different from the pleasure it holds for the viewer. Due to my severe limitations as far as sporting ability is concerned, I will never really know what it is like to cream a fast outswinging half volley for four through the covers. I'm no natural athlete. But I sure as hell can enjoy watching the game. You can't stop me learning about it.

The first time I remember being really interested in cricket was when India went from 101-1 to 120-8 in that semi-final against Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup. Since then, it's been an affair. I watched India fumble through the 1999 WC. I remember us beating England after making just 233. The match was played over two days, and I saw it while on holiday in Almora on an antiquated TV with hazy reception. I remember the 2000 Championship Trophy when we beat Australia and South Africa to get to the finals. And how Kumble and co. meekly surrendered the final to Cris Cairns after all but winning it. I watched the 2001 Australia series through my 10th boards - the last match finished the day of my last exam (I got 79.2%). The 2003 WC through my 12th boards (90.4% - yay!!!). The Adelaide test when a bunch of crazy Stephanians filled out the common room, clambered up onto TT tables and started chanting "DRAVID!!!!DRAVID!!!!" so loudly that we were heard in Kamla Nagar. The Multan test. The win in the Windies after three painstaking draws.

I tried my hand at playing as well, though. I went out to purchase equipment. I acquired a bat. Then I looked for a ball. Being a purist, I absolutely refused to play with a tennis ball. How not-cricket it would be to play with a tennis ball. Logic tugged at me the other way. The tennis ball was cheaper, it would last longer and would hurt less when it hit me. But one fact obliterated all these objections. I would only have my bro to play with. So one of us had to bowl continuously while the other batted. And he was - and is - incapable of lugging himself over the turf at any speed greater than 2 miles an hour. So fast bowling was out of the question. Spin it was to be. And we all know that spin can be bowled properly with only a real cricket ball. So the cricket ball it was to be.

My bro and I went down to the nearest patch of green - a badly maintained municipal park with generous smatterings of bullshit, cowshit, horseshit and anthills (quite possibly antshit too, now that I come to think of it). Due to our scholarly commitments, we usually ended up playing around noon during the summer holidays. It was tremendous fun. I'd have to bowl and bowl and bowl ... and bowl. My bro managed to spank me for four every time I tried bowling leg spin (which, obviously, never spun) and managed to deliver the ball within 10 feet of where he took guard. So I bowled off spin most of the time. I was more successful at this. I managed to nail him in the 'goolies' quite a few times as my deliveries would unexpectedly turn and bounce of a fullish length. Then I'd bowl a loose full toss that he would miss and it would hit him on his ankles, sending him into an extremely melodramatic drama-queenesque routine where he routinely insinuated that because I couldn't get him out in a cricketing fashion, I was trying to injure him.

It was, of course, rubbish.

By the time I had got him out (he always insisted that he batted first) the summer sun had sapped me of all liquids. I believe I lost a good 3 kilos every time I played in that weather. I would head towards my bro to get the bat so that I could take guard, but he would uproot the stumps and declare that he was going home. He was tired, he would say. And he feigned deep breathing and a general look characteristic of ancient Egyptian labourers after they had spent 20 hours hauling huge stones around without food or water. Funny how all he ever did was swing the bat standing rooted to one place (what's the point to runs with only one person in the team - there's no body at the other end to run and the only fielder was the bowler) while I had to run in, bowl (which has been proven to take more energy than swinging a bat) continuously for about 15 overs on average with no breaks between overs and fetch the ball to wherever he hit it. And HE was tired after it all.

Sometimes I managed to convince him to stay by promising that I'd fetch the balls myself when I batted. And he would then grudgingly stand rooted to one place and swing his arm over his shoulder and deliver slow looping balls that took forever to get to me. If I suggested that he try bowling with a bit more energy, he would walk right back home.

Thus it came to be that I became a master at playing the forward defensive shot to slow loopy balls delivered at 1.5 miles an hour. I never dared cover driving them cause then I'd have to go fetch.

Things have changed a little now. Now he's developed a sense of fairness and usually lets me bat. He also bowls a fastish ball (clocked at 2.5 miles an hour) once in a while to bamboozle me. We now play most of our cricket indoors, with the pitch measuring six feet in length and being made entirely of marble. If the ball hits anything apart from the ground, the batsman is declared out. So quite naturally, we've hit, among other things, several bottles of Maggi Tomato Ketchup (I aim for the Hot N Sweet variety cause my bro relishes it and I don't), glasses, plates (one actually had a full dinner in it when it was struck) and a fancy miniature glass tree. We still use a cricket ball, of course. Spins more.

It's quite funny, but I've never ever seen an international match live. I've never even seen a first class game live. My one and only viewing experience of a properly organized match between two recognized teams was in Washington DC. A club of Indian expats played a club of West Indian expats on a matting wicket in some obscure school ground.

It's quite a coincidence I got to see the match at all, actually. The family was on vacation. We were staying with a cousin sister of dad's. But we had misplanned. We ended up in Washington for too long with too little to do. So, we played cricket. The kids there didn't know the first thing about cricket, so my bro and I taught them. The elder of the two actually learnt a decent form of the forward defensive, and even developed a rudimentary bowling action (perfectly legal, in fact) which afforded him a mild degree of leg spin. The younger one, however, continued to resemble Muttiah Muralitharan when he batted. And attempts at bowling caused the ball to disappear in every conceivable place.

