Cricket, a brief trip down memory lane


Even the most ardent fans would admit that cricket is a funny game: One cannot predict which side will win or lose, or who will score runs or take wickets. This is explained away as the glorious uncertainty of the game, which makes the game great.
Much water has flown under the bridges all over the world. In 1950s, the West Indies were ruling the roost. Its fast bowlers would strike terror in the hearts of the batsmen. India was the underdog in white flannels. It did not have genuine fast bowlers. Its batsmen were not equipped to face the speeding red cherry. It was awesome to see West Indian fast bowlers Wesley Hall and Roy Gilchrist start their run-up from the boundary line, run ferociously to hurl the beamers and bouncers. There was no protective gear those days. Our players would say a prayer to god before venturing to go out and bat.

When the West Indies toured India in 1958-59, the hapless selectors had brought in A K Sen Gupta, an army jawan of 19 years, to open the innings in Madras Test, thinking that with his tough exercised body he would stand up to receive the blows. For the first ball from Wesley Hall, he ran and stood near the square leg umpire. And he managed to score one run before he was out for the third ball he faced. That was the beginning and end of this gallant cricketer on the national scene.
Then came the opening pair of Nari Contractor and Pankaj Roy, who would slog, push and block the ball for hours on end to score runs. The nasty blow behind his right ear while playing in Barbados, West Indies, in the year 1962 fractured Contractor’s skull and ended his international career. That set the establishment thinking about protective gear. And so, the present day batsman walks to the crease in battle dress, fully padded and protected.

From tails to heads
Wicket-keeper used to be the tail, which hardly wagged those days. Joshi kept wickets for India regularly, and Naren Tamhane was his stand-by. Either of them would struggle to reach the double-digit score and thereafter would depart with a sense of relief into the dressing room. Then came Budhi Kunderan, a labourer in the Railways, who had not played a first-class match before he was catapulted to Test arena against Richie Benaud’s Australian team. He electrified the game as a batsman and as a wicket-keeper. His explosive career as a Test cricketer started and ended like a Deepavali sparkler when Farooq Engineer bulldozed his way into the India side. He went to England to marry Linda, England opener Geoff Puller’s sister, and settled  there. Farooq Engineer was a worthy replacement. He was a live wire both in front of and behind the wickets. He was certainly not a tail, but opened the innings with vigour. That was the beginning of a series of belligerent wicket keepers like Adam Gilchrist, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sangakkara, who could whack the ball over the stadium roof.

Match-fixing
There was a dark phase in the cricketing world with match-fixing scandal. South African opener and captain Hanse Cronje fell victim to the lure of money. Acerbic Geoffrey Boycott said, “His cricketing shots are as graceful as the movements of a bovine”. He dragged along Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja into infamy of match-fixing scandal. Found guilty, they made a disgraceful exit from cricket. Azharuddin could send the ball crashing into the fence with just a flick of his wrist. But he needed a lot of money to please his actress wife Sangeeta Bijlani. He was not glamourous to get sponsorships to earn cartloads of money. Ajay Jadeja has now become a sports commentator. A TV anchor would often introduce him as “former India captain”. And he would acknowledge with a twinkle in his eye, a smile and a nod of his head. It is not known when he captained the India side.

And now, Gary Kirsten’s alleged advice to the Indian cricketers to have sex to improve their game. After the match-fixing scandal, is another South African trying to export immorality into this country? Sunil Gavaskar, during his playing days, would not even go to a movie lest it should affect his eye sight and his capacity to see the ball. There are many disciplined cricketers who have made our country proud. They do not need booster shots. Wayward players do not need Gary Kirsten’s alleged advice either. They know how to sow the wild oats.  

(As told by ardent cricket fans and baits.)

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