Indian cricket December 18, 2010

The peculiarities of small-town cricket

From Suman Kumar, India

From Suman Kumar, India

Children play cricket on a deserted highway in India © AFP

Back in 1987, when Narasimha Prasad a.k.a BSA (he rode a BSA cycle) took a leg-stump guard, we were quite sure that the kid, three years our junior in school, would play yet another ‘swashbuckling’ innings. Not too many cricketing prodigies came from Chittoor, a small town in Andhra Pradesh. And, BSA was our only hope. That really short kid was playing for the town team and he was only 11. Reddy, the college team captain, even made a prophetic statement “Great batsmen come in short sizes.” Reddy was five feet two, on a good day, if he was wearing high-heels that is.

BSA started that innings with a royal cover drive. Before long, we were 56 for 1. And then it happened. Stephen, the fast bowler, dug one short and BSA tried hooking him. There wasn’t too much bounce and the ball hit BSA on his chest. He just turned away, walked towards fine leg, rubbing his chest. I was at the non-striker’s end and to my utter disbelief Stephen was appealing ferociously. I heard the umpire go “Eh?” and for what seemed like an eternity Stephen was screaming his lungs off. I laughed out loud. What happened next blew my mind: the umpire’s finger went up in slow motion. There was a stunned silence. BSA, as usual started, crying; he had the habit of crying when he was given out. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. “Height. He is short. So he is out lbw,” said the umpire. Agreed, BSA was short. He was barely four feet tall but…I have a lurking suspicion Steve Bucknor was holidaying in Chittoor that day.

The more international cricket I see, the more I am convinced that there is a secret team that prowls the hinterland of India, with the sole objective of documenting all the innovations, tricks, tactics, strategy… you know? You don’t believe me? Indulge me here, will you? Before you write it off that is.

Umpiring humour

You know, we love Billy Bowden. His antics are endearing and fun. Where did he learn to innovate? How did he manage to mix humour effectively with his profession?

The death overs were on and I was batting. I was well set and was determined to smash the bowlers all over the park. Kumaraswamy or KS, as we referred to him much to his delight, overpitched and I promptly flicked him. There was a slight inside edge, I guess, and the ball flew straight to Suresh, the leg umpire who was, as usual, lost in thought. Let us pause here. Let’s freeze that ball mid-air. Remember Suresh standing with his feet crisscrossed. Yeah.

Suresh is a mad man. No, wait, really. He knew nothing but cricket. He played some Under –19 cricket for Andhra Pradesh and he also was the vice-captain of the Chittoor town team. He was a compact batsman and bowled some legspin. He was the only guy who read cricket books. I think he bought Sunny Days and read it with the help of a dictionary in six months flat. He also had the habit of discussing cricketing strategy and tactics… with himself. So if you go to Chittoor and see a (now middle-aged) guy walking, talking to himself, and occasionally playing a cover drive or a flick, it has got to be Suresh. Yes.

So let’s unfreeze the ball now. I hit the ball, the ball flew to Suresh, I started running but the non-striker stopped midway, slipped and fell on his back… laughing. I think the term ROTFLMAO was coined that humid, summer day in Chittoor. Suresh, the leg umpire, caught the ball I had hit and started celebrating. It gets better now. When he noticed that the fielding team, batsmen, and the umpire were glaring at him, Suresh shrugged and cooed “Howzzat umpire?”

The only question that haunts me even today is this: where the hell was Billy Bowden hiding in the Arts college grounds that day?