30 summers ago, in Tengina Topu, for 11 pencils

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: It’s one of those days in the long summer holiday season of 1975.

In the ‘Tengina Topu’ in Saraswathipuram, amidst the hundred-odd guys playing a range of games from goli to chinni dandu to tikki to lagori, a cricket match is in progress.

The match is being played not with a hard, red, shining cricket ball but with a tennis ball, ‘organised’ after much string-pulling at the Mysore Tennis Club for a grand sum of two rupees. For some unknown reason they would never give away old, used balls in a hurry those days. The bounce and tension of the ball is adequate for it to be used for cricket as it has gone through only a few ‘sets’ at the tennis club.

A few buffaloes graze around in the ‘topu’, pulling out grass in rasping bursts. A ball hit with Lawrence Rowe-like power hammers into the rump of one of the buffaloes somewhere in the region of long on. Four runs are declared!

A coconut tree that has grown in a strange arc near short mid-wicket is what you are expected to aim at when you swing your bat. The rule says that two runs should be declared straightaway without any argument if the ball hits any part of the tree! 2D!!

There’s a leg spinner from that 9th main team who can turn the ball at vicious angles and at a speed that can bemuse you. Facing him means a good helping of guts and dollops of caution. Not to speak of quicksilver footwork and lots of self-esteem.

He’s at the top of his bowling mark. The bunch of urchins seated among the herd of grazing buffaloes somewhere in the direction of deep mid wicket begin to clap rhythmically. The bowler comes in to bowl. The ball pitches on or around the leg stump and is feverishly spinning into the middle.

The batsman tries to swing it away in the direction of the urchins to deep midwicket. He misses it completely and is hit bang in the ‘box’. He falls to the ground writhing in pain. Much like soccer players who have had a rough tackle in the heat of competition. Even a tennis ball can hurt, mind you.

There is derisive laughter from the wicketkeeper and the slips. A buffalo lifts its head lazily and moos as if to show its disapproval at the unsportsmanlike-like behaviour of a few members of the 9th main team.

The score card reads 26 for 6. We better get some runs on the board. ‘Thai Thai Thai Bangari….’wafts a song from Giri Kanye through a ‘mike set’ from somewhere in the direction of Kanne Gowdana Koppal.

We friends had enjoyed the film at Padma Talkies just a few days before the match. The outing cost us two rupees! The cost of the ticket was one-rupee seventy-five paise plus 15 paise for ‘churumuri’ and 10 paise for ‘batani’! As for transportation we had youthful legs powered by chirpy eagerness!

Coming back to the match, we lose it convincingly. They are too good for us on the day. Especially the leg spinner whose match figures read 7 for 15. The match is played on a ‘one innings’ basis.

The captains meet in the centre of the wicket. The losing captain hands over eleven pencils to his winning counterpart. It’s a ‘pencil’ match. And then, there’s ‘dilkhush’ to be had at the V.B. Bakery.

Back home after a tiring day, there is ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ and ‘Chandamama’ to be read. And photographs of the series between India and the West Indies to be carefully cut from Deccan Herald and Prajamatha and stuck in a scrap book.

It doesn’t matter if the photos are smudged a little and the print has overlapped in places. After all they are cricket pictures to be treasured.

Especially the one in Prajamatha, featuring G.R. Vishwanath essaying a firm square cut in the Madras Test despite an umbrella of five slips and two gullies with the keeper standing well back. Like hungry vultures crouching for the kill. A spine chilling sight indeed. Of an innings of amazing courage and technique in the face of adversity.

Vishwanath had his battles to fight. On the cricket grounds of the world. For the sake of the country’s honour and pride.

We had our own battles to fight too. For the sake of ‘pencils’ and ‘dilkhush’ at the 6th main V.B. Bakery.

For us, tomorrow came soon enough!