Howz T?

Boys' cricket was cricket at its best. For many, indeed most, GCI provided their first encounter with cricket. It could hardly be said that parents sent their boys to GCI just to learn cricket, so they hid the fact and would rather loftily say that they were sent to receive an education. In truth, I swear, they were sent to learn cricket.

We were told to turn out in whites. Cleanliness was next to Godliness. It may sound funny, but there was glamour in turning out in immaculate white although we did not know at first how we would recognise our opponents when they too turned out in white. I was warned in my time not to wear red underwear, which was my favourite, less they showed beneath my whites and obscured the batting screen.

We were introduced to the motion of bowling and this resulted in a wide range of actions. Some, almost like music, made a rhythmical motion of it. They went on to bowl for their House or the School. The rest of the boys were consigned to bowling pieces of chalk or graduated into bowling pebbles or lemons from the orchard. They were a sorry sight. But, given a game, they could bowl out a good batsman, not from the delivery of a good ball but from a weary and angry response by the batsman.

Many who bowled for the School will be remembered for trotting, almost galloping, on their run-up to the stumps, as they gathered energy and pace to unleash their missiles. The opposing batsmen will be remembered for murmuring as the balls whistled past them. The murmur was usually the Lord's Prayer in thanks for having survived a missile.

We were also shown the batting stance. Some awkwardly held the bat and had their buttocks pointing to high heavens. You didn't have to be told that they held the bat in morbid trepidation. Some tucked the bat between their legs, ever so protective of their manly assets. A few emerged who were the exponents of the varied shots. They could play on the front foot or on the back foot. They could cut, hook and drive. They were the artists.

In our days, we had only reflex, the pads and the bat to prevent bodily harm. Nothing like the sort of gear they wear these days. They have a helmet, arm protector, thigh protector, chest protector and the like. Cricket in our times, protected only our family assets for future use. Once the assets were protected, all sorts of batting shots emerged. There were some unorthodox shots where the bat, in contact with the ball, made a clattering noise. With the noise, the spectators at the pavilion looked to the boundary for the ball but fielders knew better and picked up the ball right at the feet of the batsmen. While good batting is good contact and a clean noise with no overtones, the loudest batting noise came from the batsmen whom made few runs. Their wild swings were whirlwind of fury often guiding the ball away from the bat. When contact was eventually made, it killed the ball dead. No run was made, except when, deluded, they started a race to make a run thinking the ball was gone. Such fools were dismissed by the umpires raising not one finger but five which was both a dismissal and a parental curse.

The red ball got into your hands red-hot following a crack of the bat. Some held on to the ball like a magnet to iron. Many just felt the heat of the ball and threw their hands behind them in pain and in submission to leave and let the ball go past. Players were forgiven for not holding onto a furnace. It was impossible for eleven players to form a fielding net tightly around a massive cricket field. However, the most unforgiving demand for any fielder was when the ball was sent sky-high and the world waited ominously. The fielder, in preparation for a catch, cupped his hands and suddenly both cup and ball dropped. Many fielders have been found to drop too in fervent prayers for the whole School or the House to forgive and forget about the missed catch after the game. The good Lord turns a deaf ear to such prayers and the School and the House remember the missed catch for eternity!

The pavilion was a spectacle on its own. It was full of talk about what would happen next and then what did not happen. When you least expected it, something happened; a wicket went down and the spectators exploded, or a ball rolled to the boundary and the crowd cheered the ball along, hoping that the cheer would aid the ball to ease over the boundary or there is a superb catch that leaves both the field and the pavilion momentarily breathless. Most cheers went to the bat and that cracking sound.

The most controvertible element of the game was when a run was 'stolen'. The fielders were offended and embarrassed when this took place because it just simply meant that they had been dozing a bit in the eyes of the pavilion. The most comical was when the batsmen, in a state of confusion, stalled in the middle of making a run, not knowing whether to go forward or backward. The spectator's advice on this matter made their situation worse, for sound travelled, in this instance, more slowly than cricket throw, with the wicket keeper uprooting both the stumps and bails.

It did not matter if a House had nine out of the best eleven on their side, when it came to inter-house completion, the line between the Houses were narrowly drawn. It takes one ball to get out a good batsman and just the same for a bad one. With the inter-house competition, the bat and the ball were converted into warfare. Like all wars, fury, fear and nervousness were all pent up and wickets collapsed like cards. The crown of it all was that some Houses went on to win by successfully defending a score as low as 13 runs. In cricket, as in life, you never give up.

Finally, we took strict lessons on the role of the umpires. They could accept tempestuous howling by way of appeals on the field but their decisions were unquestionable. Such was their awesome power and control that they stayed in the middle of a vast field and let the players report back by signal on whether the ball had gone past an imaginary boundary. Honour was inculcated. The finality of their decision was such that when they raised a finger up, it was both a dismissal and advice that you could appeal only to the heavens. Their decisions were so unchallengeable that cricket scores were recorded in pencil on the score sheets as enduring and unalterable legacies. The laws of cricket abhor forgeries. To be dishonest is simply not cricket. Life's essence is around the truth. What an education we had and what a load of fun it was. Howz't?

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