For all the claims we make about being traditional, we give up traditions very easily. One always associates Madras – sorry – Chennai with two things. Music season in December and Test Matches during Pongal Holidays (around 15th of January). The tradition was followed for many years and as it happens with everything else in India, it was given up. BCCI may say that there were other compulsions to do this – increase in number of matches played, new test avenues which are to be allotted test matches etc. But other countries still follow the tradition. The Boxing day test match is still played on 26th December in Melbourne. Matches in England always start on Thursdays. My understanding is, in the past, there was a rest day during matches – fourth day being a rest day. So, when the tests started on Thursdays, fourth day fell on Sunday which was a rest day. And England had a tradition of not playing Test Match on Sunday. And matches in England still start on Thursdays so during weekends you can watch the matches in the stadium or on the Television. Thankfully the Music season is still continuing in December in Chennai.
Why was test match played during Pongal holidays so special? The Pongal holidays lasted for 3-4 days. So, you did not have to apply for leave to watch a test match. The half yearly exams would have got over in December and children were free to watch the match or listen to commentary without a worry in the world. It was also convenient for people staying in other parts of Tamil Nadu to travel to Chennai to watch the Test Match. And Pongal is the biggest festival for Tamil people.
My earliest memory of Test Cricket at Chepauk was 1972-73, England tour of India. My brother and I were kids and we were growing up in a village hundred kilometers north of Chennai. Cricket was not played in the village, though we all knew the game. A neighbour of ours went to see the match and came back excited. Of course, India won the match. I remember two things about that match. My neighbour bored us to death about the catch Solkar took and the elegant batting of Viswanath and Pataudi.
The other thing I remember is a parody made of an old Tamil Movie song. The original song was from a Sivaji Movie. In the movie, Sivaji sings these lines, after the death of his wife
போனால் போகட்டும் போடா
இந்த பூமியில் நிலையாய் வாழ்ந்தவர் யாரடா
If it’s gone, let it be gone
Who has lived on this earth forever?
In the parody, The England captain, after losing the match
போனால் போகட்டும் போடா
இந்த ஆட்டத்தில் நிலையாய் ஜெயித்தவர் யாரடா
If it’s gone, let it be gone
Who has won matches continuously?
வந்தது தெரியும் போவது எங்கே வாசல் நமக்கே தெரியாது
வந்தவர் எல்லாம் தங்கிவிட்டால் இந்த மண்ணில் நமக்கே இடம் ஏது
We know where we came from; but we don’t know where we are going
If whoever was born stayed back, where is the place for us on earth
And the parody was
வந்தது பந்து போனது ஸ்டம்பு, ஆட்டம் நமக்கே தெரியாது
வந்தவர் எல்லாம் தங்கிவிட்டால் இந்த இன்னிங்ஸ் எப்போவும் முடியாது
In came the ball and out went the stump, we didn’t understand the game
If everyone who came to bat, stayed back, the innings would never get over…
இரவல் தந்தவன் கேட்கின்றான், அதை இல்லை என்றால் அவன் விடுவானா?
உறவை சொல்லி அழுவதினாலே உயிரை மீண்டும் தருவானா?
The one who gave you life, asking it back; if you say no will he leave you?
If you cry citing relationships, will he give your life again?
விக்கெட் எடுத்தவன் கேட்கின்றான் அதை இல்லை என்றால் அவன் விடுவானா
கேட்ச் இல்லை என்று சொன்னால் மீண்டும் ஆட விடுவானா?
The bowler is asking for his wicket; if you say no will he keep quiet?
If you cry saying it was not a catch, will he let you play again?
(Before the days of Third Umpire and DRS)
It was more than 43 years ago, so I don’t remember the song or the parody well. It was a famous test win and the legend that Chepauk is a lucky venue was born. After all it was in Cheupak that India tasted their first test victory.
The next test I remember is the famous West Indies tour of 1974-75. We were living in Chennai now and my brother and I had started playing street cricket and like everyone else we started talking ‘Cricket.’ The first two matches were won by West Indies and the third match in Kolkata (All the cities names have also changed in these years; Madras has become Chennai, Bombay now Mumbai and Calcutta now Kolkata) was followed closely. If we had lost it, we would have lost the series. But Vishwanath played a great innings (137?) and we won the match. Another legend was born. If Vishwanath scores a century India will win. So, everyone was eagerly waiting for the fourth test in Chennai played during Pongal.
There was great anticipation from another front as well. It was the first time, a test match for that matter any game was going to be telecast live on Television in Chennai.
The first day of the match would be forever etched in every cricket enthusiast’s memory. Andy Roberts bowled a fearsome spell and took seven wickets. But amid the carnage Vishwanath played one of the best innings of his career – 97 not out. 97 out of 192 (Innings Total) and you can imagine the importance of that innings. For months and years after the event we spoke about this innings, the square drivers and the late cuts.
The other thing I remember is the amount of food my friend’s mother used to pack for us to take to stadium. There was plenty of Tamarind Rice and Curd rice and chappathis. You had to go to stadium by 5 in the morning and all the food was prepared before we started at 4 AM from our homes.
Of course, everyone who watched the match would remember the stumping Farooq Engineer made to get Lloyd out (the turning point) and the Mankad throw which got Kalicharan run-out.
Vishwanth Square Cut and Engineer’s Stumping
It was a famous win. We had first glimpse of the great Cricketer Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards.
What more can you ask for? Superb batting from Viswanath, great bowling from Prassanna, unbelievable stumping from Engineer and a run-out.
A great victory indeed and India had squared the series.
The Chepauk Nostalgia will continue…