We remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination.
Every single Indian, more so a male, will have one favourite cricket story to narrate. Probably it’s true for all the erstwhile British Colony subjects – except the USA. R K Narayanan immortalized the passion in young children for cricket in ‘Swami & Friends.’ How can anyone forget Swami aka ‘Tate?’ Tamil Novelist Sujatha has written a short story about a cricket match. I am sure there would be many such stories in every language spoken in India. Sample this conversation from Swami & Friends where Swami introduces himself as Tate:
‘You know what my new name is? I am Tate.’
‘What is Tate?’ she asked innocently. Swaminathan’s disappointment was twofold: she had not known anything of his new title, and failed to understand its rich significance even when told. At other times he would have shouted at her. But now he was a fresh penitent, and so asked her kindly, ‘Do you mean to say that you don’t know Tate?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Tate, the greatest player, the greatest bowler on earth. I hope you know what cricket is, or are you fooling me?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Don’t keep on saying “I don’t know what you mean”. – Swami & Friends, R K Narayanan
I started playing serious street Cricket when we moved to Chennai in 1974. The first foray in playing cricket in Mahabalipuram the previous year ended in utter chaos. We had big empty ground in front of our house, lined with casuarina trees on either side. My brothers and I decided to play cricket there and we already had a small bat. We also had a rubber ball and what needed was stumps. We asked our father but he could not find a sports store in Mahabalipuram or nearby places. So he decided to make one in office and asked us to give us specifications (he has never played cricket or listened to commentary in his life). We told him that we basically needed 3 sticks with sharp edge at the bottom like a sharpened pencil. I am not sure what he asked his carpenter to make, but the carpenter produced a masterpiece like this;
We ended up with weird looking stumps. The only problem was, the ball would often sneak in between stumps at the lower end (quite possible with underarm bowling) and the bowler (one of the 3 brothers) would shout ‘out’ and the batsman would cry ‘not out’ as the stumps are not disturbed and the game invariably ended in fights.
I paid 25 Paise (0.2 Cents) ‘Sub’ (short form for subscription) which was spent to procure a Tennis Ball to join the street cricket and the first day I got to bat probably for 3 or 4 deliveries.
The second day of my street cricket ended in a massive disaster. We lived in Postal Colony which was developed probably in the late sixties, a colony for the Post & Telegraph employees. It had four streets running parallel and a cross road bisecting the streets. I started playing in the 3rd street and either played in the main street using some one’s compound wall – (well not actually compound wall but the cement post, which held the fence and the gate together) as stumps or at the cross street, using the small parapet wall as stumps. On that eventful day we were playing in the Cross Street.
I was given the bat and I hit the first ball bowled at me and it landed on the top of Jawahar Vidyalaya School bus – which used the 3rd street to get from Mambalm to Ashok Nagar. The probability of my connecting a cricket ball and landing it on the roof of the only passing bus on the street was one in zillion but it happened. Immediately, I was mobbed by everyone who demanded that I pay for the ball or they won’t let me play from the next day (it was easy to scare a new comer to the team and the city). I did not have the courage to ask for the money at home and went back to the street after school next day to face consequences. The lady luck was smiling on me and in a few minutes, the school bus passed by us and the driver threw the ball at us and saved me.
And I started to learn to play and talk cricket. Venkatesan aka Raja aka Poppins who played street cricket with me was also my classmate in Anjuham School and introduced me to his close friends Mohan Ram and Shivaji. They were classmates from Class VI and I joined in Class VII. Readers may recall my adventure with Mohan Ram here;
Mohan Ram was a medium pace bowler, Venkatesan a decent batsman and Shivaji a Left Arm Off spin bowler and a Right hand batsman. Shivaji was the first ambidextrous player I saw and he was a very elegant player. Even people walking on the streets would pause for a moment to take a look when Shivaji was batting or bowling. Such was his class. Venkatesan, Shivaji and I lived in the same neighborhood.
The Cricket Season of the year had already began, the West Indies were touring India and the traditional Pongal game was scheduled to start on 11th of January. The cricket fever was everywhere and to commemorate it, our Class (VII A) decided to play a match against VII C as VII B was an all girls Class and it was a Tennis Ball match.
The good players in the Class put together a team and I found a place in it only because I was close to the above mentioned friends. The captain was either Shivaji or Mohan Ram (I am not sure) and we proceeded to Club Pitch, Ashok Nagar on a cold (by Madras standards) Sunday Morning. I was very excited as not only it was my first match, it was also the first time I would play on a Cricket Ground.
We won the toss and elected to bat and lost couple of quick wickets. A classmate, Mohan (not Mohan Ram) offered to go next. The next 45 minutes was the best batting I ever saw. In street cricket, except when you hit straight, the chance of ball traveling long distance was remote. It would invariably hit one of walls on either side of the street and hit the ground with a thud. On the cricket ground the ball could travel far and wide. Mohan was not even carrying a proper bat just a small piece of wood, carved like a bat. He insisted on playing with it, as it was his lucky bat. But he produced a gem of an innings; he cut and pulled; drove and glanced with delectable timing. It was exhilarating to watch to say the least. He scored 63 or 67 in our total of 100 odd runs. We all despair that Kapil Dev’s 175 in the World Cup against Zimbabwe was not video recorded. The only other innings I regret not having a video recording is Mohan’s innings in my first match. Unfortunately none of us had a camera those days; so I don’t even a photo of the match.
The other thing I remember is, I was the last batsman to go and sprained my ankle while running the first run. I was offered a by runner and I called out for my ‘enemy.’ I picked up a fight with Venkatesan only a week back and swore I would never talk to him. At the heat of the moment, I realized that he was a good runner and called him to run for me. I scored 5 or 6 runs.
We got the opposition out very fast with Mohan Ram and Shivaji picking up 3 wickets each. Shivaji with his left arm spin and Mohan Ram with his pace. We bowled them out for less than 70 runs and I held a catch at the mid wicket. We marched to our dug out as Bradman’s The Invincibles would have walked after their last match. And yes, I made up with Venkatesan.
We played few more matches but none of them was as exciting as the first one. Shivaji continued to impress every one with his left arm spin. On any pitch which had a rough on the leg side, he would run through the opposition like Derek Underwood would have done on a rain affected pitch. Once a ran through an entire opposition team in a matter of 4 or 5 overs.
At home, JK (my brother & fellow conspirator in bike adventures) played better cricket as a wicket keeping batsman. He was the first one to demonstrate how to dive, in an era, when few had the skills or courage to dive on tarred surface. Of the quartet, I did not have great skills to play cricket seriously. But all were more interested in studies, with Shivaji and Mohan (Ram) trying to become doctors and Venkatesan and I were aspiring to become Engineers. In today’s world, probably people like Mohan (the star batsman), Mohan Ram and Shivaji would have paid more attention to their Cricket than slogging 24 X 7 with School books.
I did not keep it touch with Mohan and his close friend Narayan (whose Genghis Khan episode deserves a blog) after 8th standard. I believe they stayed back in 8th standard for more elaborate studies as Vadivelu would have put it. Many years later, Mohan Ram (now a practicing doctor) told me that both visited his clinic and they were employed with Port Trust in Chennai.
As Neville Cardus has summed up even before I started playing cricket, we don’t remember the scores and the results after many years. It’s the men who remain in our minds and imagination. Mohan, the star of the day, was one such batsman.
Featured Image: R K Narayan playing cricket with his cousins.