Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Most Ancient and Excellent Sport of Cricket

I am crap at cricket, and it should not be surprising. As a batsman I have little-to-no hand-eye co-ordination, my arms are too weak to hit the ball farther than five feet, my legs stay glued to the ground, unable to move. As a fielder I am terrified that the ball will come my way, I have no speed when it comes to running, and my hands do a terrific imitation of a frog when I try to catch something. As a bowler I’m not that bad. I get the ball to spin (sometimes) and I trick the batsman with my googlies (rarely). I am crap at cricket, but despite this, I enjoy it a lot.

I enjoy playing cricket as much as any Indian boy who has grown up playing cricket. Watching it has its own joys, but playing it is special.

I love playing cricket, and like most people I know, the best memories of playing cricket have never been in grounds designed for that purpose. In many ways, gully cricket is truly the best form of the game, because cricket is intrinsically a game of location.

Everything is about placement. Placement, of the shot, the fielder, the line and length of the ball, these are what make the game enjoyable. But gully cricket, the kind of cricket I played, had its own idiosyncrasies. There was never a home advantage like the one you have when you play at your home, with the rules you’ve come up with.

The reason I write this is because I think anyone who’s ever played cricket in a place that is not a large ground adheres to some form of these rules, and any group of players will invariably come up with similar rules regarding the same place. Cricket is cricket, and when faced with a tree, or a wall, or a door, the cricket player’s mind works in certain predictable ways.

The first common-sense rule of playing cricket is conservation of ball. If anyone makes the ball go somewhere it is difficult or impossible to get it back from, that idiot should be out.

I had a friend whose front verandah was essentially a long, straight strip, with relatively low walls and houses on either side. The only way to play, then, was to hit the ball straight and on the ground. Anywhere else and you’d lob the ball into the building next door, and that’s an automatic out. Hit it straight and high, and it would go into your friend’s house, and that’s not much better. For someone who was used to having a large offside for long-pitch, it was painful to play.

The house in Marredpally had a few places and ways to play in them. In the verandah outside it eternally depended on what cars were there and whether you could get someone to move them. Whether we played short pitch or long pitch also depended on how much effort one wanted to put into bowling. And, of course, if the ball got hit into the terrace of the building opposite, you were out. I rather suspect that if you got onto that terrace today, you would find a graveyard of hundreds of old rubber balls, all waiting to be reclaimed.

The second common-sense rule of playing cricket is conservation of force. Anyone who hits the ball hard in a direction that is problematic has to be out.

The upstairs triangle was the shortest of short pitches. You could run from one end to the other with one large stride. Of course, the ball had to be out of the hands of a fielder for long enough to allow that to happen. The easiest way to ensure the batsman didn’t get easy runs, and also makes sure there were no injuries, was to declare full-toss wall out. There were perhaps two patches of wall this didn’t cover, one of which was the 2-d space and one of which was the boundary area (I find it rather hilarious that while full-toss wall was out, full-toss door was not. That margin of error must have been tiny).

The third common-sense rule of cricket is ease of getting out. Batsmen shouldn’t be allowed to just stand there, accumulating runs.

On long pitches this isn’t that much of a problem, given that bowlers have space to run, and batsmen can hit foolish shots and get caught out. On shorter pitches, however, like the third floor terrace at school, we’d find there was a necessity to also introduce the one-tup-one-hand rule. This was a pain, because seemingly safe shots would find their way into the single hand of a fielder after a bounce, or a fielder would catch something with one hand only to support it with his other. It was the cause of much drama, ruling whether or not a catch was with one hand or two. Other esoteric rules include things like the three times body rule, or the omniscient wicket keeper behind the batsman, allowing any edged shot to be caught behind.

The fourth common-sense rule of cricket is ease of getting runs. Batsmen had to get some credit at least for pushing the ball in such a way as to avoid every awkward rule introduced thus far.

On oddly shaped pitches (i.e. most, if not all, of the pitches I’ve ever played at) we’d have to rule certain areas of the pitch as mini boundaries. If a tree was in the way, or there weren’t enough fielders to police every area of the pitch, it was easier to just say that hitting the ball in certain directions guaranteed one or two runs. In sufficiently cramped spaces, touch-one-run might be a better idea than having to run at all.

Everyone has some form of these rules in their head, simply from having played cricket and knowing how it works. When I put up a status on Facebook about playing cricket with Hredai and Sharan, with rules like one-tup-one-hand, touch-one-run, and full-toss-wall out, Vallabh was able to not only diagnose it as extreme short pitch, but also specifically as Srikrishna’s garage.

I think that’s terrific.

1 comment:

David said...

Haha! Personal experience but also a fantastic description of everyone's cricketing youth! We need to have a game soon!