Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thrills of watching a Cricket Test Match, first time

Cricket has always topped the list of popular pastimes. In fact, for more than a century. One of my great grandfather's preserved testimonials, handwritten and signed by J.Cook, M.A, Principal, Central College Bangalore in 1888, praising my ancestor as an 'ardent cricketer' is ample proof. Even before 1888, in all probabilities, he would have played the game during his days in Maharaja's College (1884-88) and was talented enough to earn such a praise from the Principal.

Besides their own fun-cricket, Test Matches [not as many as now], provided cricket's joy mostly through newspapers, much later, the radio and in recent times the TV. But very few had the good fortune to watch a Test Match in person because they were only in the big cities. It took the yeoman efforts of a certain M.Chinnaswamy, the man who dreamed and actually brought such a wonderful privilege and Test status to Bangalore. Our joy soared skywards when the honey-sweet news broke out. West Indies who were to tour India in 1974-75, were to play the first Test of the series in Bangalore. It also meant that we Mysoreans were close to getting a fine opportunity to be part of it.

Excitement was building up as the day closed in. My uncle wrote that he had booked one of the eighty-rupee-season tickets for me as well as for a few relatives. I was on cloud nine. I persuaded my grandfather and bought an eighty-rupee binocular. The dream of watching a Test Match and the players in flesh and blood was nearing fruition.

Collecting cricket pictures was a hobby and I used to buy the 'Sportsweek' from the saved pocket-money, merely for the sake of cutting and pasting the pictures in albums. I do not remember having read even a single article! I used to imagine and imitate in my tennis-ball-cricket, the styles from those action pictures. The binocular was to help me take a closer-look at the heroes.

Special buses had been arranged from Mysore itself for the thousands who thronged Bangalore for the historic occasion. We went in one of them, leaving behind my old grandfather, himself a great all-round sportsman, which was rather sadly ironic. But my fitter and cricket-ignoramus grandmother was accompanying us in expectation of seeing her nephew, B.S.Chandrasekhar, in action. None of us had seen him play and we had longed for that occasion too.

This picture is just to give an idea. Imagine the entire stadium constructed this way, like a scaffolding!

The day had arrived. The 80,000-capacity stadium (then, the MSCA) was a marvel of labour. Except for the players' pavilion, all of the 'stands' were erected entirely of wooden poles, (see above picture) planks and jute ropes with thatched shelters over some parts. The foldable plywood chairs had been serially numbered. The scene was set. That the precarious looking stands withstood the 'test' of people-load for five days was a design-feat in itself!

Our 'gang', equipped with food and water for the day, reached the stadium and stood in the long queue to enter. We had missed the toss by the time we entered. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, back at the helm, had asked Clive Lloyd to bat first. I can still recall the smell of cut grass that was wafting across the stadium, even now. Our seats were somewhere in the 10th row, reasonably close to the boundary - satisfaction in itself. Never before had I seen such a crowd congregation. The noise created by it was deafening and excitement was running haywire, celebrating their first ever Test Match! I was to find that it was a reasonably sporting crowd, though at times a bit pranky, applauding the good cricket from either team.

I was making my debut as a test match spectator, RS Krishnaswamy was making his, behind the microphone alongside stalwarts Anant Setalwad and Tony Cozier. My uncle had his 'biggish' transistor radio to follow the commentary and to know who is who on the field. M.V. Nagendra and Jack Reuben were the umpires. For India, Hemant Kanitkar was making his debut while one Gordon Greenidge and a certain Viv Richards were making theirs for the West Indies. India had no Bedi due to some controversy but the rest of the famed spin-team were in. The oldest man in the match was 42-year old great West Indian off-spinner, Lance Gibbs. Before the match, there had been a 'No Bedi, no Test" campaign was on, but the match went on.

