Sunday, February 1, 2009

Maanga Adi!

Thanks Kunal_clicks at Flickr

It was a hot Sunday afternoon. Channel Nine was showing the highlights of a beach cricket game between Australia and South Africa. This game was part of XXXX GOLD Beach Cricket Tri-Nations Series Summer played at Coolangatta Beach, Gold Coast. Jason Gillespie trotted in to bowl to a random South African batsman. There was no intensity in the game. The players were going through the motions for the sake of it. I was bored. The heavy 'Sunday Special' lunch made me feel dull and sleepy. Slouching on the couch, reminisce the cricket I used to play with my mates in Madras, I slipped into a nostalgic reverie...

Rewind back 10 years...

Madras. Summer holidays. Street cricket. Its them vs. us.
The best of five 'series' stands at 2 - 1 to our opponents. It's a must win game for us. We were confident and the intensity was high. I am A. I have B and C in my team. They have X, Y, Z. Its 6/6 (six overs per side). Z came up to me for the pakka street cricket version of toss - IN or OUT. Z showed his closed fist and asked "In or Out?". I said to C "Dei, nee sollu". C was the youngest in the team and had the reputation of calling it right when it matters. C cupped his palms under Z's closed fist (C does this so that Z does not cheat by hiding the stone between his fingers, if C calls in) and called "in". "Panni, epdi da eppavume correct-a solra" growled Z.

6PM. We won the toss. It was half-light of late evening and it wasn't going to get any better, so we chose to bat. It is an unwritten rule in street cricket that if you win the toss you, obviously, chose to bat. We would've chosen to bat anyway had we played with the Sun blazing on our heads. We were all out for a decent score of 31 with three deliveries to spare.

The light was fading. Since it was summer holidays, time was not an issue for us. All of us were eager to finish the game. But there was a problem - the state of our team ball. The rubber ball had a small superficial tear on its 'seam'. This is was the beginning of the end for the ball. From our vast experience, we knew all the balls need to split open is a powerful shot or to bounce of a sharp edge/stone on the road. As school kids we could only afford the ten-rupee rubber ball from naadar kadai. The reliable and longer-lasting Cosco or Jupiter tennis balls were a bit dearer.

Rubber balls always give up at the most inappropriate moment. This ball didn't fail to disappoint us. In the second ball of the innings, the ball announced its end with the 'pock' sound after it hit the deck. No one had any spare tennis/rubber balls. What to do? It was late twilight now. The light was fading. Our signal to finish playing was when Meenakshi Mami comes out with bucket of water and kola maavu (rice flour). Mami doesn't like anyone running over her kolam. Usually she'd say,"Pasangalaa, sandhyakalam. Iruttu ayidthu..ellarum aathukku pongo" and wait for us to finish. But today, she was a bit early for the kolam. Maybe she was in a rush. Kolam was drawn and she was off.

Coming back to the ball issue, none of us were willing to go. We were milling around wondering where we could find a ball. The chance of an angel handing us a ball on a silver plate was remote. Kids like us do not get extraordinary opportunities. We have to seize daily situations and make them favourable to us. We have to create/make our own opportunities. The house adjacent to our bowling crease was the residence of Viswanthan Iyer. I saw Viswanathan Iyer's grandson playing with a ball in their portico. Tling...bells rang. Bulbs flickered. I knew where our next ball was coming from. Getting the ball from this ten-year old was not an easy talk because he is a mini-Viswanathan Iyer himself.

Viswanathan Iyer (VI) was a retired man in his early sixties. He was known for his mercurial temper and angry outbursts. He was a man of many moods. VI was not only the supreme authority in his house -
he is also the great iyer-vaal of our colony. He treats cricket as a waste of time. He considers playing cricket, that too street cricket, inexcusable. VI proclaims he doesn't watch any cricket telecasts. But the Man is up to date with his views (mostly criticisms) on India's latest defeat. A common friend vowed he would never to talk cricket with VI after a peaceful conversation turned into high-pitched emotional monologue "Yenna captain saar indha Azharuddin. Prasad-a paarunga...Avan nadaiyum, avan moonjiyum. Thoongi ezhundhu vandha maadhiri podaran. Indha kammanatingallan India'ku aada vandhutaanga. These fellows are spoilt.". His face would become purple with rage when he recalled/quoted a spectacular only-india-can-do-it batting collapse "Ninnu aada matengaranga saar. Yedho vechada yeduka pora maadhiri, wicket thooki vitterinjitu poranga. Ivanga aadratha paatha, yennaku pathindu yeriyardhu". Since then, the common friend would think twice before entering our street.

VI, expectedly, was never happy with us playing cricket outside his house. He made a fuss whenever the ball went into his lawn. After VI did some home-renovations, he told us to play another place, may be in a ground. We chuckled and told him there were no grounds nearby. Back in our minds, we were like "aama, Chepauk Stadium, Nehru Stadium ellam tharandhu vechu engala "Come on, Come on" kuparanga paaru!, sariyaana tubelight mama neenga".

Street cricket layout

Coming back to the ball issue, VI's grandson, lets call him 'o' (for reasons which will be know soon), was playing with a tennis ball. I put to him an offer which was too good to refuse. The offer was: He would get a two gaajis - one over in the beginning of the innings and one over in the end. He can just sit on the compound wall and watch us play i.e. he doesn't have to field. "Naaa...amma kitta kett...", I intertupted him and said "Nee Amma kitta, aatukutti kitta, kettu vararthukula time ayidum. Ippo nee variya ilaiya?". He gave me a look which was a mix of surprise, excitement and suspicion. He agreed. o was an ordinary kid with no outstanding virtue of muscle or cricket-ability. o was our 'oppukuchappa'.

