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September 26, 2012

Of cricket bats and economic divisions

Samir Chopra
The master and his weapon: Viv Richards demolished many attacks with his Duncan Fearnley  © Getty Images
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A cricket field brings together twenty-two players. A number that large, in the right sort of social contexts, can, unsurprisingly enough, encapsulate diversity that goes beyond the merely physical: sometimes language, sometimes religion, sometimes class, and sometimes, all three. Growing up in Delhi meant that such diversity was an inescapable part of my cricket playing, even if awareness of it was pushed well to the peripheries. But sometimes, it intruded, reminding me that some of my team-mates and opponents (and their families) occupied stations in life that were very different from the ones my family and I inhabited. Sometimes those reminders came about because of matters cricketing.

One small occasioning of this took place in my middle-school years. In those days, I played cricket in a variety of venues: in school, in the local parks around my street, and once in a while, I travelled by bus to another South Delhi location to play cricket with a friend of mine. Our fathers had served in the Air Force together; they were now both retired; as far as I was concerned, we were both military brats, brought together by a shared background. I was dimly aware that there were differences in our families' material circumstances following the retirement of our fathers from military service: my family rented the second floor of a multiple-family home and lived in a small one-bedroom apartment; my friend's family owned a house with three floors to themselves; he had a room of his own, as did his brother, unimaginable luxuries for my brother and me, for we still shared a room (and not even a proper bedroom at that).

But somehow, these differences meant little for they had little to do with cricket. A couple of days a week, I walked up to his front-door, rang the bell to summon him, he would appear with his cricket gear, and we would walk together to the park to join dozens of other boys in a game of cricket. That was all there was to it. The centrality of cricket ensured there was little time for me to think about how different my friend's world was from mine.

And then, shortly after my friend's father had returned to India from one of his business-related trips overseas, a cricket bat made an appearance and demonstrated that difference quite graphically. One day, as we rode home in the school bus, my friend remarked, glowing with pride and barely contained excitement, 'My Dad got me a new bat from England, you should check it out.' Later that afternoon, before the day's game, I walked up to his room and did so.

When I first saw it, I almost stopped breathing. It wasn't just any old cricket bat; it was a Duncan Fearnley, its distinctive three-stump logo emblazoned in black just below the handle. I had seen photographs and live footage of Viv Richards using it to demolish England; it was a talisman that belonged in temples and altars, a wand flourished by magicians, a sword wielded by gallant heroes. I had never imagined that I would be in the company of one. I asked if I could pick it up, and turning to a mirror, posed for a brief second, savoring its unexpected heft, before handing it back. I didn't feel worthy.

My head reeling, I crassly blurted out, 'How much was it?' The answer - 'Fifty pounds' - stunned me: a quick mental calculation converted that into a thousand rupees. I was used to buying fifty-rupee bats from our local market, and even those were rare occasions; my parents could never have bought me a Duncan Fearnley. Never. Suddenly, I became acutely conscious of the house that surrounded me, the room we were standing in; I remembered the two cars parked in the driveway; the size of the living-room and the kitchen downstairs.

A few minutes later, the DF wrapped up in its plastic sheath, we walked to the park for the game. As I walked, I lagged a bit, still processing the bat-borne missive that had informed me of one particularly acute difference between my friend and I. We remained cricket buddies, but I never quite saw him in the same light again. He was, after all, someone whose parents could afford a Duncan Fearnley.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Greg McDonald on (October 11, 2012, 9:52 GMT)

How all children round the world are the same ! My Dad (a non-cricketer of humble earning capacity) bought me my very first new bat (a "Brian Davison DF"), after I had carried my bat playing against Prince Edward U-15A's. It was the proudest day of my sporting life and yes it took my breath away too, when I first picked it up.

Sir Viv was also my schoolboy hero and I did eventually move onto an "SS Jumbo" as I grew up - what memories !

Posted by Aditya Mookerjee on (October 1, 2012, 2:38 GMT)

The sad part is, people talk about having perception problems with possessions, and I think it is perfectly o k to spend really objectionable amounts of money on S G bats. You mentioned Duncan Fearnley, I would also consider the other bat manufacturers. The ball manufacturers are really interesting. I do think the Indian and English makers are good, and if the Australians like a thin seam, then their ball maker is good too. I unfortunately, cannot spell the name right.

Posted by lankawen on (September 30, 2012, 19:56 GMT)

"While I did not perceive a difference in economic divisions when I played cricket..",Swarmi Karthik, Really? Are you kidding me? Did you grow up in India? This is exactly the attitude amongst a lot of well-to-do Indians I came across while living in the U.S. Mr. Chopra brings up a serious issue in the context of sport about economic disparity & SK merely sweeps it under the rug.. Oh yeah, India is SUCH a tolerant place!! Who are the "untouchables" again? What's female infanticide? Caste system? No, they don't ring a bell Mr. SK?

Thank you Mr. Chopra for bringing up a salient point much ignored by the elite in poor countries.

Posted by Faraz on (September 30, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

Samir Chopra u stole my heart

Posted by barry s on (September 30, 2012, 15:46 GMT)

A great but sad story. At least on the field you guys were equal. In sport; thats all that matters

Posted by Debashish Das on (September 30, 2012, 9:44 GMT)

Now I am 62, I remember in my young days I used to dream of having a Gunn & Moore or Gray Nichols or Stuart Surridge of my own. When I played with a Gunn & Moore, which belonged to a friend of mine, it was a dream come true!

Posted by Kathy on (September 30, 2012, 7:27 GMT)

Something I came across on Star of Africa website the other day, says similar things from another continent. Palm stems! :

"Namibia today launches a new type of cricket called Epokolo cricket, at the Nuuyoma Senior Secondary School (SSS) sports ground at Oshikuku in the Omusati Region.

"The Epokolo Cricket, that is played using the stems of palm leaves, will be launched with a six-team cricket tournament .

"We realised that there are no shops selling bats in the rural areas in northern Namibia, and not everyone can afford to buy a bat, hence the introduction of Epokolo Cricket," explained Namibia cricket development cordinator Jona Ambuga."

Posted by hassaan on (September 28, 2012, 18:32 GMT)

Very nice article!

Posted by Gulu Ezekiel on (September 28, 2012, 8:28 GMT)

This is so true. Back in the 60s and 70s, when friends went abroad they would bring back catalogues of sports equipment. We used to drool over Grey Nichols, Fearnley and also Butterfly and Stiga table tennis bats. Owning something so precious was like a fantasy for us

Posted by Swamikarthik on (September 28, 2012, 7:34 GMT)

While I did not perceive a difference in economic divisions when I played cricket, the bat model certainly was something that spoke a thousand words. I remember playing with a nondescript bat most of the time and the distinctive POWER bats used to inspire awe. Most of the Indian players back then such as Kapil Dev etc used this and whenever I chanced upon a cheap imitation bat with the same logo (I remember it used to cost Rs. 110 at one time), the cricket that we played took on a whole new meaning. Same with the Sunny Tonny bats (used by Gavaskar) and Symonds (I think was used by Srikkanth). The GM and Slazenger bats were used mainly by English cricketers and I used to feel almost apologetic holding the bat. I alomost felt as if I wasnt worthy of holding such a fine bat!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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