September 25, 2016

Heroes and mobs: my first live match

A nine-year-old's initiation into big-time cricket, featuring Prasanna, Lawry, Gleeson and a boisterous Bangalore crowd
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Bill Lawry made a hundred in the first innings and was 10 not out in the second in Bangalore © PA Photos

The winter of 1969 was a time of great excitement in Indian cricket, especially when viewed through the eyes of a nine-year-old schoolboy in Bangalore. India were locked in a competitive and often contentious Test series against Bill Lawry's visiting Australians and were trailing 1-2 at the end of four Tests, with a chance to draw level in the final Test, in Madras.

Two Bangalore boys - Erapalli Prasanna and G Viswanath - had starred in the series. Prasanna was collecting wickets by the bucketful and was instrumental in India winning the Delhi Test. Meanwhile Viswanath's dazzling century on debut in Kanpur (25 boundaries in an innings of 137) marked the moment I became a lifelong cricket fan. Adding to the buzz was the upcoming wedding of India's captain, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, to the glamorous movie star Sharmila Tagore.

In those days, cricket tours were fairly lengthy affairs and Tests were sandwiched between three-day matches against various zonal teams. South Zone were to battle the Aussies just before Christmas in Bangalore, and my excitement mounted as I realised I was about to see the likes of Pataudi, ML Jaisimha (the captain), Prasanna, Viswanath, Syed Abid Ali and S Venkatraghavan, not to mention Lawry, Ian Chappell, Keith Stackpole, Ian Redpath and Doug Walters in real life.

As in many a middle-class household at the time, various family members took turns watching the match, and I ended up at the Central College grounds with my dad for the third and final day. It would prove to be quite an initiation into the world of international cricket.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the crowd trouble that ended the match © Sydney Morning Herald

Nothing but a rope and a ring of uninterested policemen separated us from the players on the field. The earliest memory I have is of the Australian fast bowler Laurie Mayne's giant frame as he fielded a few yards away from me. His off-white cricket sweater hung loosely on him and looked as big as a blanket.

I don't remember much at all about the first half of the day's play but when the Australians began the fourth innings, things began to heat up rather rapidly. It seemed that just about every other over the crowd would unleash a deafening roar as Prasanna, with huge sideburns, upturned collar and shirt buttons left rakishly open, sent yet another Aussie batsman back to the pavilion. (When I checked the scorecard to write this piece, I realised I was not imagining the figures at all. At one point, the Australians were an incredible eight wickets down for 53 runs, chasing 200. Prasanna took six wickets for 11 runs off his 14 overs, ten of which were maidens.)

I remember the excitement mounting to a frenzy as a South Zone victory neared. And then the mood began to turn ugly. From what I could see, two lanky batsmen in their green felt caps - Lawry and John Gleeson, one left-handed and the other right-handed - were sticking out their front pads and blocking most balls. Every time they did this, there would be a loud appeal from the fielders and, with far greater ferocity, from the crowd. For reasons that escaped me then and now, the umpires turned down every one of the appeals.

South Zone's bowling attack that day had two offies (Prasanna and Venkat) and two leggies (Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and VV Kumar) who between them bowled 39 overs. Even granting that lbws were a bit harder to get for spinners in that era, the fact that it was this combination of bowlers on show makes the events of that day quite inexplicable, especially as the batsmen were rarely trying to play the ball.

As the sun began to go down, and as Lawry and Gleeson dug firmly in, the crowd around me became more and more angry. Boos were mixed in with choice Kannada and English abuses directed at the batsmen and the umpires. The genial gentlemen of the morning, who had been joking around and happily sharing lunches and drinks with one another, were now apoplectic with rage and frustration. I huddled a bit closer to my dad (who himself was quite calm and unruffled) and was baffled by the swing in the mood. Knowing as little about the intricacies of the game as the average nine-year-old, it was all confusing and scary.

Lawry and Gleeson seemed to be in some sort of sensory-deprivation chamber as they shut out the crowd and dead-batted and dead-padded over after over. (The final scorecard shows that Australia ended with 90 runs for eight wickets off 52 overs. Lawry remained unbeaten on 10 after coming to bat at No. 6, which makes Sunil Gavaskar's infamous 36 not out from 60 overs in the inaugural World Cup look like an absolute gallop.)

