Great heroes are often not those whom history talks about. They are people who create the extraordinary around the ordinary, whose everydayness has a magic that we all love to celebrate. I knew a man who loved cricket, who taught everyone around him to play cricket, think cricket, live cricket. He was not a test cricketer, not even a state-level player, but he breathed cricket.
Virat Kohli could score a hundred centuries but somehow he was not a Dravid or a Tendulkar. They spoke different languages. Photo: PTI
Cricket, for him, was an act of storytelling where every ball bowled was a fable. Cricket was an initiation into the world; a course in fairness, manliness. When you braved a bouncer, you braved the world.
It did not make a difference what level of cricket you played. Street cricket was as much of an art form as test cricket; the heroes of an alley armed with old chewed-up bats were as precious as Don Bradman or Keith Miller. Cricket was morality — you did not break its rules because to betray cricket was to betray life. A little anecdote about Bradman was as precious as a Zen story.
Cricket and science created our world views in childhood. How an Einstein thought or a Bradman played were tests of integrity. You were only as good as the last ball you bowled, but goodness consisted in assessing every ball you bowled. Memory was critical. Chronicling all this were the newspapers of the fifties and sixties, where Norman Yardley, Jack Fingleton, SK Gurunathan, and Neville Cardus wrote commentaries.
A commentary was more than a discourse. It was a way of looking at life, of celebrating every moment. It demanded judgment and generosity. Saying you loved cricket was a sign that you belonged to a magical world. A man of 80 was younger than a child of 10. In a way, cricket taught us more about the way to live in the world than science, Bollywood or democracy did, all of which were competing paradigms of how a boy should grow up.
Commentary was a way of looking at history, and celebrating everydayness as history. Here, a nukkad game was as important as any event in Lords. Any stroke, every stroke had to be masterly and had to be celebrated. Cricket without the storyteller was doomed. There was a playful innocence to this world. You did not have to be the best, but you had to know what or who was the best.
My hero, C, taught me that — that holding a cricket bat was holding on to life. Little things mattered, little generosities were remembered. I remember C telling me about my father. My father visited him one day, and C said he had bought a new white cricket cap. My father requested him to lift it and C found a brand new cricket ball. My father said that is a hat trick and C loved the ritual that went with the gift.
Cricket was an idiom into a deeper world of friendship, a sibling solidarity that stretched across generations. I must confess that I was lousy at cricket. I was never allowed to field at slip, but exiled to the boundary line, a dream place where you could be part of a team and yet remain part of yourself. I must have dropped every critical catch but it did not matter because I loved the game. At least I was good at finding the ball when it sought refuge among the bushes.
I also realised cricket was never complete without the catch-dropper. When you survived the ignominy, you could survive any test in life.
C never taught in a university, but he was one of life’s great teachers. He taught one the little things: how to hold a bat, how to shine a ball. He taught me that there was a cricketer in each one of us and one had to hold on to that.
Cricket was not just a way of doing things. It was a world of values. When someone said, “that’s not cricket”, one realised he was saying that is not the way you lived life. You took these lessons into every domain looking for a Bradman. Bradman was class, the ultimate idea of the classical, the gold standard that never got devalued. Cricket gave you an aesthetics of judgment and a continuous way of improving yourself. It was called the replay. A replay was not only what you enacted in the nets. It was a heuristics for the mind.
I still try to replay the shot I goofed up in class 10. Replay is a chance, an invitation to elegance, to the perpetual improvement that life and cricket demand. Play is not possible without replay. I keep replaying the shots of my life. Oddly, C was not a great cricketer but cricket gave him a sense of the genius of life.
Talking of the models of life, a friend once said: “There were two Cs in our life. One was a great astrophysicist, Chandrasekhar, the other a lover of cricket.” But, he said, one “could not aspire to be C1 without being C2. To understand greatness, one needs generosity, judgment, a sense of the rules of the game. Whether it was science or music, one needed this sense of cricket.
Cricket was a paradigm of how to live life and replay it.
Missing the game
I once heard that C was depressed towards the end. People were worried that he was watching a wretched Hindi serial on TV when a cricket match was on. I do not know the full details. But I felt C was missing the world of Dravid, Tendulkar and Kumble and the earlier sense of classic vitality he got from Bishen, Chandra or Pataudi. Then cricket was play, now it had become a commodity game.
It was as if a civilisation was dying. Virat Kohli could score a hundred centuries but somehow he was not a Dravid or a Tendulkar. They spoke different languages — it was as if poetry had become prose. C knew that without that brilliance of simplicity, one lost a sense of genius for a game.
One must always fine-tune for integrity. It was intuitive. You just knew it inside you. In a deep sense, like all cricketers, he was an everyday moralist without the piety of one. C died a few months ago. It was as if a piece of music had disappeared. There was a sadness, but it could not last. One remembered an anecdote, and soon story upon story piled up and we celebrated cricket and life.
One said a silent goodbye as one quietly replayed a stroke he taught you. One doffed one’s cap to an innings well played. It is a pity life does not allow for replays.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)