March 1, 2016

Once upon a cricket pavilion

When a place of refuge and sanctity in the game was used for torture

The pavilion: a place to enjoy and contemplate the game, as these spectators do in Malta in 1949 © Getty Images

Is it just me or does it seem like the word "pavilion" has lost some ground in cricketing discourse, replaced by "dressing room" and "dugout"? I don't doubt that pavilions still exist; after all, dressing rooms are still located in pavilions, and the Wikipedia page for "cricket pavilion" showcases many lovely photographs of pavilions all over the world. It's just that no one seems to talk about them anymore.

There used to be a time when a batsman's dismissal was described as him being "sent back to the pavilion", or a dismissed batsman was described as "cooling his heels in the pavilion". But it does not seem to me that we hear these sorts of locutions any more on television or radio commentary. Something rather stately - and perhaps staid - seems to have left the language of cricket as a result of choosing the greater intimacy of "dressing room" to describe the place in a cricket ground where the cricketers not immediately involved in the action bide their time.

As this photograph of the Sir Garfield Sobers Pavilion at Kensington Oval in Barbados shows, a pavilion includes - more often than not - the dressing rooms and a pair of stairways. Under the classical model of batsmen arriving and departing, the new batsman walked down one set of stairs, the dismissed batsman up the other.

Or at least that is how I seem to remember it in the venue where I had the most intimate contact with a genuine, good-to-honest cricket pavilion: a boarding school in India, where I spent my ninth and tenth grades.

My school had two cricket pavilions: the Old and the New. The Old Pavilion, by the time I encountered it, was little better than a stone grandstand of sorts. A platform, where cricketers sat in the old days, jutted out from it, and a pair of stairways served as access to seating for not just nervous batsmen but for the spectators who sat around them. In my time, the Old Pavilion served purely as a spot from which to observe the action on the field.

The New Pavilion, an actual building with a balcony, large dressing rooms, restrooms (and an adjoining tuck shop) now took pride of place as the headquarters for cricket teams. The balcony commanded a lovely view of the field behind the bowler's arm, and of the awe-inspiring triple massif of the Kanchenjunga peak away in the distance. Sometimes, during House games, I would be allowed to walk up the stairs to the pavilion balcony and watch from there. It was one of my favourite locations from which to watch cricket.

Something rather stately - and perhaps staid - seems to have left the language of cricket as a result of choosing the greater intimacy of "dressing room" to describe the place in a cricket ground where the cricketers not immediately involved in the action bide their time

But my memories of this cricket-watching venue were sullied, unfortunately, by the role it played - or was made to play - in a species of punishment: the dreaded punishment drill (PD).

The guiding principle behind it was simple: you were to experience bodily pain and exhaustion acute enough to make you regret whichever disciplinary infraction you had been stupid enough to indulge in. As I described it in a blog post a while ago:

It felt like a boot-camp workout, a candidate for inclusion in Hell Week, a lung-busting, muscle-burning series of movements that had only one objective in mind: to exhaust you till you could no longer perform it correctly. The contours of a PD were determined by the fiendish imagination of the prefect(s) in charge of the PD: they dreamed up the sequence of exercises - perhaps a series of duck walks across the length of a football field, followed by running up a flight of stairs, and then a series of pushups with legs on an elevated platform, followed by…you get the picture.

The flights of stairs I ran up on many a punishment drill were those of the New Pavilion. In particular, our cricket pavilion was used on cold and dark nights for a fiendish component of some PDs: run up the flight of stairs on the right, then on reaching the balcony, hop across its length, and then run down the stairs on the left, and then, finally, on reaching the bottom, hop across the ground in front of pavilion back to the stairs on the right. Rinse and repeat.

This little "workout" was truly murderous on the lungs and legs. To make things worse, the hops would leave your legs wobbly and eminently unsuited for running up and down stairs. Many of us stumbled as we did so, and were promptly punished. (Think "six of the best".)

If this routine sounds a bit like torture, that's because it was. It was one of the worst aspects of the English boarding school, an institution rife with sadism, repression and misguided theories of discipline, one of many colonial legacies India could well have done without.

