Tuesday, November 28, 2006

purano sei diner kotha

Like music, certain words have this magical ability to waft you off to the deepest recesses of your mind and make you relive memories long lost in the unrelenting march of time. I had one such 'Deja Vu" experience as I was browsing through an usually lacklustre CricInfo interview - this time featuring Monty Panesar. Panesar was talking about his experience/struggles with the australian Kookaboora balls and how he has grown up on a diet of Duke's ball. The word Duke's ball immediately took me to my childhood and early youth in Kolkata where we played with the "Deuce" ball - obviously a Bong twist to this venerable British manufacturer. As I looked out wistfully thru the window at my work and peered into the dark gloomy late fall sky of Omaha I was transported to the pleasant sunny winter mornings at Deshapriya Park in KOlkata and my tryst with the Duke's ball. This was the late 80s when India was still the socialist state with limited opportunities, two govt run television channels and hours and hours of power cut. Young teenagers still went out to play in whatever little patch of grass they could lay their hands on and computers and internet were still science fiction stuff. My life used to revolve around going to school and get lost in the hundreds and thousands of students (yes the school I went to, was at one time, the school with the highest number of students in the world) and then come back and rule my para (neighborhood) in whatever sport we played. I was really good in cricket and I would be hired by different teams from surrounding paras to play for them in important matches. In Kolkata parlance it was called "khep khela". However this was all in tennis ball cricket - I ruled the tennis ball cricket in my area like a king. But Duece ball was another story. As we started to get some money to buy cricket kits and could afford to buy a decent set for the entire team we started graduating to leather ball cricket. One of our friends' dad who was someway connected to the club that played at Deshapriya Park gave us a box of balls and we were all set. There was one problem though. Unlike tennis ball cricket which u can play anywhere, leather ball cricket needed a prepared piece of grass called the pitch. And whoever who has grown up in big cities in India know how difficult to find such an empty pitch in public playgrounds. And being a younger group just graduating to the big league we were the one who were always pushed around by the seniors. Our only solution :- to go play at 5:30 in the morning. We would take turns in waking up at 5:00 and go and occupy the pitch. And unlike today's kids in Kolkata our final exams would be in December and then we would have a long winter vacation, so we used to maintain this ritual for two long months.
But I digress...The switch to Duke's ball was a deathknell to my numero uno position in my team. Within the first week I sustained a nasty blow on my knuckles from a ball that reared from the good length as our left hand quickie Bhanti (like most guys in KOl this was his nickname, I do not even know his real name) exploited the underprepared pitch. The next week I almost did a Saba Karim. I used to keep wickets and a two bouncer reared its ugly head as it came into my gloves and almost knocked my left eye off. Already smarting from a confidence zapping blow to the finger this disaster left me a nervous wreck. I never kept wickets after that and always batted at number 4 when my usual position was to open the innings. I was scared to go onto the front foot, the red blood clot on the knuckles not too distant a memory. I was a shadow of the player who would majestically plant his front foot forward in tennis ball cricket and whip the ball around. I would potter around in a no-man's land in the leather ball version and the result was unfailingly bad. So you will never see me criticise a Yuvi or a Dhoni or a Veeru on their footwork(or lack of it), who knows even they might have had a bloddy knuckle in their first games. I understand them better than most cricket fans as these mental scars are so hard to heal. The upgrade to the Duke's ball had nipped a great talent in the bud because I was sure that if there was an Indian tennis ball team I would have surely played for it, just that the powers that be conspired to make me a rotound S/W worker and not a crisp, thoroughbred cricketer.
Ok back to Ms Project....

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