Monday 21 May 2007

It was not to be

In India, cricket and films form an essential part of one’s upbringing. It was no different for me, although I was bitten more by the bug called cricket, than films.

It had nothing to do with the cricketing skills but everything with the looks – rather the lack of them. I was more likely to pass as a cricketer, than a film actor.

Being short and stocky, a euphemism for fat, they called me Gundappa. I was elated to be nick named after Vishwanath and soon ‘square cut’ became my preferred stroke. My cousin - never to miss an opportunity to bully me - called me Erapally, for the same reasons that my friends called me Gundappa. I tried bowling off spinners, but soon found that it was not my cup of tea.

But the player I adored most was the one and only Sunil Gavaskar. I opened the batting for my local team and modeled my play on the lines of little master. I even prayed that I never grow tall, for in my books only short players made great batsmen. It was a prayer I regret till date.

We played cricket everywhere. In the long verandah, on a badminton court, on roads and of course the maidans. In summer vacation, when the rising mercury forced an unwelcome embargo from the elders, we converted a small room at my cousin’s place into our own playground. This room was actually rented out to a professional, who stayed there as a paying guest. The unsuspecting soul had little idea that no sooner did he leave for his work, than the room metamorphosed itself into what we proudly called ‘The Lords Cricket Club’.

Indoors, the rules were different. One bounce catch was ‘Out’, and so was a direct hit on the sidewalls. A straight hit to the opposite wall, along the ground, oops floor, was a four. Sometimes, each player represented a whole team, which in effect meant that we had to get him out 10 times to constitute an ‘all out’. And so, we played as West Indies, India, Australia, England and in the process donned the garbs of some of the great players of the time. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to be ‘Pakistan’, because a win for you meant a win for Pakistan too - a strict no those days. But we were always ‘Pakistan’ in an inconsequential match which we ‘wanted’ to lose.

My tryst with serious cricket ended on a fine sunny morning, during the selection trials for BCA (Bombay Cricket Association) camp. We were asked to write down our preferred batting positions. I promptly wrote - Right hand opening batsman - all in capitals. The coach smiled and remarked, "Ah, like Sunil Gavaskar". I could not have been more pleased. With puffed chest, I was raring to have a go at the bowlers, padding up a good fifteen minutes before my allotted turn.

The first ball I faced was defended down the pitch in Gavaskar esque manner. Second one was cut to point. The third one missed and on the fourth I was well and truly bowled, trying to flick an over-pitched delivery.

Till today, I hold a grudge against the cricket authorities for not looking at the larger picture. That fateful day, India lost out on a potentially great cricketer – Gavaskar and a Vishwanath, rolled into one!

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