Indian Premier League 2010 March 9, 2010

Tendulkar rewinds time at the Bombay Gymkhana

Watching Sachin Tendulkar bat at the Bombay Gymkhana, in an IPL practice game, allowed one to go back in time and wonder what it must have been like to watch cricket in maidans half a century ago

"Doesn't look likely," said a young mother over the phone. "I will be held back. Sachin is hitting six after six," she said, standing in Palm Court on the first floor of the Bombay Gymkhana. She was answering a caller, who was asking if she was ready to get the kids to tuition. But, once again, Sachin Tendulkar had stalled traffic, interrupted everyday life and forced thousands of pedestrians across Azad Maidan to stop, watch, and applaud.

It was a picture for the album. For more than a century, images depicting the neo-gothic structures of Victoria Terminus and the Bombay High Court, sitting grandly around maidans such as Azad and the Oval, which is near the Churchgate end, have stuck to the mind.

Maidans were an integral part of Bombay cricket even when the British arrived to make India their trade capital of the East. Legends have been formed on these red-dust pitches and passed on to subsequent generations. Most maidans gained prominence for housing famous clubs which produced talented cricketers, majority of whom were eligible to play for India. The pride associated with playing for a club was equivalent to playing for the country. Ask Madhav Mantri, India's oldest surviving Test cricketer, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, or even the man of the moment, Tendulkar, and each one has a story about his respective club.

So to see Tendulkar return to the Bombay Gymkhana, even if only for a Mumbai Indians practice game, was to go back in time and wonder what it must have been like to watch cricket half a century ago. Pedestrians normally cross the crosswalk, which separates the Bombay Gymkhana from Azad Maidan, briskly on their way to Fashion Street or the train home.

Today the multitude halted as Tendulkar walked in to bat, adjusted his guard, and started hitting the bowlers willfully. As the shots streamed smoothly in various directions, both in the air and along the ground, those thousands, along with the hundreds of Gymkhana members, couldn't stop asking for more. Tendulkar satisfied every request during his 33-ball 78, which included five hits over the ropes and ten past it.

Incidentally it was at Azad Maidan, a stone's throw away, that Tendulkar the school kid had featured in a world-record partnership of 664 with Vinod Kambli in a Harris Shield match, in 1987. Not sure how many of those fans even were aware of that fact. Part of the Tendulkar one sees today was formed playing maidan cricket. Perhaps Tendulkar wouldn't be the player he is if it weren't for the rich history of the clubs.

He had drawn them but the crowd did not disperse even after Tendulkar got out. They stayed till the end of the match and then till the players did some stretching exercises. Meanwhile the kids in the Palm Court dispersed downstairs to get Tendulkar's autograph, leaving their mother behind.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo