The future of Indian cricket
25 Years – Memories of a Miracle
Back in the early 80s, cricket had already captured the hearts and minds of impressionable kids like me, my elder brother and our band of boys who had nothing but disdain for those ‘studious’ kids who were more into science clubs and lending libraries.
Hardy Boys, Famous Five and Nancy Drew were considered a conspiracy hatched by mothers to keep kids at home. While other kids went to bed safely tucking their favourite book under the pillow, I hit the bed with my batting pads and gloves on. India Poised!
Luckily, our mother felt better off sending us to the playground in our residential colony rather than spend money on books and a lot more on replacing broken lamp shades and window panes – collateral damage as my brother and I played eleven-a-side ‘Test’ matches at home, where the bowling side got a chance to bat only after the entire opposition was bowled out.
Given my cricketing skills, my brother and his ‘Indian’ team (which again is him calling himself everything from Kapil Dev to Roger Binny to Madan Lal) never took more than 5 overs to clean up my batting order, irrespective of who I was representing the Aussies, the Windies or the Englishmen.
Coming to think of it, he always got to be India and won too, something which I never accepted in the true spirit of the game.
As I dragged myself away from the wicket after trying a left-handed wallop a-la Graham Yallop, I always felt ‘it’s just not cricket.’ I hated ‘India’ though Sunil Gavaskar was my favourite and I was plotting moves to hijack my brother’s Indian team.
That opportunity presented itself when the World Cup came calling to Indian homes in 1983. We still didn’t have a TV at home (we had to wait till 1986) and our parents had already warned us against either pestering them to buy a TV or seeking permission to go over to our neighbour’s place (one of them had a Dyanora Colour TV and the other had a Solidaire) to watch.
I still remember going over to their homes to watch PT Usha, MD Valsamma and Charles Borromeo win medals at the Delhi Asiad (1982); and watch grainy images (via Sri Lanka’s Roopavahini) of Maradona crying off the pitch after kicking Brazil’s Falcao and Paolo Rossi winning the Football World Cup for Italy at Espana ’82.
Watching LIVE cricket on TV was still quite an ask though in December 1982, the national broadcaster Doordarshan managed to beam images of Sunil Gavaskar’s India getting drubbed by Pakistan led by Imran Khan and the wily Sarfraz Nawaz. The heavy defeats ensured that I swore off watching Test cricket, much to my mother’s glee.
A badly bruised India went to the West Indies and the only game we remember is an ODI victory at Berbice built on stellar performances by Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. Selective amnesia, one might say!
But we seldom missed out on an opportunity to slip and slide across the muddy waters as cricket and clean clothes became unsuspecting victims. Dag acha hai!
The cuts on our knees and elbows had become all too unbearable for our mother and she decided something’s got to be done and yanked us off to our cousin’s place in a neighbouring colony where my grand uncle was recuperating from his illness.
My uncle, being the big daddy of entertainment in the family, got himself shifted out of the hospital as he found the antiseptic environs of the hospital too boring.
A rich and flamboyant businessman from Quilon (70 kms from capital Thiruvananthapuram) with interests in everything from processing cashew to publishing to film production, he used to lug his prized TV and VCR wherever he went, whether it was to our ancestral home in Mavelikara, a village/town 120 km from Thiruvananthapuram or to the capital where he had to be brought down for treatment.
At that time, he had paid a princely sum of Rs 75,000 for a Weston TV and a Hitachi VCR. To put that price in perspective, my father paid Rs 95,000 for our HOME in posh Jawahar Nagar a couple of years before my grand uncle splashed that amount on two gadgets.
Since cricket in the rains was finally banned by my mother, we had no option but to grudgingly visit my uncle every evening, something which we grew fond of as the days passed by. I can’t seem to figure out or remember what helped the turnaround, whether it was the steady supply of apples and grapes since he was a patient or the fact that he refused to allow “Krishi Darshan” (an evening yawn on national TV where all you could see were two men discussing plants and seeds… zz zz) to corrupt and corrode his TV.