After a few overs from Abid Ali and Solkar, the crowd noticed Chandra warming up and there was a big roar, a roar we had heard 'on the air' but now we were part of it. Local hero was to bowl in front of his home crowd! Greenidge (93) showed his power and southpaw Kallicharran (124), his grace and technique. Rain on the second morning tried to dampen the spirits but that was luckily short-lived. Wickets were not covered those days. Play continued after a brief stoppage and Kallicharran showed batsmanship of the highest class, playing the Indian spinners on a rain-affected wicket with masterly ease with 124. One late-cut off Prasanna stands out in my memory. Abid Ali, Solkar and Venkataraghavan displayed their close-in fielding skills. Chandra's 4-wicket haul gave us a glimpse of why he was feared by the batsmen. Richards had no clue whatsoever. Venkat's accuracy and Pras' guiles were mastered in this match by the Windies.

India conceded a big lead and only Hemant Kanitkar cut his way to a top-score 65. We saw what Andy Roberts' hot pace was like and the effect of Vanburn Holder's deadly accuracy. The way Gibbs trapped Viswanath soon after he had hoisted a six was top class bowling. [There was no way I could have imagined then, that 14 years later, I was to bowl my best ever ball, a leg-cutter, to have this great man bowled off-stump for a duck in a league match.] Solkar was run out by a direct hit from long leg by Keith Boyce. What a flat and fast throw it was! It was customary that the Indian tail did not wag. Chandra getting bat on ball was duly applauded.

Greenidge again blazed with a hard hit 107. But it was Lloyd's 143-ball 163 that stunned Pataudi's Indians. The clonks were heard in spite of the crowd's noise. It was explosive power. He often swept the Indian spinners out of line. Poor, fat-tummied Kanitkar at deep square-leg was bamboozled by the accurate placement of the shots, which brought laughter to the crowd more than once. Those were days when only the slip fielders dived to make catches or saves. Lloyd's innings ended when Solkar, diving forward, made a skier at long-off look easy. They set India a big target.

Gavaskar and Engineer [of Brylcreem fame] opened again, but soon were back in the room, dismissed through breathtaking catches by Viv Richards at short-leg. Nobody who has seen these catches will ever forget for the sheer alacrity he made them. Both were 'hits' from the meat of the blade! Nearly everyone rose from their seats in utter awe! All the heroes succumbed to the pace of Roberts and Holder and the West Indies had won by 267 runs. The angry crowd broke the chairs and threw them onto the field. Luckily there was no fire. If there was one, it would have been calamitous. There were no presentation ceremonies after the match in those days and so all of us left the stadium making our way in a forest of people.

What we had seen was to be the beginning of a most enthralling series that India won. The filmed highlights [no TVs in those days] were shown in theatres some days later. Those were still the days when cricket was played mostly for its sake and money had not yet adulterated it.

The report on the match was read by people in the next day's paper while my attention was on the action pictures. This went on for five full days, of absolute thrill. It was exciting fun, being able to watch the heroes through my binocular and sometimes borrowing a fellow-spectator's more powerful ones to look at the faces of them, to compare with those in my cricket album. My hero was Andy Roberts, whose action I memorized and tried to imitate in my tennis-ball-cricket ventures. Venture I did, to good effect! Gary Sobers had gone downhill and was not touring.

Indians were renown for incompetency against fast bowling and often the Indian batsmen getting bowled by fast bowlers were published in the Illustrated Weekly of India where stumps were seen flying! It fascinated me. As experiment, I tried out with a cork ball in the yard and derived great pleasure! The actual thrill lay in wait till I began playing regular league cricket with the cricket ball and could see for myself how it felt to send the batsman's stump 'cartwheeling'!

I returned home, proud and fully satisfied with the enjoyment of witnessing a Test Match. I was richer with the numerous brochures and sun-shades that were offered at the ground. Leave alone those wonderful memories to top them. But we envied our grandmother who was the luckiest among us all - she had the privilege of watching the second day's play from the pavilion using Chandra's pass with his sister and parents. "Tall, well built, dark, bespectacled with huge lips" - was how she described a West Indian whom she had seen at close range. She was referring Clive Lloyd!

The way Cricket is played, watched and followed these days has changed. Hasn't it?

Full Scorecard of the Test Match.

The Mysore State Cricket Association Stadium was later renamed as M.Chinnaswamy Stadium


GW said...

I have never witnessed a cricket game, and yet after reading this memory of yours, I feel I have.

Avinash said...

I have never witnessed a test match but your vivid description made me feel that i was right there somewhere in the ground watching all the action LIVE!!!!