It was the summer of 1964. I’d just been introduced to the intricacies of rules of cricket. The first Ashes test was being played at Trent Bridge. And the first cricket snap I pasted in my scrapbook was that of a debuting Geoff Boycott caught splendidly by Bobby Simpson, diving to his right at first slip, off Corling, for 48. Every morning at school, as we trudged back to our Standard IV classroom after the Assembly, we took great delight in exchanging notes on Cricket played the previous evening in Old Blighty. I can still recall our animated discussions when Simpson scored 311 in the 4th test at Old Trafford, and the masterly 256 by Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter’s dexterous 172 in England’s reply.
With cricket suffusing our young minds and governing our actions, the evenings had to be cricket only – no more badminton or table tennis. But then we’re diehard Anglophiles and we had to be back by 5.45 to listen to the BBC cricket commentary. And of course, read the Sport and Pastime. Cricket, Lovely Cricket, the weekly column by Alex Bannister was a must-read and in no time I’d gone through fifty-odd past numbers quickly borrowed from a cricket-crazy uncle. Such was the quick metamorphosis that by the time the same Oz team was in India on its way back home after the Ashes, I was ready to receive them warmly in my young mind.
Even today, what seems an aeon, I can still vividly recall the 2nd Test played at the Brabourne Stadium. India was chasing 254 to win the match. Nawab of Pataudi (not Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi yet!) and courting Sharmila Tagore, had got out for 53 reducing India to 224/8. Hope of victory was quickly ebbing. Out trudged Indrajit Sinhji, the new gawky Indian wicket-keeper preferred over Engineer and Kunderan, to give Borde the company. The commentator’s voice choked with nervousness. Slowly as evening descended and we sat glued to radio, our hearts pounding and with prayers on our lips, the target seemed getting closer. Each stroke played, every single stolen that bridged the gap was received with thunderous applause, which made it difficult for us to hang on to the commentator’s words. But the din meant India was getting there, and there was no earthly reason for us to panic in faraway Cuttack. Then with just 2 runs required, Borde drove the left-arm spinner Tom Veivers imperiously to the mid-wicket boundary. India had cantered home by two wickets! The sound and splutter of crackers that welcomed the Indian victory refused to die down. It was Vijaya Dashmi Day – the 15th October 1964 and history was being made. We were in cloud nine.
The winning stroke by Borde splashed in all the English newspapers quickly found its way to my scrapbook. It would still be there somewhere – stashed safely away in the family’s lumber room! But the memory of that Dussehra evening is firmly etched in memory. So much so that decades later I asked Chandu Borde the first thing when we gossiped in the walking tracks of the Poona Club how it felt to be in the middle trying to string a partnership with Indrajit Sinhji and take India to victory. He flashed a most beatific smile and conveyed in his own disarming way it was all very heady.
“And how it felt to face Hall, Griffith and Gilchrist at their fiercest without the protective helmet, thigh guard, chest guard, and elbow guard etc etc?”
Borde’s face clouded over in the cow-dust hours of a winter evening as though he was facing the missiles yet again hurled at him by these mean merchants of speed. “You know,” he began, his voice cracking, “we had no time to think about the stroke to play. They’re so fast that often by the time one looked back at the keeper to see where the ball was, it had been relayed back to the bowler.” The West Indians were unarguably the world champions then in the 1960s and boasted of such cricketing legends as Gary Sobers, Frank Worrell, Conrad Hunte, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Clive Lloyd, Seymour Nurse, Lance Gibbs in their ranks. And more importantly played cricket the calypso way.
“I still remember the two centuries you scored off them at Bombay and Madras in 1966-67 Test series,” I said, my voiced tinged with admiration. “I shall always marvel your efforts against the Windies as the best by any Indian batsman in an era when cricket was a sport and not a religion.”
We were chatting this time in the cricket pavilion of the Poona Club now fittingly named Chandu Borde Cricket Pavilion after he had inaugurated a cricket match our two offices were playing. “Today things have changed,” Chandubhai said, and without a trace of rancour. “We didn’t have the comforts cricketers have today. We travelled by train and stayed in humble hotels. And we were paid a measly sum!” He wasn’t complaining; he was only helping me to sketch the cricketing architecture in my mindscape – of an era that meant so much to me – as a kind of nostalgia when cricket had devoured me fully.
Now peaking middlescence and with the apparition of advanced years threatening to swoop down on me, I still remain the cricket buff of yore. But alas, with a huge difference. My visions of cricket have been in ferment – ever since the World Series Cricket in the late 1970s when it was “Kerry Packered”. Channel Nine TV changed all that I’d valued dearly and hugged close to my heart. The state-of-the-art television technology left nothing to imagination. The once-gentleman’s pastime of the occident that combined the languid feline silkiness of oriental charm with the romantic English countryside, has now transmogrified into a monster industry of today with Hawk Eyes, Third Umpires, Match Referees, Slow Motions, Ultra Slo-Mos, Hot Spots, Snickometers, Extraaa Innings, Noodle-Straps, T-20 cricket, IPL and cheerleaders adding to the cacophony of cricket played in 40-plus temperature, franchisees and big money bickering and scandal, and plethora of ICC rules to oversee quotidian infractions perpetrated by robotic mercenaries.
In throwback nostalgia how I wish I could play it back to my halcyon days and draw the collage in my mind much as I did when Trevor Bailey commentated in his measured, cadenced voice: “McKenzie comes in from the Hill-Port end and bowls… on the middle-and-off stump… the ball swinging away… takes the edge of Edrich’s bat and travels… to the third slip… who… dives full-length to his right and… and o… o… scoops the ball up in one hand… a splendid catch indeed by… Cowper!” and the measured, calibrated claps of the English crowd reverberating around the packed cricket stadium and streaming into the microphone! And I in my mind’s eye following the ball’s trajectory and journeying right off McKenzie’s arm – pitching, swinging, nicking the bat and landing in the hallowed hand of a diving Bob Cowper as other fielders leap cock-a-hoop in delight!