Game on. The target for X, Y and Z was 31 in 6 overs. B was our opening bowler and Y was the batsman in strike. B was our strike bowler and Y was their best batsman. The duel between B's bowling and Y's batting was stirring to watch. An outsider may not find the clash of B's bowling and Y's batting engrossing - let alone they realise there was a battle in the first place. For us, the game hinged on this battle. B and Y are good buddies off the field. The moment B, with a ball in his hand, marks his run up with a sengal and Y takes the leg stump guard, there was no friendship or fellowship between them. Fierce competition. The intensity raised a notch. Everyone was focused. No one spoke. This moment, this particular moment, where we are oblivious to the happenings around us, each and every person in both teams wait with a bated breath on what would unfold next is, for me, the essence of street cricket. Street cricket, in those moments, is more than a game. It is a feeling, a sensation. It is this passion which is the genesis of many fine Indian cricketers. There is no phenomenon like a street cricketer.

6.40PM. The score was 22 from 4 overs. They needed 10 runs from 12 balls with two wickets in hand. Easy you may think. Cricket is a funny game - always throwing up twists and turns. Y was batting. C bowled a half-tracker outside off stump. Y tried to loft it over the bowler's head but ended up getting a top edge. C back-pedalled, almost lost the ball due to bad light, but somehow sighted the ball and caught it in the last moment. We were back in the match. It was getting darker, but it did not matter to us. We just had to get one more wicket. We quickly got into positions. Just then o was called in by his mother. He quicky jumped of the compound wall, promptly took the ball from C and left. End of the day's game.

Thanks to Mai An Hoa Flickr

B, Y and I were going to watch India vs. West Indies Test at C's place. 8.30PM. We met outside C's place waiting for the match to start. There was a cool breeze, monotonously repetitive noises of night insects, the rustle of neem leaves - it was an idyllic evening. Y, sitting on his bicycle - Street Cat, said "Man, I almost had that shot...twas a pazham ball, if only had I watched the ball more closely, we would've won the game". I responded " were foxed by the pace, the lack of it. You did expect that ball to be a tad slower". X and Y nodded in muted agreement. B brought his bat (the free bat given if you buy Boost, one of the leading Health food drink) that night. He was shadow-batting and mimicking the stance, signature strokes of Tendulkar, Mark Waugh, Jadeja etc. There was a pile of jalli stones beside us. Y took the bat from B, grabbed a handful of jalli stones. With his left hand, Y tossed a stone in the air, as the stone rised up and came down, he gently stroked it along the road. Y displayed perfect execution of various strokes, the power in his hits increased with every stroke. B and I sat on the compound wall listening to crunching sound of stone meeting the bat and tried to spot each stone as it made its way to the street's dead end.

Suddenly, Y with a smirk on his face, chirped "Idha paar (Check this out)". He,once again, tossed a stone up in the air. This time the stone went little higher and away from Y than usual. Y attempted a flat batted hit, more like a tennis-forehand. The stone hit the toe-end of the bat and BANG! We looked at each other and ran.

Thank God it rained the next day. We knew we broke something in either VI's or Meenakshi Mami's house.

Two days later, we were back playing for the first time after that night. The incident was lurking in the back of our minds. C and X, who live in the street, did not mention anything to us. When we were just about to finish for the day, VI came outside. We were almost sh*ting in our pants expecting a dramatic denouement. "Dei pasangalaa, inga vangada. Rendu naal munaadi, naanga aathla illadha podhu, enga aathla thirudan vandhirdan. Idha paaru...(pointing at the front door) glass-a odachu, ulla vara try pannirkan. Door grill irudhadhu naala pozhachom. Indha area'la aal nadamattam romba jaasthi-a irruku. Neenga yaravadhu suspicious-a yevanachu paathela da?". Y, putting on a puppy face, in a beautiful Thirunelveli-jilla accent, "illa mama. Indha area-la kadavaali pasanga remmba jaasthi aitaanga! Nallaa-ve illa". VI sighed and said "Hmm...Seri, neenga pongo".

As we walked back, the three of us felt a heavy burden off our chests. That night, we assembled again outside C's place to watch the final day of Ind v WI test match. We were sitting on the compound wall just staring at VI's residence. I said to Y, "andha shot-a nee marupadiyum correct-a adikala...aana, machan, adhu Maanga adi".

Disclaimer: All characters are fictitious. Any resemblences are supposedly coincidental :D


  1. Ah a very nostalgic commentary of childhood cricket days and I think you should seriously consider giving journalism a go .You write quite a gripping style and in a flowing kind of way.keep it up.

  2. excellent da...yengeyop kondupoita!!

    maams keep writing..


  3. you reminded me of a post from my memory...

    looks like you are years younger than me and you relived a very similar experience!


  4. yes...memories!

    welcome and thanks for dropping a line!

  5. Bro... excellent post!! Well written in good detail. Brings back lot of great memories. Wish I could play gully right now!!

  6. Paambin Kal Paambu AriyumMarch 22, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    I am proud of you my dear....I remember few of these...and cannot forget tubelight breaking, alarm clock being given a square cut