My interest in sports and subsequent fitness in Karate got me into a club for cricket. Made up by friends and managed by us, it was one of the four parts inside the Vivekananda Park in South Calcutta off Southern Avenue. We had the advantage of getting a pitch to ourselves as one of the players lived in the ground quarters as his father was in the Municipality. As they say “kabhi kabhi gadhe ko baap banana padta hai” (sometime one has to compromise to get our goal). He was a decent fast bowler and always got first shot at the batsmen with a new ball. I was also a bowler first and loved fielding hence would find myself in most games.
Our prep started with watering and rolling the pitch the day before the match with the help of a bucket and spraying the water from a mug, while keeping the mug covered with splayed hands. The day of the match was another bout of rolling, light spray of water, marking of the creases with the metal point of the stumps and fixing the stumps at a soft spot using the handle of a bat for force. The bails would be placed next and if it was windy, a light sprinkling of dust kept it in place.
The wicket-keeper Sridhar was a short guy with a chipped tooth and was the moving force of the big cement rollers that needed to be operated on the piece of flattened mud and was labelled the pitch. We were a rag tag bunch of people with varied skill sets. One batsman named Somnath used to stroll into the field wielding his bat like a “gada” or mace. Another left handed batsman Kishore (god bless his soul) used to push at the ball with a sense of achievement and flip his straight hair constantly over the course of his innings. One bowler used to spit on the ball rather than apply spit with his fingers leaving all the other bowlers testy. One all-rounder Cheena had a run up that would deviate from the stumps at the point of delivery to almost the tram lines. One bowler Bedam used to chuck the ball at tremendous pace occasionally enough to stop him from bowling. One of our players Ravi proceeded to selection for Bengal cricket team for his super left hand spin bowling. Peena or P Narayan was known for his six hitting skills even today. One bowler Jayaram had a unique shoulder action and a bouncy run up. Kaushik was a short guy with a good understanding of the game. We won a few and lost a few and in the process made some good friends. One trio in the opposing team were nicknamed Chappell brothers as three from a family played and it was their grandmother who taught me the “pallankuzhi” game. My specialty was covering the thirdman to deep fine leg area as I was swift and some bowling to boot. My all round ability did get me to the finals of an intra-club single-wicket tournament too. A crazy habit of noting down scores as professional scorers did, when I heard the India matches on radio also helped.
During the break between innings, our refreshments were satiated in a shed close to the ground where our standard lunch would be “ruti, kola, jol” that is, unsliced bread with a watery potato curry, one banana and water and if I was feeling rich the potato curry was replaced with an egg curry, were the basis of our nutrition.
One pair of whites and one pair of spikes were my only indulgences during the four or five years of cricket, the washing of which was refused by my mother due to the excessive grass and dirt stains. So apart from the physical efforts of cycling and playing, washing was added to the list of chores one had to undertake.
As the umpires would be from the batting teams, arguments were usually unavoidable, but a sense of fairness always prevailed. The art of perseverance, negotiations, self-motivation, pride in team accomplishments were all gained in those days and imparted to my students during intercollege competitions later.
My debt of gratitude goes out to all my mates from that group of friends belonging to the Eleven Stars Club two of them who even made to my son’s wedding last year. Thank you all.
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