India's unofficial national sport is unarguably, Cricket. This game of batsmen, bowlers and fielders needs no introduction as this is a way of life, a religion and a passion for the whole of India.
Ever since Kapil Dev led his pack of underdogs to an amazing victory over the invincible West Indies in the 1983 Prudential World cup, India has taken to cricket like a bear takes to honey. There is so much of it these days, but there was so much of it ever since the first world cup win. A waning hockey era and utter lack of focus on other sports, made cricket grow like a weed. The Indian people had accepted this Englishman's game as their own and played it with feverish fervor.
Fame, Success and lots of money were baits for scores of youngsters who plunged into the rat race for selection into the national team. Cricket was no longer a game for the elite and the affluent. Boys from all strata of society pulled all stops to get hold of a cricket kit and to be coached by an ex state or a national level player. Brands hooked up with star cricketers for endorsing their products at sums previously unheard of in the world of Indian sports. Affiliations with Bollywood stars, regular appraisals of performances in the media and sometimes even interviews in glossies had made Cricket a very glamorous career option indeed.
This post is not any success story of how a boy from a middle class neighborhood worked hard and made it big on the international scene. It is about my experiences a boy during my acclimatization with the game of cricket.
The traditional games and sports of India took a back seat when kids of all ages who were able to stand and speak were out on the streets with bats & balls. Ingenuity was clearly visible when the boys made bats out of whatever material available, their passion fueled their inventor instincts and thus exam pads, wooden planks from the carpenter shops and sometimes even just hands, tennis balls were conveniently adapted for use in cricket and then local entrepreneurs started manufacturing 'rubber balls' & 'sponge balls' to cater to the huge demand for cricket equipment. Arrangements for the wickets were the most ingenious of all. A neighbor's concrete compound wall would act as the canvas when an image of 3 wickets with bails were drawn using charcoal or by etching the outlines with stones.
This was the advent of 'Gully Cricket'. Gully is the transliteration of the Hindi 'Gali' which means lane. Cricket was now being played across every nook and corner of the country and all that was needed was a lane, no matter how narrow or wide, a bat - make shift or real, a ball - preferably tennis (Cosco!) and some bricks or a neighbor's compound wall for the wickets.
Of course, the boundaries would be marked by the electric pole at the corner or the intersection (cross). Wild bushes and fences would also act as permanent fielders. Gully cricket consists of 'players' of all age groups and the seniors obviously have the lion's share. They always bat first, keep the wickets (this involves less running around) and even bowl first. The younger members of the team have to 'earn' their right to hold the bat. Fielding, however is a domain left to the smaller kids who act as mere ball boys to retrieve the ball from inside a neighbor's house or the rainwater drain or to tread down a small precipice.
There are no umpires in this form of the game and a majority vote decides the fate of the batsman. Usually, the senior members who own the stuff i.e. the bat, the ball and sometimes the wickets carry a lot of clout and do not let go of their position easily. Tempers run sky high and there ensues very heated arguments on the legitimacy of the delivery, the readiness of the batsman and a very cricket text book observation of the field placement.
If a junior member of a team is having a particularly fine day and is coming down heavily on the more experienced senior bowlers of the opposite team, then such an over, normally to consist of 6 deliveries, goes on till the batsman gets out and may sometimes extend to even 18 deliveries for a single over. The senior rests only when he scalps the wicket of the 'in form' junior.
The team selection is all the more interesting. The 2 senior most are natural choice for the skipper position. Then they start selecting their mates from the crowd by method of elimination. Thus a team is formed. Sometimes when the teams are unevenly balanced, then one of the player would be appointed as the 'joker' - the chose one who would bat, bowl and field for both sides! On a few lucky days I have had the privilege of becoming the Joker and how I enjoyed wielding the bat twice!
In gully cricket, the normal choice of both sides was to bat first irrespective of any situation. We all love to bat. Bowling is only for losers. However, a formality of selection through a toss is done. Kids in India usually do not carry any money on them when they come out to play (well at least we did not when we used to play). The toss was a more crude form of guessing the hand. A kid would be entrusted the task of picking a small pebble and hide it in one of his palms. The captains then had to guess the clenched fist that possessed the pebble. The one that made the right guess got to bat first!
Depending on the number of players one had on either teams, the game would have a single batsman or two batsmen as per the original game format. A severe shortage of bats would mean the 2 batsmen sharing one bat which would in fact be used by the other team as well on their turn. A small internal fight of sorts would ensue as to who would bat first. It was an unsaid rule that the one who owned the bat would also do the honors.
For the cricket illiterates, a brief intro on the field areas - straight, onside and offside. Gully cricket was necessarily onside friendly since it involved smashing the ball into oblivion. Left handed players were unheard of & very rarely gully cricket witnesses left handed batsmen. Offside play required more skill and gully cricket is not about the display of one's knowledge on cricketing shots. Secondly, shortage of players would mean members of both teams would keep the field while 2 batted and one bowled. In cases where the batsman had to be ruled out on the basis of a light nick to the bat, the decision would be in favor of the person who was more loud and assertive. Indiscretion is common and in fact no one feels slighted at such appeals.
A bad over would yield the bowler a mouthful of choicest rebukes from each and every member of the team. Childish behavior at its best. Kids are very sore losers and try all means to avoid the situation. Protests against blatant cheating, over counting the scores, under counting the number of deliveries bowled etc would charge up the atmosphere in the neighborhood and sometimes even the adults join in the melee to support their kids' teams.
At the end of the evening's game, the victorious team would break into an impromptu jig much to the dismay of the losers who would exchange cold stares, may be insinuating a harder comeback the next time they meet to play. Loyalties keep changing in gully cricket and kids take sides of the winning captains. At the end, it is all good as it is a game of cricket between friends and the results of the game are immediately forgotten and the kids go home looking forward to the next day when they get to enjoy their most favorite pastime.
My past few posts is an attempt at keeping my nostalgic journey alive and in turn I intend to rekindle the child hood memories in all of my adult friends who are so engrossed in making money and risk forgetting these amazing moments of their lives.
There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago
- J Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist, quoted in Pearls of Wisdom.