Monday, 16 June, 2008

Wall cricket, and my non-maavu bat

I played cricket today. Against the wall.

Not ‘The Wall’, I hasten to add. Much as I’d love to have one of my dibbly-dobbly off-cutters sneak through that most unbreachable of defenses, and cart his seldom-seen off-breaks to all points on the compass, the wall I faced up to was one of brick, mortar, white paint and a switchboard put in place by someone with no knowledge of wall cricket. It’s hard to hit a good length if impediments exist on the wall. Pulling short balls was a no-no too, with a grandmother asleep at forward short leg.

The bat I employed was my ancient SG Super Cover. I bought this when I was in the fifth standard. It was then a size 5.

Through years of tapping on concrete and tarmac, and flinging over fences in moments of pique and angst, it has shrunk to a size 3.18 or thereabouts. The sticker says ‘English Willow’ and while it most certainly is an English Willow, it's an English Willow covered with parchment – which is a little short on street-cred, because parchment bats look like well-fed maavu bats. Maavu in Tamil means dough, or batter. Maavu bats are the ones that come – or used to, in pre-Beyblade days – free with Boost at some points in time, and Bournvita at other points in time. Most un-English my willow looks, but maavu it most certainly isn’t.

Mukul Kesavan (read in full here) once said of the parchment bat:

“… there was another kind of bat, which we treated like a dead thing, like an instrument merely: the parchment bat. This was a ready-to-use bat that didn't have to be seasoned: it came with its blade wrapped at intervals in three-inch wide bands of thread and the whole sheathed in a thick membrane. The only reasons to buy it (besides the labour saved on seasoning) were that it was cheaper than a willow bat and seen as more durable because the membrane (probably some kind of intestinal skin) and the bands of thread kept its blade from chipping. But no one bought parchment bats if they could help it, because they were hideous to look at …”

A parchment bat – with over half the membrane peeled off, leaving dull, coarse wood exposed – is perfectly suited to studiously smothering tennis balls bowled with the hand not holding the bat. The wall – usually, but not always – makes off-breaks and chinamen spin away from, and leg breaks and orthodox lefties toward, the (right handed) batsman.

In the past I’d imagine I was playing for India, usually making my test debut. There was this improbable phase in my life when I was a huge fan of Shiv Sundar Das – remember him? – and I’d open the batting with him, and we'd put on a gazillion runs before he fell – someone had to – and then Dravid would walk in, and so on. The unwritten rules I followed through all my test debuts were – always score a century, and always carry your bat.

There were other times when I would not be me, but someone else, and try to bat like them. I distinctly remember the Mark-Waugh-ness coursing through my veins as I gently sent a hip-high ball speeding through mid wicket some years ago.

I couldn’t recapture that today, thanks to my grandmother at short leg.