Sussex globe-trotter laps up Ranji Trophy
Places in which 70-year-old Sussex fan Peter Chismon has watched cricket in over the past two months: Mumbai, Jammu, Surat, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Sambhalpur, Cuttack, Faridabad, Nagpur, Rajkot. At least those are the cities he can immediately recall. He has been at 54 Test grounds around the world, and is currently on a three-month tour of India and is lapping up international and domestic matches like a man at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Given the travel involved, the hotels, the living out of a suitcase, all of which even well-paid players complain about, why does he do it? "Because I like cricket, that's my hobby you see, now that I have retired," Chismon says. Press him for something more than that simple explanation, and all he offers is, "India in winter is better than England in winter."
His cricket watching started early ("I saw Bradman at Hastings, and just about remember it") but was interrupted by a 22-year stint in the army that ended in 1982. After that, he worked with a gun manufacturer ("very, very expensive shotguns"), and after his retirement has spent his summers watching Sussex and the Lord's Test, and the winters crisscrossing the globe in search of cricket.
He started touring in 1994, and hasn't stopped since. "I was off work for about six weeks in the winter, it was an Ashes year, so I decided to go to Australia for the cricket." The reason? "Because the fare was cheap, 600 pounds return to Melbourne."
This is his fifth visit to India. In Rajkot, where thousands thronged the team hotel to welcome the England one-day team, Chismon has perhaps been the only spectator to watch the entire Ranji match between Saurashtra and Karnataka. There are usually several dozen fans milling around the ground, but most drift away after watching an hour or so. He rarely takes his eye off the game, frequently peering through his binoculars for a better look, and doesn't get up from his seat except at the end of a session. Even while talking to me, he as one eye on the cricket and his answers are punctuated with remarks on the match -"Yes, he's got him, hasn't he?", "there's the ninth, one more to go," and so on.
Given that many Ranji games are first-innings affairs, with the final day proving meaningless - like in all three current quarter-finals - doesn't he get bored? "People like a bit of excitement, that's why people flock in to ODIs and T20s, but here you need to be more," he pauses searching for the right word, "attuned to the cricket to see how it goes. Cricket is cricket, it is not boring." Does he like the shorter formats? "No, no, no, no, no," is the dismissive answer.
Chismon collects autographs of every Test player he comes across, and has an old-fashioned scorebook in which he keeps score every time he watches a Test at a new venue. "I had some photographs for someone, he gave me 10 photos, I've got six signed already but have four more to go, I've got Dhoni to get but he's easy isn't he," he chuckles. "Another fellow at home collect ties, I've only got one this year, that was Tamil Nadu."
As you'd expect from a man with so many miles under his belt, he has plenty of advice for travellers. "Patience is a virtue you got to have in India, if you want it to happen, it will happen in the end, don't rush it and it will happen," he says. "You have got to plan properly, get your itinerary sorted out." He booked his tickets for this trip at the start of 2012, when even the Ranji format for this season wasn't decided, much less the fixtures.
And he has chalked out plans to catch Sri Lankan domestic cricket early next year, and wants to return to India for the 2014-15 season. "I have seen every state except Haryana in Group B, and five in Group C. I shall definitely go to Dharamsala (where he wanted to go this time, but couldn't as there was no match scheduled), the first match that is played there that season, in November when it is warmer."
Ask him which of the Test venues he wants most to visit, and he starts mentally checking off the grounds he's already been at. "Done everything in Australia, done all the major ones in West Indies and South Africa," before he settles on his answer. "Karachi, don't know whether that will happen, I want to do that, it's the most important one."
As our chat winds down, Saurashtra get bowled out in Rajkot and he rushes over towards the dressing rooms, searching for Abhimanyu Mithun to add to his collection of autographs.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo