Wednesday, 21 March, 2007

Street Cricket

There is a particular joy in playing cricket at an unorganised level, where you interact with individuals from vastly different backgrounds; each one of whom is a character in the truest sense of the term, possessing uniquely homespun technique. There is a freedom for individuals to experiment, respond naturally to different situations and make mistakes; something that is usually not found at more organised levels of the game. The result is usually hard fought cricket, with plenty of arguments, some of which turn ugly. That, however, is the environment where boys learn to respect differences, sort out issues themselves, and move on to the important business of playing the next match.

A tennis ball in the right hands can do terrifying things. Harmless looking lobs pitching a foot outside leg stump can uproot off stump (which can be anything reasonably off- stump-like) and result in arguments about whether the ball actually hit the stumps, whether the wicketkeeper disturbed the wicket; sometimes batsmen say they weren’t ready. Hitting the ball out of the gate in a certain friend’s house results in the batsman being declared out. I have known batsmen to do so with the cleanest of lofted drives right out of the sweetest part of the bat and say they weren’t ready.

A better argument would be the legitimacy of the bowler’s action. Underarm bowling can be defined in many different ways, and no two people agree upon the same definition. This is largely due to the fact that every bowler breaks some law in some manner. Bent elbows; arms being raised above hip, or sometimes shoulder height; right handed bowlers delivering the ball from a point near their left elbow – there are plenty of ways to get a tennis ball from one roughly drawn crease to another with one point of contact between ball and pitch somewhere in between.

Balls pitching twice are usually called dead ball, with rules changing from one street/apartment compound/backyard to another. The confusion always stems from the second pitch being behind the popping crease. This sort of delivery may or may not be a dead ball, and this sort of delivery has the nasty habit of beating batsmen and hitting the stumps. If only they played with straight bats…

If they all played with straight bats, however, there wouldn’t be any character left. Street cricket is an attractive spectator sport simply because it throws up great contests; which aren’t high quality skirmishes, but comedies of error. I was alarmed by the total lack of quality in a match between two teams of nine and ten year olds a few months back and I found myself thinking how much better my friends and I were at that age. Thinking about it now, though, we were probably as bad, if not worse. All that quality I remembered would have been what I had seen through ten year old eyes; and a ten year old mind would have made sense of what I saw using about five years of cricket knowledge as reference.

That was about the only match I’ve witnessed between kids of that age group in a very long time, and it saddens me to think of all the fun this generation is missing out on. Nobody plays on the streets, nobody sits on the walls, and nobody argues with the guy next door who confiscated the ball and refuses to return it. Some of those arguments were the greatest moments of my life, where the adrenaline would course through my veins, and I’d feel like the king of the entire street (which was a pretty big place for a small kid who wasn’t allowed to take his cycle out into neighbouring streets).

I vividly remember an argument I got into when I was a little older. This guy had chased us away from our pitch, and refused to let us play any longer. My friends had already started removing the stumps from the turf; and I was waging a lone, polite struggle against that chap, who was under the impression that we were out to break his beautiful windows. It went like this:

Me: We don’t intend any harm, sir.

Him: You better intend!!! You BETTER intend!!!

I’d have shown him plenty of intent, and possibly thrown in the meaning of the word as well, if my friends hadn’t disappeared from the spot.

There are too many such people around, all of whom occupy ground floor flats, and take long afternoon naps. The rapidly increasing population of this psychographic coupled with the rapidly dwindling population of kids who care enough for their piece of turf and the sport they play to actually resist being driven out, has probably brought the curtains down on street cricket, at least in the bigger cities with more affluent people. Every kid has a computer now; many have high-end gaming consoles as well. In the old days, a couple of us had 8-bit Nintendo consoles, and a whole bunch of kids would go to one person’s house, and we’d have loads of fun playing Mario, Contra and other simple, addictive games that turned up in plastic cartridges with a chip.

The only ten year olds (in the bigger cities, I reiterate) who play cricket or any other sport these days are the ones who are good at it; at an organised level, with coaches monitoring their every move. Parents don’t encourage their kids to go out and play, unless sport seems like a viable career option; viable career options for fifteen year olds!

There is too much homework, too many textbooks, too much talk of the big, bad, competitive world out there. Tenth and twelfth standard students suddenly stop singing, dancing, painting, playing the tabla and playing on the streets; and decide that the time has come for them to study. Examinations and record work become a priority; and some people reassure their children with this very amusing piece of advice:

‘Two years. Work hard for these two years, be serious; and you can enjoy life after that.’

How can someone who’s been robbed of his vitality during what should have been the most fulfilling phase of his life ever enjoy whatever is left of it? The fellows I saw going around with blank looks and textbooks in their twelfth standard are still doing just that. Their holidays were spent preparing for the next term, the next academic year; and once they’re out of college, they’ll be sitting on a desk somewhere, in front of a computer, putting together stuff other people did, making it look coherent and characterless. They’ll earn fat paychecks, yes, but none of that money will ever bring them the lost pleasures of their childhood, their children will go through the same process; and a generation of kids will grow up not knowing what it feels like to launch a tennis ball into Orbit Apartments.


princessriz said...

well the golden days are truly lost...amusing as it is i cant totally relate to the gulli cricket bit, bt i can undersatnd the stagnant suffocation you talk about...
but you know what there are some like me who did break the rules, n i'm sure my kind arent totally extinct!

sparrow said...

oh yes those were the wonderful days......!!walking in rains without worrying of infections......playing in scorching suns without thinking of tanned were real vacations!!!!but loook at these kids they have to study this much in 6th std as they r doing fun life as we use to have......(ur blog is a fun read!!!)

KK Iyer said...

ah yes. the rebels will someday rise and start a revolution, and hopefully it won't be just another rebellion...

yeah, i pity the kids today... guess we'll soon have people who'll think of all those pleasurable activities you've mentioned as barbaric practices.

pavan madhini said...

brilliant stuff da.....sesky.....especially the part abt tenth and twelfth std chaps............awesome...and i guess u refer to me in some places as well :D

KK Iyer said...

@ pavan,
absolutely!!! obviously i'm referring to you in that hitting it outside and saying 'not ready' bit...