Frustrated, they eventually introduced me to a kid called Arjun, who was, i think, around eight at the time. He batted left handed and said he wanted to be like Sachin Tendulkar. We played cricket for several days after that, even though I was twice his age. He was good. HE routinely flayed me around the road on which we played, occasionally stopping to let a car go past, smiling at its curious inhabitants who were quite unused to gully cricket. His granddad had evidently played for the Delhi Ranji team, and his dad captained this Indian expat club I was talking about.

So I was delighted when the kid's dad asked me if I wanted to see the club game. I was thrilled. My first cricket match. I thought he was being mighty generous - taking someone he didn't know from Adam to watch a cricket match. It was when he picked me up that I found out the real reason. We stopped over at his house en route to the ground and he popped inside to get an extra pair of whites. "For you," he said. A strange look of bewilderment took over my face. "We aren't usually able to field 11 players, so you can play if we're short this time". Drat. Didn't he know that I was being taken to the cleaners by his eight year old son? Did he seriously expect me to face up to West Indians? Bowling bouncers at god only knows how many miles an hour?

I began to mentally prepare. I hoped my looping off spinners could be of some use. I could try and hang around against the spinners when they were bowling, but I'd never played fast bowling in my life. Certainly with a cricket ball. As it turned out, 11 players turned up and I wasn't needed. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I was instead made scorer from our side. My counterpart was a fat, jovial West Indian woman who was apparently the wife of one of the players on the other side. None of us had ever kept score before.

They batted first after we lost the toss. They went slow and steady for the first half of the innings, before a chap called C Green massacred our poor left arm spinner for 21 runs in one over. Thereafter, they piled on the agony. Green managed, I believe, four of five sixes and scored well over fifty. It was a difficult job keeping track of who was batting or bowling because, strangely enough, I didn't know most of the Indian players and my counterpart didn't know to many of the West Indian players. This being the state of our intimacy with our own sides, it is not hard to appreciate that we didn't know a soul on our respective opposing sides either. So every time a batsman went in to bat, or a bowler came on to bowl, we would shout "BATSMAN'S NAME" or "BOWLER'S NAME" at the top of our voices repeatedly until some bloke at the boundary would grow tired of it and start staring us down.

If the Indian bowlers were ineffectual, the batting was hardly better. You see, most of the expats on either side were not what you would call spring bucks. Most had sufficiently large bellies and some even had receding hairlines. It was no surprise, then, that the Indian fielders were tardy in the field and dropped catches galore. The West Indian fielders were no better, but the bowling made all the difference. The opening partnership for the Indians went about at a snails pace, and then eventually wickets started falling at regular intervals. Arjun's dad showed some urgency but he holed out to long off. He came back having scored 17 trying to convince everyone that he had intended to lobb the ball into the vacant space between mid off and long off, but his bat was so good that the shot carried all the way to long off.

It was real funny when a chap known to me only as Phani (pronounced 'funny') was going in to bat. The West Indian woman demanded to know the batsman's name. Now, Arjun's dad had given me the nicknames of a few players instead of the real names. So, I put them down on my scoring sheet. Phani could be a short name for a whole host of good, long, distinctly Indian sounding names. But it was hard for the West Indian woman to contain herself when I told her that 'funny' was going out to bat next. And when a woman of that girth fails to contain herself, she attracts attention from everyone within earshot. All eyes turned to the two scorers sitting together. A bellowing Hardy accompanied by a sheepish, embarrassed looking Laurel. I tried in vain to explain to her that I meant P-h-a-n-i and not f-u-n-n-y. She said it sounded like f-u-n-n-y and started bellowing again. She was right. I put this one down to cultural differences and moved on.

In the end, the Indians lost badly. They made 167 and we managed either 114 or 115 (my scoring sheet showed 114 while my counterpart's showed 115). One of their towering fast bowlers had bowled an over of fast yorkers that fetched him two wickets without giving away a single run. I doubt many youngsters in India can bowl as fast as that middle aged West Indian expat. We were thoroughly outplayed.

In the car on the way back, the poor left arm spinner was with me. He had been dismissed for a duck in the Indian innings. The conversation veered towards C Green's innings. I had been restraining myself from speaking for a long time. I was, after all, just a little kid who couldn't play for nuts and this chap was part of a club side. And, there was naturally nothing complimentary that I could say to this chap after what he had done on the field. I tried hard, but soon I lost the battle. "That chap took you for 21 runs that over, you know." Why did I have to open my mouth? And of all things say THAT? I remember the look he gave me after that remark. It was a mixture of a sheepish, embarrassed smile and a glare that seemed to be saying "wait till I meet you alone in some dark alley..."

I have been gymming regularly to counter such a situation.


  1. Weird, I remember the same match! I was so pissed at the crowd when they had started throwing bottles n stuff onto the field... I still feel we had a chance! Hope...ah

    Interesting experience... my brother is quite the cricket fanatic and sometimes I find myself facing his dreaded fast ball. He revenges on the time when he was 6 and the ball I'd bowled had hit some parts, well, which caused him great agony! :D

    My leg still hurts... damn leather cricket balls!

    Interesting write up, I must say!

  2. This is one of those posts saattvic, where i read the rirst para nd then the last one.
    Those were goof though!

  3. Brilliant, ol boy! I must say you qualify to write the fourth book on Captain Cooke's (or whichever the hell his name was) XI!!!