This, that and the other. Mostly the other
Some days ago I was lying face up on a bed in a hotel in Ranikhet. (Ranikhet is this delightful hill station in the foothills of the Himalayas. You can just about see the snow-capped peaks if you stand in the balcony of the room and lean over the railing vigorously. I was on vacation with the missus, who adores the hills, the cold and standing over glowing coal braziers.)
As I lie, delightful cricket match commentary is streaming from the TV. There is a lively nip in the -342° centigrade Ranikhet air. The room heater is set to "blast furnace" and I am waiting to die as my lungs collapse in the cold.
Sudeep Tyagi is debut-ing commendably.
Suddenly there is a commotion on the pitch. There is much waving and shouting. Players are upset, spectators are howling, and the commentators are disturbed. Ultimately, gasp, the match referee himself runs onto the ground.
Oh no, I think to myself, it can't be. Sreesanth has appealed for something...
Thankfully it turned out that God's Own Cricketer was not involved in any way. The controversy was merely a case of the match being abandoned because of a "dangerous pitch" at the Kotla. I was relieved. Momentarily.
And then I thought about it. They have abandoned a match? Because of a dangerous pitch? You call "uneven bounce" dangerous?
Frauds! Cowards! Establishment sell-outs! All of them! (Except Sree-saint.)
I also realised, at that moment, how much cricket has lost its innocence and adventure. There was a time, now long gone alas, when cricketers were real dudes. When Basit Ali strode out to bat without a helmet. When Venkatesh Prasad made an entire career out of uneven bounce.
Today, with all of the ICC's stodginess and the IPL's contractual nonsense, spontaneity in cricket seems long lost.
Remember the time they conducted an experimental one-dayer in Abu Dhabi on an artificial pitch? It was sometime in the late 1990s, I think. The pitch was laid with some form of astroturf-like material. It was several shades greener than the rest of the outfield, and the bounce was as predictable as taxi fares from any major Indian international airport.
One Kapil Dev ball skidded through at ankle height. The next one was pounded in short, but merely rolled off quietly towards midwicket, where a committed Anil Kumble ran over it, and it went for four byes. Ah. The glory days. They would never try something like that today.
Indeed I can say with some pride that all of my adolescent cricketing career was spent on challenging, unpredictable pitches. But I never, ever gave up mid-game and went home. (Unless my team was batting first and I got out.)
For instance, there was the asphalt strip in a corner of the asphalt football pitch on the asphalt playground of the Abu Dhabi Asphalt Indian School. It was here that I once night-watchmann-ed against the great Lala.
|There was a time, now long gone alas, when cricketers were real dudes. When Basit Ali strode out to bat without a helmet. When Venkatesh Prasad made an entire career out of uneven bounce|
Lala was this sweet, bucktoothed fellow from UP, who was the fastest, fiercest bowler in the school. Always in spotless full-sleeved white uniform shirts, Lala would jog up pleasantly and then suddenly swing his arm over Fanie de Villiers-like at the last possible moment. PVC-tape covered tennis ball erupted from his hand before skidding along the asphalt and into your wicket/shin/vas deferens, depending on how the asphalt felt like on that day.
He was, if you know what I mean, one crazy rotator mother-cuffer.
But we never quit playing.
And don't even get me started about the paddy-field- or coconut-orchard turned cricket pitches we played on in Thrissur. It was more than once that I saw our local speedster, Vasectomy Vasudevan, deliver a ball only to see it hit a rough patch of locally abundant granite. The ball bounced backwards, impacted the umpire in his lungi knot, before launching back down the pitch, now as a splendid doosra, and trapping the batsmen leg-before. (True story. I swear.)
Then there was the time when too many locals turned up for a weekend game. We had to split the group into two and conduct two matches simultaneously on two somewhat parallel strips, a stone's throw from each other. One match got the pads, the other got the keeper's gloves. (Our local club had Dubai World levels of liquidity.)
But both games got psycho pitches. As a result we had the following exceedingly rare entry in our scorecard:
C Thomas b B Babykutty (other match) c Jose Martin (passerby) 7
Note: 96% true story.
So you can understand how much it saddens a true cricket lover like me to see adult professional cricketers abandon a match just because the pitch was dangerous. Why do they betray their roots so?
We need players who won't baulk in the face of danger.
I know one. Sree is fearless. Sree is brave.
Abandon a game because it is dangerous? Nonsense.
Sree won't, Sree can't, Sree shan't.
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