And then the first projectiles came hurtling in from the crowd. Lawry immediately walked over to the umpire to complain, which, of course, triggered a further volley of projectiles. Soon after that, the batsmen, fielders and umpires walked off - to a hail of verbal abuse and sundry rubbish thrown onto the field. I don't know if the required number of overs had been bowled or if the match was called off prematurely. In either event, Lawry and Gleeson had held out for a draw, when, at one stage, it had looked as if defeat was inevitable for the Australians.

We dispiritedly trooped out of the ground and made our way to the car park to return home. Everyone looked tired, angry, hot and sweaty. It was hard to believe that it was still the same day that had dawned so cool and been filled with joyous anticipation. A few days later Australia would win the final Test, at Chepauk, and depart with a 3-1 scoreline in the bag.

Looking back, my initiation into international cricket featured a few themes that would become depressingly familiar over the decades. India's bowlers could often run through the top order but find it difficult to finish the task. Our crowds were mercurial in the speed with which they shifted from cheerful gang to scary mob. And you could never, ever, count the Aussies out until you had scored that final run or taken that last wicket.

Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu. @SankaranKrishn

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Salt.Bite on September 28, 2016, 5:18 GMT

    Wherever there is passion, there are incidents like this.Take the european football as example.All kinds of hooligans,street fighting culture.Fights in the stands.You see it every once in a while.The hooliganism i am referring to happened as recently as months ago.The incident portrayed here happened 50 years back.

  • Salt.Bite on September 28, 2016, 5:14 GMT

    Or exactly as happened recently in srilanka series, instead of stoning just streak in the middle of the ground.That too was wonderful.

  • dunger.bob on September 28, 2016, 4:56 GMT

    So it's a case of entertain us or get stoned. .. wonderful.

  • Salt.Bite on September 28, 2016, 4:44 GMT

    @DUNGER.BOB- No one is saying that it was justified, just like no one said that Warner having a go at Root in a pub was justified.Things happen.They certainly dont paint an overall picture.And negative tactics such as endless defence do draw flak from the spectators.The most recent being the South african blockathon.

  • SupportTestCricket on September 27, 2016, 12:14 GMT

    PAULSR, yes it was an Indian player who scored that 36 in 60 overs (it is another matter that he was not the only one who played out the whole 60 overs!!) If you cannot remember one of the all time great player like Sunil Gavaskar (the first to reach 10,000 runs in test cricket) then you should not comment on cricket! Oh, by the way wasn't it an Australian player who bowled underarm in a one day international in order not to lose the match? Ordered by his brother who was the captain. What were their names??

  • paulsr on September 27, 2016, 5:43 GMT

    It sounds like a great game. Yes, it wasn't lots of boundaries but it was probably fascinating to watch. Far better than some monotonous tests on dead wickets that were played where you wouldn't get a result in ten days.

    Wasn't it an Indian player who scored 36 in 60 overs in an ODI .... what was his name again ?

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on September 27, 2016, 3:18 GMT

    Cricinfouser , Yes can we get another team like West Indies then . People look forward for entertainment not boorish and sleepy cricket from touring sides the spectators pay hard earned money to see the cricket match and not padding , blocking the ball again and again that is why short format cricket is very popular now . Even some so called leading cricketers' now and then were not fitted for short format of the game because their pragmatic approach to game

  • Cricinfouser on September 26, 2016, 21:49 GMT

    Fast forward 5 years. South zone playing West Indies at Hyderabad under Lloyd's captaincy and South zone under Venkatraghavan. First two days, things we even each team declared the innings at end of day with scores in 300s and 3rd day south zone scored 18 odd and declared at Tea. In 1 and half hour left after team Lloyd who came to open with Greenidge created a riot of different sorts with West Indies scoring the required 160 odd runs and game over in less than 20 overs. Guess Prasanna, Venkat had no answers to this riot and Hyd crowd, thoroughly enjoyed though South zone lost. Entertaining cricket is what crowds want and they won't mind even if their home team loses to better opponents.

  • dunger.bob on September 26, 2016, 19:55 GMT

    I find it amazing that people think a riot was justified just because Bill blocked a few. He should have been more sensitive to the sensibilities of the crowd and let them win apparently. Bad, bad Bill.

  • samrao on September 26, 2016, 14:26 GMT

    Please read , Prasanna was given out bowled (instead of LBW)