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Samir Chopra

Once upon a cricket pavilion

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

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
Spectators watch cricket from the pavilion at Marsa Cricket Club in Malta, September 17, 1949

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