Cricket, lovely cricket

No help for the beardless wonder in the search for Conan Doyle’s Reminiscence of Cricket, but I did find two wonderful poems by South Asian schoolboys. Cricket Teams by Raza Shahban Ali of Fatimiyah Boys School, Karachi would have been an outstanding review of the world scene, had his laudatory couplet about England not been removed by a teacher still bitter about Pakistan’s defeat in the NatWest mini-series last summer:

Having a winning dream,
India with a media ring
Beat by my Pakistan team,
New Zealand a better team
Have Crains and Harris Wings,
South Africa what a team!
Have Klusner with nature beam,
Kenya a black team
Nothing to say about their dreams,
How we forget West Indies
Rising up with Talling Mean,
Sri Lanka my favourite team
Always make efforts to win,
But I prefer Pakistan a better team
This poem is all about cricket teams.

Another writer of calypsonian panache is Salil Dhawan of Kundan Vidya Mandir School, Ludhiana, Punjab. His Cricket reveals for all of you Yankees to see just what it is that endears it to me:

Cricket is a wonderful game,
From which players get fame.
Some people watching are tense,
When they see the opposition hit the ball to the fence.
Some people buy tickets,
To watch the bowlers take wickets.
There is a batsman who works hard to concentrate,
There is a bowler who tries to make him frustrate.
There is an umpire, who always makes the right decision,
To help the players who are out to accomplish a mission.
But these days there is a lot of chaos in cricket,
Because the players play deliberately bad on the wicket.
I hope cricket is played sincerely,
So that everyone can enjoy it happily.

If lasting peace and collaboration is ever established between their two countries, it will in no small measure be due to the efforts of Shiv Shankar Menon, an extremely accomplished liberal career diplomat currently serving as India’s High Commissioner in Islamabad. He was involved in the highly successful resumption of sporting ties between India and Pakistan and writes occasional pieces on cricket and other important political issues. Here’s an article which I enjoyed very much but which – along with his homepage – seems to have disappeared from the Deccan Chronicle’s site:

The Baba from Hinganghat

The carnage in Gujarat continues, but if you bite the bullet long enough, it is calypso time. Cricket, lovely cricket, with Washbrook at the wicket and those lovely pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.

That was long ago. Twenty years later, when Gavaskar scored his first Test century, I had just come to Bombay to clear water supply proposals.

There was Beethoven on an enduring HMV turntable in the small office in the Secretariat after everyone had left, but as long as villages like Malmatha, Gimvi and Harnai got drinking water, there was no official displeasure expressed at this aberrant behaviour.

Everyone waited breathlessly for Gavaskar’s astonishing scores to come in from the West Indies over the radio at even more strange hours. By the time he scored his thirtieth Test century, it was nice to be asked to do the official felicitation on behalf of the State government.

We got rare footage in those early days of TV from Doordarshan, thanks to Bhaskar Ghosh, then director general. Sumedh Shah, later to syndicate Gavaskar’s writings, weighed in the technical support.

For the first time in Bombay, we placed video monitors through the huge crowds between the gates of the new Wankhede Stadium and everything went off like a straight drive from the batsman who was being acclaimed.

The compere was more voluble than the hero who is still not very articulate in his mother tongue. Clearly an occasion for many to remember.

In between is this story, all of it pitilessly true. Told before, but you may enjoy it all the same. True fantasies are almost an oxymoron in most minds, like government work. This is as unlikely a Gavaskar story as you may ever hear.

It is more about godmen and the power of the stars than about cricket. Few of us are, in a lunatic microscopic minority, convinced that the likes of Jagjit Uppal, Marjorie Orr, Bejan Daruwalla, leave alone our own Namita Vadhera, should boil their heads and drink the soup.

That Mars, rattling his updated sabres as he kicks Saturn on a proffered rump, has nothing to do with the tragedy of Godhra, come-uppance is always within a finger touch.

Where does Sunil Manohar Gavaskar come in? Only slowly, very slowly, after you begin at the very beginning. Which is, more than notionally, at least in the song, a very good place to start.

