At the Ground
November 11, 2006
by Aparajith Ramnath
Reading about cricket always puts me in a good mood. Especially when the writing is top-notch, combining the evergreen qualities of literature with the warm glow of the sporting activity it describes.
Such are the entries in The Picador Book of Cricket, a book that I had heard much about but never read until recently, when I have been able to read some of the pieces in it.
Some of the writing about the pleasures of watching a cricket match led me to think about my own experiences of watching cricket live, in Chennai and in Pune.
The first first-class match I can remember watching was a Duleep Trophy match in Chennai (then Madras), at the MA Chidambaram Stadium at Chepauk, a ground which has been synonymous with high quality cricket for my generation (earlier generations saw some Test matches at the Corporation Stadium). I must have been younger than ten, but I remember clearly the experience of sitting in the Madras Cricket Club members’ pavilion, courtesy of a relative who is a member, and watching a Central Zone off-spinner bag a clutch of wickets against a West Zone team that featured, if I remember right, Vinod Kambli, Amol Mazumdar, and Sachin Tendulkar (though I think the last of these was not batting on the day). That off-spinner, Rajesh Chauhan, was selected to play for India soon after.
Watching Test matches was a step higher in terms of excitement. The cavernous stands at Chepauk with concrete roofs that helped to keep the sun out just a little, the colour in the stands, the chit-chat among neighbouring spectators, the Mexican waves that did the rounds every now and then – all these were new and stimulating experiences. I once saw a fellow spectator with a portable TV so they could catch the replays; years later when I saw my (so far) last Test match at the stadium, some of the stands had TVs mounted on the pillars, beaming live (well, almost live, there being a delay of about a second) action and replays. (The mammoth scoreboard at the Kumbhat Stand end of the ground, which used to have the players’ names and scores painted in bright yellow across a black background is now gone; in its stead stands an electronic replay-displaying scoreboard carted all the way from an Australian ground.) It was here also that I tasted first-hand the strange but palpable yearning of every spectator at the stadium to get his or her fifteen seconds of fame by being shown on television. There was much frantic waving of hands and witty banners whenever the cameramen turned his lens in our direction.
From there it was on to Pune. I don’t know if the Poona Club still hosts Ranji Trophy matches, but if it does, it must surely be unique in being a first-class venue with almost no seating for spectators – the only spectators being the ones in the club house. The ground itself was lush green, and its historical significance in being the venue of B.B. Nimbalkar’s famous 443 not out in years gone by made it glow a little more in my eyes. The sightscreen was a white cloth tied to a bamboo frame, quite unlike the Test match grounds where the practice of using sliding panels to use the sightscreen at the batsman’s end as an advertisement had already become established.
If Poona Club was the epitome of this dichotomous city’s ‘Camp’ or cantonment area, then Nehru Stadium was right in the middle of the more traditional ‘City’ area. This was where the one-dayers were played, and it seated thousands of people, though perhaps fewer than Chepauk. At this ground I did not have the privileged behind-the-bowler’s-arm view of the cricket, but watched the action from a shamiana-covered stand square of the wicket. The memories from here are not very detailed, except the way people rolled their paper caps into cones and shouted ‘oo-aa-oo-aa-oo-aa’ as the bowler began his run-up.
Watching the action on television just does not compare with the real thing. When you are at the ground, you can feel the speed at which the pacer hurls the ball, sense the quickness of the batsman’s reflexes, see the effort the fielder at fine leg actually makes when he sprints all the way to the square leg boundary. There is no commentary, and so you are closer to the players. You see things as they see them. You feel the heat they feel. You glance up at the scoreboard just as they do. When the twelfth man runs up with a bottle of water, you, sitting in the stands, reach for your own. Now which channel can top that?