Call me a dinosaur if you like but as an amateur cricket lover, I have been firmly averse to Indian Premier League (IPL) despite peer pressure from friends, family which includes my granddaughter.
That is why it was like another fall of man when I found myself sitting up in bed because an extraordinary happening on TV kept me riveted. It was compelling beyond belief.
Shubhman Gill was stroking, not hitting, pacing, and spinning off his toes, driving between fielders with geometrical precision, cutting, pulling, and hooking on his feet like a ballet dancer. Except for the clothes he wore, there was nothing he did that was outside the classical mould.
The first problem with IPL is the sartorial garishness. White flannels against the green grass as the perfect colour scheme has been smudged by a carnival of colours.
The cricket which burns in my memory goes back to my school days. As soon as the visiting team, say, the West Indies, was announced, out came my scrapbook the size of a broadsheet. The first warm-up match was in Pune, mostly against the Cricket Board President’s eleven. This is followed by a full-fledged five-test series. Why have we lost these? All the venues were capital cities except for Kanpur.
Why has my hometown, Lucknow, the capital of UP, been overlooked? Lucknow not having a test venue, was part of the punishment meted out by the British for the city’s dogged resistance during the 1857 War of Independence. Denial of a major sports venue was only a part of other major denials, like the High Court and premier university to Allahabad; industry to Kanpur – hence the Green Park venue.
The India-West Indies match was the beginning of my romance with test cricket, white against green, Wesley Hall’s menacing run up to the wicket, and Subhash Gupte’s leg breaks, sometimes turning at right angles were delightful experiences.
Gupte took nine wickets in that match. The Hunte, Holt, Kanhai, Sobers, Butcher line-up found him unplayable but only in the first innings as you will see. It would be interesting to know how Sobers compares Gupte with Shane Warne. He saw both and I believe there is something to compare in the huge turn they extracted.
What has remained a lasting memory is a nugget of a knock by Rohan Kanhai, one of the three most pleasing knocks in all my life. None of them were centuries.
Gupte, as I mentioned earlier, had wrapped up the West Indies for 222. One of cricket’s coincidences, India too was all out for the same score – 222.
When Hunte and Holt walked out for the Windies' second inning, the game had acquired the looks of an innings test match. Then, in a flash, Holt was gone for a duck. Hunte returned to the pavilion, also for a duck. Both the wickets were taken by the stand-in unlikely opening bowler – Polly Umrigar. The situation was dire and Kanhai, who had come at the fall of Holt’s wicket had not even taken his stance. At the fall of Hunte, Garfield Sobers had come in at the other end. A hush fell over the ground as all of us sat on wooden planks, biting our nails.
Umrigar, who will never again bask in glory as an opening bowler, turned around from his mark to finish the over. Kanhai stroked a cover drive, bisecting fielders like there was a compass attached to his bat. An on-drive, a square cut, a pull, leg glance, all evaded the fielders with nonchalant ease. And every shot went to the boundary caressing the grass.
With Sobers watching at the other end, Kanhai’s miniature knock of 40 plus had made the bowling look so easy that Sobers went onto 190 plus, boosting the team’s total well past 400, and went on to win the match. Sober’s near double century was a treat, of course, but it was Kanhai’s cameo that instilled confidence in the Windies dressing room. In some ways, Kanhai’s miniature has remained more precious to me than Sober’s imposing mural.
The other two cameo knocks of my life were played by Pakistan’s Maqsood Ahmad (Maxi, as he was called) and Neil Harvey in the venues of my boyhood, Lucknow and Kanpur. Yes, a temporary stadium on wooden planks was somehow conceded to the great sports administrator, Habul Mukherjee. I became the recipient of Habul Dada’s largesse – a pass for the player’s pavilion, a reward for having, done an awkward chore. I arranged a plaque for the ground with “Ladies Urinal” emblazoned on it.
Maqsood’s innings played the classical role that number 4 batsmen play after a few quick wickets have fallen. With aristocratic disdain, he bisected the field all around. In the evening, students of Islamia College called him names, to his face, not because he thrashed Indian bowling but because he was drinking beer in the open bar of the Royal Hotel where the team stayed. A Pakistani drinking was anathema to the Indian Muslim, trying to find his feet.
Harvey’s was a masterly knock of sheer magic against Jasu Patel’s off breaks had Richie Benaud’s Australians hopping like rabbits on an admittedly underprepared pitch. But Harvey, who was the youngest batting addition to Bradman’s famed eleven, simply stepped out, met Patel on the half volley, and, magically found the gaps like he had a photograph of the Oval in his head.
The lyric of all the innings I treasure consisted of silken ground strokes. My ground stroke bias was enthusiastically endorsed in Port of Spain by as thorough a connoisseur as Gerry Gomez who came to India in 1948-49. He was involved in the run-out when Weekes was on 90. Had he completed his hundred, it would have been a record – 6 centuries in 5 tests.
“He had something of the great Don in him.” Gomez continued “Since Bradman there has not been another like him.”
Let me, then, drive home my point. In 48 test matches, Sir Everton Weekes hit only two sixes.
Saeed Naqvi is a veteran Journalist based in New Delhi