Writing the review of Rajdeep’s book, brought about a flood of memories of my tryst with cricket, so here goes.
My first memory of playing cricket is in the small verandah of my house in Kalina — Mumbai, underarm cricket with one tappa (bounce) out, stumps etched on one of the walls and all sorts of weird rules. Pretty much block everything that comes your way and bat for as long as you can was the only strategy.
Graduated to playing outside the verandah with the big boys (Derrick Dias was an awesome underarm bowler, could spin the rubber ball a great distance). The only sore point in this pursuit was fishing the ball from the many gutters that dotted our ground. There must have been someone watching over us as we never got infected. Most of us were pretty good in playing along the ground and hitting the ball one bounce over the bowlers head; with so many fielders around the bat that was the only way you could score runs. This was also the stage where runs were “declared”, hit the ball in a particular area fetched you two runs, above a particular height meant you were out. Many a test match was played with all the attending rules of cricket. We would play after lunch and way into the evening stopping only when the streetlights came on (night cricket was not a thing then). And who can forget collecting enough Thums up crowns to get your hands on a flick book — Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil were on top of the heap then.
No Tv back then, so we would rely on radio commentary for updates on matches being played. Fiddling with the dials to catch the signal, sometimes the sputter of static overwhelmed the voices of commentators like Sunil Doshi (hindi commentary ke betaaj badshah)- his description of a square cut is still etched in memory — “Short pitch gend, off stump ke bahar backfoot par gaye, stroke ke liye jagah banayi, aur bahut khubsoorti ke saath square cut kar diya chaar runo ke liye”- and Narottam Puri with his English commentary. I believe Narottam would also commentate on pretty much all sports especially in the TV era as we grew up. Another program that comes to mind is “Cricket with Vijay Merchant” — my father would make us listen to this every Sunday, convinced and rightly so that this would improve our English. I remember somehow contorting myself to fit onto our window sill and listening to the radio placed on our refrigerator — 30 minutes ka yoga bhi ho jaata tha. I cannot remember the line he would use to round off the show –something to do with returning to the great pavilion. Just tweeted Rajdeep about it, lets see if he remembers. Of course there was Sportstar, a great magazine for sports lovers.
Growing up at my aunt’s place in Andheri was a step up. We moved onto to overarm cricket, again with a rubber ball, bounced like crazy and if you got hit, the sting would seem to last forever. lofted off drives inevitably meant the ball would land up in someone’s house on the first floor, in some cases we would get back our ball neatly sliced into two (did not help that on more than one occasion they had suffered broken windows and in one case a busted TV set). Mumbaikars reading this will identify with “box cricket”, again a uniquely Mumbai invention. Bowlers would bowl with short run ups, shots all along the ground. Matches played with neighbouring building kids were called “shield”, winners would keep the ball and usually 11 Rs (each contributing Rs 1, a princely sum those days) was the prize money. Winning team would be found gulping sugarcane juice and wolfing down vadapavs, the losers would go home. Another unique thing in these matches was that the team which won the toss always, always batted first. Matches had this tendency of being called off in case of disputes; idea was to take full mazaa of batting just in case…
A big influence in our neighborhood was my elder brother — Dadh to us at home and Tal to the rest of the world. With a bowling action modeled on Marshall, Dadh was genuinely quick and was a decent late order batsman. Played for Chinai college, i still remember the hat trick he took at Matunga Gymkhana and the omelete paav party post the match. Around the time that Shastri bagged the Audi, he received a bicycle as man of the tournament in a local match up. Obviously the bicycle was christened Audi from day one. Most of our friends learnt to cycle on the Audi.
Tennis ball cricket was big then, prize money me Maruti 800 bhi huva karta tha. if i remember correctly, Umesh Manjrekar was the then star of tennis cricket. Would love to meet him again.
Dadh would play tennis ball cricket for a club called Vile Parle Cricket club.He had very high hopes on my cricketing skills and would let me tag around. I remember Makarand Deshpande (yeah the actor) being absolutely brilliant behind wickets. He would stand up to my brother bowling at his peak and never flinch, how he managed to collect those zingers only he knows. Well my career at VPRC came to an end when i managed to drop some seven catches in a session. I remember after the third drop, the ground captain Aru Pai told me “tula hava tithe fielding kar”. The ball kept following me to all corners of the ground, even almost behind the wicket keeper in one instance.
I did manage to redeem myself in my own eyes by playing a match winning innings of 22 in a final in Goa, representing our Askan wada club in a local tournament. Some controversy in that match — I was a Mumbai import but then I was born in Goa — to woh angle lagake khela. Batted with a club (cannot call it a bat) fashioned out of a banyan tree bark, bowled hone ka koi chance nahi tha. It was great fun.
Barring such stray successes, padhai likahi ke chakkar me sab cricket khatam ho gaya and I took to following the exploits of Tendlya, Dada, Dravid and VVS; only this time on full color, joining millions in staying up late or getting up early, standing outside TV showrooms, sneaking into restaurants asking the one question on everyone’s lips when a match was on, “score kya hai”?
This was a different Mumbai, people would offer a seat in the local train, when they saw you with books and figured it was exam season. Last minute revision would be done peacefully in the train journey from Andheri to Churchgate. People would exchange newspapers or fold them so well that two blokes could read at the same time, standing in front of each other. And all of us without exception could have played that one ball better which got anyone out, could have held on to a catch which someone dropped and could have bowled six yorkers in a row and all this while having our cup of tea.
Did not play after entering college and this rather long hiatus from active playing was broken with a stint as coach of the Icici pru team for a couple of years. Well those who can do, those who cannot teach — I reasoned, and plunged into this role. Practice nets at Shivaji Park — spotted the good lord hinself- walk the talk with Shekar gupta was being filmed. We had a great run at IPru — from the washout of a first season to a heartbreak of a match where we lost by one run on the last ball, to some of my boys getting called for iBank duty (they had a good team) it was one hell of a ride.
Played at any level, cricket like any sport i guess, fosters a great sense of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, most of Dadh’s unit from college are still in touch and it is fun when they catch up. All of them remember specific details of matches played long ago, of catches they missed of batsman they fooled into getting out; its almost like the matches happened yesterday.
Mumbai has always been a city of dreams and cricket one of the chief instruments of making them happen. It gives us a reason to exist, a reason to celebrate; nowhere is the “spirit” of Mumbai better on display than on its maidans. Whenever you have the time, do go across to the Elf wicket and watch the junior cricketers play, even at that age they will be ready for a fight, no quarter given — no quarter asked.
We will talk about Tendulkar as our every own, each person will have their own favorite story — like i know a bloke who got him out in school cricket, someone who shook his hand and did not wash many a day afterward (just like MS) and someone who shares a birthday. For me the best memory was of his last match.
We land up all laced with the Indian flag and a great hope to see him score a hundred. Got interviewed by a Marathi channel outside the stadium and we have a screen grab of the gang waving the flag during the match.
So the lord departs at around 70 if memory serves right, and in a flash we find ourselves at Mondegar — Colaba. They have a big screen up, we are swigging pitcher after pitcher, exhorting the batsmen to get out. A foreigner sitting next to us is completely flummoxed and ventures to ask “But, are you not supporting India?”. We reply “Sure, we just want the Indian team to bat again so that we can watch him bat one last time”. Alas it was not to be…
Something i wrote long time ago on Sachin — http://roadtoshiroda.blogspot.in/2009/11/growing-up-with-tendlya.html
Growing up was fun…