02 May 2014

The Joys of Cricket in May

April was just the precursor to the main event. The month of May conjures up a great many things – the hot sticky stultifying Chennai air, the joy of the now firmly established summer vacation and mangoes. Agni nakshatram countdowns in the paper, water lorries barreling around the city causing wanton destruction, mornings stretching into afternoons stretching into the next morning. The main event in all this though was the cricket. Far before the IPL was even a nascent germ of an idea and monopolized the month of May, we’d actually go out and play cricket. In our backyards and front yards, in the streets, at our school grounds, at coaching camps, in our grandparents houses and by the beach.

We were mostly from the 6th, 7th and 8th standards, voluntarily choosing to enter our school gates during the summer. Finding and ferreting out the key to our locked up cricket equipment was the first task. We’d labor over the gargantuan coir mat struggling to carry it a couple hundred meters. The mat was replete with fraying edges and holes large enough for the most wayward of bowlers to benefit from mystery spin if they landed it right. We only really had a football ground, rectangular, hemmed in by palm trees and lantana bushes and shrubbery. Nonetheless our Sunday fiefdom was now our fortress for the month of May. Not quite nailed in, but more weighed down by heavy bricks our mat would sit awkwardly on a bed of sand, gravel and stones. Batting was only possible from one end, the leg-side boundary a fence, hitting the ball over which resulted in comical delays in ball retrieval featuring cows, irate neighbors, pedestrians, cyclists and the occasional car.

We’d kit ourselves out, the same sweat-ridden, grimy pads and gloves we’d used all year which now took on a sheen anew. Some had new bats for the summer – Sunny Tonny’s, BDM’s and Gunn and Moore’s among the special ones. There were no coaches or supervising adults, we just played.  Twelve year olds umpiring their own games often resulted in hilarity – the square leg umpire for instance was not averse to throwing pebbles at the batsman after he’d taken his stance, an action prone to resulting in Inzamam-in-Toronto like bat waving. We’d score the game in our own fashion – a page in a notebook or writing in the sand with sticks. We had all types of players – the dashing batsman a la Azhar of the silken leg glances, the pacy leg spinner with an odd jump in his run up a la Anil Kumble, the flashy left hander in the Lara mold and express level poetry a la Alan Donald.  I liked to think of myself as a combination of Javagal Srinath’s bowling and Ajay Jadeja’s batting, although thanks to my name and somewhat larger frame was often simply called Ranatunga. We played with the intensity only 12 year olds and professional athletes can muster. Every ball delivered, every forward defensive stroke, every skied ball waiting to be pouched was pregnant with importance. Nothing gave me more pleasure than bowling fast, or trying to at least, and hitting the stumps. Always it was hitting the stumps. Sheer absolute exhilaration. No one had the temerity to think themselves Sachin though, simply because in our adolescent minds the adoration of Sachin had already made him our champion, our greatest, the one whom we were content to watch and talk and dream about.

We’d play for hours, the sun beating down, the red cherry whistling, the stumps flying, an average of an altercation per game and two near altercations to go with them. Sometimes we’d have pestered our mothers to pack lunch – we had to play past ‘lunch’ into the ‘afternoon’ session, even if we didn’t quite make it past the ‘tea’ break. Stretching our 30 over games until ‘visibility’ was an issue and play was called off. We’d end the day at the juice shop down the road, drinking ice cold lemon juice or mosambi, maybe with some bread omelet thrown in, fifteen of use wedged into 2 or 3 benches.

There were other games at other venues too. The grounds of the Theosophical Society for instance – lucky that one of our classmates lived inside, providing us a gateway to entry. Laden with stumps and rubber balls we’d stake out the ground. It was always a somewhat surreal experience playing there. It felt sepulchral in a way – quiet and meditative, just the trees, the birds, a few people and us. Visions of Swami and Friends playing for the Malgudi CC, but not quite of course. Split into teams, hills or plains for the toss, setting fields with silly points and leg slips and forward short legs that had no basis in reality. The rubber ball thudding uncomfortably into us when we misread the line, or I should say, when we simply didn’t know how to play down a particular line. We’d go back to our friend’s house and be provided with more ice cold lime juice and snacks. And then we’d repeat it the next day, all over again. All summer long.

The KNAV Pacers Bowling Attack
I kept track of my figures, calculating averages and strike rates, stored away in some long forgotten excel file on a by now decomposing floppy disk. I have thankfully been lucky to continue playing cricket through the years – there is little that I enjoy more. When I moved to the US I wondered if I’d be able to keep playing – lo and behold Atlanta, where I first moved, provided me with many opportunities (shout-out to the KNAV Pacers!). Great friends, lively games, nearly 50 teams playing a hard tennis ball league running from February through to October. Three glorious years spent playing cricket virtually every weekend. The best of the season though always, always came in May. 


G said...

"Will you still love me in December as you do in May?" asked Jack Kerouac. If you're name is cricket, you bet we will!

Arjun Rangarajan said...

Thanks for reading - love the quote!