My uncle’s Zen-like aversion to farming on TV ensured we got to watch VHS tapes of WWF and ‘Mind Your Language’ for the first time. Tony Atlas, Rocky Johnson (WWE Superstar Rock’s father) and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (former Minnesota Governor) were welcomed with open arms.
New heroes were taking their places in the pantheon and Cricket took a backseat with Kapil’s Devils not doing not crowing themselves in much glory, notwithstanding the skipper’s epic 175 not out against Zimbabwe which we couldn’t even follow on radio as the BBC was on strike on that particular day.
When India defeated Australia in what was a do-or-die match, the powers that be at Mandi House (the HQ of Doordarshan) in New Delhi decided that the World Cup might be worth beaming across the nation and decided to broadcast LIVE India’s semifinal against England at Old Trafford.
We watched in rapt attention as Roger Binny bowled Graeme Fowler to set the stage for Kapil Dev to restrict England to just 213 off 60 overs. India’s chase of the World Cup host’s modest target will be remembered for one shot – Yashpal Sharma moving well inside the line of a full-length ball from Bob Willis to flick him over backward square leg for a towering six. A stamp of authority that proclaimed India’s charge into the final.
By then, the situation at my relative’s home had also changed quite a bit. The audience glued to the TV swelled from just my ailing uncle and his grand nephews to our parents and even his team of doctors who could be heard discussing the intricacies of Mohinder Amarnath’s stop-and-start run-up with the same seriousness as they would his illness, a point noted by my uncle too. The diet pattern shifted too with delicious ‘thattu dosa’ (rice pan cakes made at makeshift street side stalls) and chilly chutney fighting for space with Pork Onion and Beef Double Fry from a state-run star hotel.
June 25, 1983. The final on a Saturday! We felt blessed. If only we had known that match scheduling was a fine art driven more by commercial considerations rather than deliverance after hours of prayers by ignorant souls like us.
Images of the Lord’s outfield, the hallowed turf which I still harbour hopes on stepping on barefoot and also at the Wimbledon Centre Court (yeah, you bet!), left us bewildered, to say the least. My aunt, an ace landscaping specialist who won many an award for the best maintained private lawn, wondered how they managed the various shades of grass at the Lord’s.
As is the case when you watch cricket with family, the game tends to take a backseat and India’s stuttering start dampened the mood even more. But Krishnamachari Srikkanth enlivened the evening with his devil-may-care attacking shots and his square drive on his knee remains one stroke which I’ve tried and failed miserably through my humbling cricketing years. Some things are best left to the experts.
Another image that remains etched in memory is the “Rolls Royce of Fast Bowling” Michael Holding steaming in from the boundary ropes. I think he did that extended run-up for two or three deliveries but the fallout, again, was copycat “fast” bowlers who badly gasped for breath by the time we reached our delivery stride.
Defending 183 in a World Cup final against the defending champions West Indies was no mean task, a prognosis that the team of doctors who had gathered to both watch the Final and check on my uncle had concurred without much dispute. But hope springs eternal and when Balwinder Singh Sandhu scalped Gordon Greenidge shouldering arms to what turned out to be a prodigious inswinging delivery, we all smelt something. I don’t think Sandhu could ever have reproduced that magic ball, something which the man who’s now a reputed coach has admitted many a time.
But when Viv Richards walked out with his traditional gum-chewing swagger and started smashing and caressing the ball to all corners of the park, we knew it was Game On. Or, was it Game Over? But skipper Kapil Dev had other plans running yards and yards towards the mid-wicket boundary to pouch a Richards’ skier which took forever to come down.
Soon the wickets started disappearing as fast as the hot ‘thattu dosas’ and the pork and beef that made their appearance at the appointed time and we all knew we were witnessing history being made.
When Amarnath trapped Holding leg before, we didn’t know what to do. Though not together, we all had watched in despair as India lost 7-1 to Pakistan in Hockey at the Delhi Asiad. We knew how a defeat could scar a nation’s conscience and the national sport forever.
A new religion called Cricket was born that day. But life and the game are great levelers. My uncle, a man who celebrated life, died a month later.