Retrieving memories of my cricket of yesteryears and relishing them brings me more joy than a live cricket match of today does. What with globalization contemporary cricket has assumed a different connotation with an image of money spinning endeavour. For me, a school going boy of 8 or 10, cricket was a passion, a genuinely felt feeling of nationality and oneness.
I played as much cricket as I listened to its description over AIR of national or international matches. I listened to cricket with the same zeal I played it. My heroes were not just cricketers, but commentators too. One cricket commentator I mimicked made me an instant hero on the college corridors. English through cricket had become a passion too. I learnt to speak English eloquently while my friends mumbled for words.
At home being alone, I would play cricket with the wall or the compound. I would gently dab the ball against the wall and keep dabbing it each time it ricocheted. My parents frowned, but I cared little. Those days cricket was a panacea for escaping the quotidian boredom of class room learning. A feigned neck sprain or a muscle cramp would do the magic and I sat glued to the radio hearing my heroes on and off the field! Growing up to be a college boy, I would take the transistor to the college. Gathering my friends I would impress on them to bunk a class or two of uninspiring lecture. A nearby banyan tree was our abode. The transistor in the middle, we would sit in a ring away from the watchful eye of our college Principal beneath the dark green shade of banyan. (The tree has since been cut to make way for a building). There was never a dull moment though only test matches were played then. Back in class rooms we would while away an hour or two more teasing a newly appointed lady teacher or ridiculing the Victorian style of a soon-to-retire English professor. With our uncanny being in the class, we had earned friends and foes alike among the teaching fraternity. My impregnable interest in cricket had made me distinctly alert at times and indifferently cheeky in a class room situation. Teachers I patronized thought I was a cut above all and those I didn’t as much wished me a place in the hell! I dare sometimes think cricket was a culprit in me.
We played cricket without any paraphernalia associated with the game now. We didn’t have bats made by big companies with logos of equally big firms stitched on the shoulder! Leather balls, we couldn’t afford for we had to play with bare feet, knees and arms. To have stumps and bails couldn’t even be dreamt. Cricket was very dear, yet could not be made more dear!
We couldn’t even have a level playing field, let alone getting green turfs or grassy surfaces. Somebody’s land sometimes was our territory so long as we played cricket if we were fortunate or till we were chased by yelping dogs being trespassers. The land meant for grazing or growing one thing or another could not be outsourced for cricket! Easily outsourcable was a burial ground. It was our Lords many a time.
Bats, we did improvise using areca nut planks. An axe or a sickle would help us make conjointly a thing that resembled a bat. The bats invariably had flat keys. While playing a shot, the edge would pierce into the flesh of the palm causing it to bleed. A great batsman was one who withstood the pain and persevered unlike a modern cricketer whose injury too would be phenomenal even if it means sitting out of a match or two.
We made use of sponge balls. They had a very tenuous layer of rubber as outer cover. After a couple of overs, the layer would give in displaying a brown soft inner surface. This would keep skinning off with every over bowled. The ball would then spin both ways putting to shame Murali’s doosra or that irrepressible ad of Mak lubricants! We would not roll our wrists because of flat keys and playing straight meant negotiating the spin. We didn’t mind which way the ball went once it left the bat.
The ground we had to prepare afresh each day we went to play cricket. Someone would have dug the wicket prepared by us the previous day or the grazing cattle would have defecated close in catching positions. We would clean the ground, roll the wicket with the bat and gently dab the surface to nudge the loose soil in. Most crucial was to make the stumps stand on end. A bucket of water brought from a neighbour who grudged us inwardly would do the trick. This water we preserved till the end for each time a batsman was bowled, the stumps were needed to be put in place. We would have to use a spell so that they remained till at least a ball was bowled. We were on cloud nine when cricket at last got under way.
The number of players really didn’t matter. Only two would suffice to see off the preliminaries and begin the game. Late comers would be soundly admonished. The black sheep even here couldn’t be avoided.
The off side was always a problem. A small stretch of land we most frequently used which was sliced out of a burial ground had a big tamarind tree that stood exactly at extra cover considering the direction of the wicket. Bowling and batting ends were eternally fixed. We would rule the batsman hitting on the off side out for fear that the ball would get stuck in the tree. We were predominantly on side strikers hence. We played till after the sunset or as long as the ball was visible. The sun would smile on us wryly with a red glow on his face.
Cricket has paradigmatically changed since. Cricket was a ritual for us as it involved a laborious preparatory schedule. These days, things are kept tailor made for cricketers. One would just walk in and play. Modern cricket has lost its ritualistic grandeur. Technology has ebbed its once cherished aura. MNC’s have hegemonised it. Cricket is shown with so much of commentating that it takes away the mystery behind a Dravid’s cover drive or a Tendulkar’s short arm pull. Cricket has become less sporting and more academic. It is as much impoverished as it has become richer by being popular with and getting overwhelming support from the masses.
I play no cricket now. My life is a different ball game all together. None the less, memories of the kind of cricket I once played are strong enough to demythify the modern halo of the game. We should save cricket from cricketers and cricketers from too much of cricket, I think. This is neither atavistic urge nor a revivalist’s candour but a feeble and timid plea to sustain the game’s enigma.