On more than one occasion, as I desperately tried to comply with the orders barked at me by those sadists-in-training, the prefects, I would wonder about the terrible irony of it all - this place that I associated with my fondest sporting pleasures of all was also the venue of intense physical agony and humiliation.

As you can tell, I won't be forgetting - or perhaps even forgiving - anyone connected with that sullying anytime soon. The PDs were bad enough, but using a cricket pavilion to facilitate them? That was beyond the pale. You just don't mess with a cricketing institution in that way.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on March 8, 2016, 19:45 GMT

    The oxford dictionary defines a Cricket pavilion as "A Building at the Cricket ground or other sports ground used for changing or taking refreshments". As Mr. Chopra rightly states the word "Pavilion" has been replaced by the "dug out" as in baseball or "dressing room". This is unnecessary departure from a much sophisticated "Pavilion". Even the "live commentary" during the matches uses terms such as " stock ball' after each ball is bowled instead where the ball is pitched + wrong self made statement of the stroke played instead of stating cover driven or square cut or pull or hook. Cricket commentary in the 50's to 70's era before TV took over was superb & great delight to the listeners. As children we used to gather round the radio & heard the ball by ball commentary in a most sophisticated language which made you feel almost being at the ground. I recall the Brisbane Tie in 1960 which had us glued to our seats. John Arlott was the best commentator & Fingleton + cardus best writer,

  • Mohamed on March 1, 2016, 23:00 GMT

    Mr. Chopra, that photograph looks very old. It maybe Kensington Oval in Barbados, but certainly, it must be in the 60's or before so it cannot be the Sir Garfield Sobers pavilion.

  • Mohamed on March 1, 2016, 22:47 GMT

    A welcome article. I lamented and complained loudly when the new stadium was built at Providence, Guyana. There was no "pavilion' like the one at Bourda or other major Cricket grounds. The pavilion at providence is like one of those all purpose generic concrete buildings... just a rectangular concrete building. I love the idea of the majestic Pavilion like Lords or Sydney. This is what distinguishes Cricket from football or baseball or any other sport. A tunnel or a dugout where players chew tobacco or gum and spit? How uncivilized!

  • J on March 1, 2016, 19:41 GMT

    I trust Lindsay Anderson's 1968 film "If...." found an audience in India.

  • Madhusudhan on March 1, 2016, 17:51 GMT

    In picture, it looks players out number spectators. :-p

  • xxxxx on March 1, 2016, 13:27 GMT

    An entertaining foray into international relations from Samir. Looking back at the picture of carefree happiness that is the young lady ignoring the cricket on the right is a reminder that if the repression of your schooling doesn't get you something else probably will. There comes a time to move beyond unwanted legacies whether they be colonial or home-grown but the regular unleashing of fast bowlers like Lillee and Thommo on a certain visiting team seemed to help Aussies in the first of these.

  •   Prasenjit K. Basu on March 1, 2016, 12:31 GMT

    I remember walking down the steps of the New Pavilion Samir refers to (at St Paul's School, Darjeeling, unmistakably) -- to bat for the school team against the magnificent backdrop of Kanchenjunga. And, of raising my bat in the direction of the Old Pavilion when I got a half-century on debut for the school XI -- only to be admonished afterwards by the redoubtable school coach (AK Lahiri) with "um, Basu, you must be humble". I was dropped from the XI for the next game, as exemplary punishment! As for the PDs, they were awful -- but fortunately, in my time I neither experienced nor administered a PD on the steps of either the old or new cricket pavilion.

  • jayaesh on March 1, 2016, 11:30 GMT

    Good one Samir, yep i too have been a victim of dreaded PD not once but twice ... even though it was 20 years back memories of that PD is still quite vivid, ah my aching limbs and reddened backside with yes six of the best .... Only difference being my boarding school which is more than 170 year old used to be a football bastion then with cricket being largely irrelevant .

  • rob on March 1, 2016, 10:22 GMT

    Thanks, Samir, a powerful essay and a necessary one. The British exported their sadistic pavilion punishments to India and beyond. I survived similar ordeals up and down the steps of the pavilion of my high school in Port Elizabeth--now called the Graeme Pollock Pavilion in honor of the school's finest player.

  • No featured comments at the moment.