Nagpur. The exact pin-point centre of undivided India with an obelisk near the Lutyens-designed Reserve Bank to mark Zero Mile. From where roads radiated everywhere. In the old days, the night air mail Dakotas met past midnight, to switch mail and passengers, while Films Division documentaries were shown in a makeshift lounge at the airport.

One of Baba Amte’s ashrams is at Warora on the road to Chandrapur, 96 miles away. Before that, is the Ashok Patel vegetarian dhaba at Jam, the confluence of a road from Hinganghat in Wardha and the known world.

Those of us, foraging through the countryside, trying to make two heads of jowar grow instead of one with irrigation and fertilisers, had long since forsaken our puttees and sola topees.

At dusk, by accident, mostly by design, a few sports-lovers would be hosted by Ashok Patel to samosas and thick tea in glasses in the falling evening, while the clear stars were but a stretch of the hand away, and the glowworms in the bushes nearby a fantasy about which no one ever got weary.

Cricket. Always and forever the topic with which we shot the pale crescent of a diffident moon. There was Warkhedkar, the Bank of Maharashtra manager, professor Dungarwar of Hinganghat College, a passionate lover of all sports as much as his covert insistence that all lecturers in semi-rural areas deserve to be known only as a professor.

Palewar, the chief officer of Hinganghat municipal council, Rathi the local textile tycoon, whose trouser lengths the market had begun to reject, were more those who wondered whether the next Ranji Trophy match should be held at Hinganghat. It was there that Kailash Gattani got his 300th wicket; weak Vidharbha almost beat a strong Rajasthan but for a dropped catch by the wicket-keeper.

That though is another story since Gavaskar almost appears now. In the course of one such evening at the Ashok Patel dhaba, someone asked, “What day is it?” In a vast time frame, weeks slipped by with hardly a murmur.

A lot of head scratching later, by common consensus, it was Thursday. Did we know, he asked, that the Hinganghat Baba met his devotees on Thursday? We could meet him, ask him what we wanted and get specific replies. The Baba was, signed, sealed and guaranteed, infallible.

Faugh, pooh, baloney, nuts to you Confucius, I dismissed. Still we piled into a jeep, drove the 18 odd kilometres to Hinganghat in Wardha district.

Loud qawwalis burst from a loudspeaker in a pitch dark small town. Stumbling over tethered cows and buffaloes, looming at night like behemoths, we reached a brightly lit room.

The Baba sat on a bed of nails. Gleaming eyes suggested either pure genius or distinct insanity. A large black beard, a bald head, flowing robes.

He was busy squeezing a lemon on a boy’s protruding stomach to cure him. Patient villagers sat on the other half of a room divided by a curtain. Incense sprang from brackets, qawwalis reverberated from the walls from a scratchy record player.

The Baba turned and bent his head sideways like Virginia Woolf at a literary soiree. The bank manager asked when he would be promoted next, the professor whether he’ll get UGC scale arrears, the trouser-length tycoon whether the market will improve and the chief officer whether his daughter will find a good husband. Vague but generally acceptable replies were given.

Then came my turn. I had absolutely no interest in my future. The Indian cricket team was in the West Indies though.

“How many runs will Gavaskar score in the next match?” I asked. “What is a match?” asked the Baba. I explained. “How many yards to a run?” he persisted. Twenty-two, was the reply.

The Baba slid his head sideways, rolled his manic eyes and said, “He will score four runs.”

We left, all of us went our several ways. We waited for the results of the next one-day international.

Gavaskar was out for four. We met again at Ashok Patel’s dhaba to review. “Of course,” said the professor sagely, “a run is from one batting crease to the other.” It is less than 22 yards. The Baba naturally calculated that much wrong. Once you’re over the half way mark and not run out, the Baba is quite correct.

I like sending postcards, so I’ve had a go at sending one to the first two authors, which the Spanish postal service will undoubtedly lose. Mr Shankar Menon has not been sent one, for fear he might declare war on me.

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