I promised in Oct 2010 to post four articles on the various phases of my cricketing career. You can read that post here. After 4 months, I managed to complete the first part of the four part series, "Uncrowned King of Gully Cricket @ PAK Stadium ". Hope you enjoy it!!
The earliest memory I have about my initiation into this game of cricket goes back to when I was 5 years old. Remember Tortoise and have a flashback!! We were staying for a brief period at New Colony in Tuticorin and the youngsters in that locality used to play cricket in front of our house during the weekends. I used to watch them play. I don't remember ever getting a chance to bat or bowl. Guess nobody gets at that age!! During the same time, one of my relatives presented me with a wooden bat and even took a photograph with that (am searching for that to upload the photograph). My first and last cricket equipment of my own!! More on that in the later posts.
We moved to Andal Street from New Colony and there I was lucky to have a big playground in front of my house. It wasn't a playground actually, but it was the Pathirakali Amman Temple with a huge open space on the front side of the temple. The open area is used for temple festivals and for the rest of the days in the year, it is for the boys of the locality to play and engage in all sort of activities. Between the temple ground and our house, there was a railway line which added practically extra space. In those days, there were few passenger trains to Tuticorin and the odd goods train. Therefore, practically it was railway land with no traffic at all. I really doubt if there is any place like this for kids even in small towns like Tuticorin now. The last time, I visited this place 2 years back, the temple has diligently built a compound wall, railways have installed a raised railings and there is no ground for the children to play. Alas, what a deprivation!
Coming back to my days, we conveniently named it PAK Stadium after the the temple, Pathirakali Amman Koil (PAK) and for the next 5 years or so, I played so much of cricket with my friends there. There was a good bunch of guys of my age and we instantly formed a group. Quite a few of them are in regular contact even to this day like Balaji and Sonachalam. Our typical cricket session would start in the evening once we return from the school. We gang up by 5 PM and we used to play for atleast one and half hours everyday before light goes off and people get back home to watch DD News! If you are lucky, you get to watch Scooby-do in Rupavahini TV (Srilankan TV) No tuitions, no paatu class or karate class. Evenings were all for us. I pity the present generation, including my Junior!
We played with rubber ball. We bought rubber balls for Rs2/- at the Muthukumaran Stores on the East Car Street or from the Bajrang Store on the WGC Road. We never played with the Tennis balls. We used to collect money among the friends and go as a group to the shop to buy a rubber ball. The elaborate process of rubber ball selection includes testing the bounce quality, ruggedness and the shape!!!
We drew stumps on the temple wall with the charcoal picked up from the nearby charcoal shop or from the left-overs of the pongal panai, which were offered to the Pathirakali Amman. We had our own rules which were unique to PAK stadium environment. There was only one batsman and no runners. Most of the times we played only with runs allowed on the leg side. On a normal week day, we would have 7-8 guys split into two teams. Both the teams have to field and the matches at times goes over couple of days. The innings were not restricted by overs. But we never played underarm bowling!!
I used to be an allrounder, who can bat and bowl. I remember always being the first batsman from my team. Batting came to me very naturally and used to be a big hitter. I rarely got out without hitting couple of sixes or fours in any innings whoever may be the bowler. My sixes used to be huge ones, which I wonder now, how I managed, considering the fact that I used to be a short and lean boy at that time. For that matter, even when I studied tenth standard, my classmates used to call me "kattai" and one of my friends till date calls me "kattai" (Dr Kesavan, who, by the way, is shorter than me now!!!!) The bowlers were treated with disdain and contempt and invariably the team I was in won the match. I am not really trying to boast myself here but I guess, the team I was in always won was a fact. So there naturally a competition to be in my team, the winning team! When it came to bowling, I tried to bowl fast and at times ended up chucking. But there was never a problem with that and nobody complained about this. We had no Daniel Harpers those days, even when I played league cricket in Tuticorin, a fiery fast bowler who went by the "Kaattan" Murali literally chucked the ball. He even went on to play at the District level. So much for the 15 degree bent and other rules we have now for the bowlers)
I am trying to recall the names of the guys who played cricket with me in PAK Stadium. The names I can remember are Balaji, Sonachalam, Arumugasundaram, Appu, Kali, Selvam and many more. The last two names are definitely not a pleasant mention here because, they used to be the bad boys of our locality and who would bully us for a free gaugee. They will not field and when they want they will just ask us to bowl to them. They were of our same age group but somehow they became the "dadas". They behaved like that because of their ancestry. Selvam, was the son of the temple trustee and Kali was the grandson of the yesteryear rowdy in Tuticorin. I guess every growing cricketer would have a story like this to tell.
Come weekends, the number of people wanting to play cricket increases and we would have much bigger teams. At times guys from the locality who were part of other teams also join with us and we play together. There used to be a Deiva's team from Raja Pillai Mudukku, a Ranganathapuram team (where Anand Rajagopalan lived) and Nandagopalapuram's team. One instance I vividly remember is that of me causing a bump on the forehead of the bowler. I hit a lofted straight drive with so much force, it landed on his forehead even before he could complete his bowling action. He developed a swelling immediately and ran back home. Next I remember was his mother cursing all of us for causing hurt to her son. Can't help it! Many summers came and went and we spent all our time on the cricket ground. I still being "fondly" called by my Aunts and Uncles as "Care of Platform" for the time I spent on the ground.
Couple of senior guys who happened to watch me play, asked me if I would like to play with the "cork" ball. I accepted the offer and started playing with Seenis. Yes, two of them with the same name. One is "Katta" Seeni and the other "Nettai" Seeni. Yes, those days, we played with cork balls before you graduate to cricket balls, because of the the longevity and the bounce of the ball. You can play on the beach or on a muddy surface with the cork balls. So, here I go from a rubber ball cricketer to a cricket ball cricketer via cork ball.
More to come.