A tale of two cities as narrated by a cricket field

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: After lunch on day three of the Ranji Trophy finals here in Mysore, the Bombay batsmen rushed out with the umpires and reached the middle before their opponents had even come out of their seating area. They walked around, looked at the wicket and waited at the crease, eager to begin the action.

In that one action, spanning no more than a couple of minutes, the visitors demonstrated their urgency and confidence, the so-called Spirit of Bombay, and neatly contrasted it with the cliche of a laidback pensioner’s paradise that is Bangalore.

Indeed, for the cricket spectator, the visiting team offers a tutorial on the myriad ways in which to gain small advantages, psychological or otherwise.

As lunch is called, their No. 11, Avishkar Salvi walks out to the practice pictch to knock a few balls. An hour later when his turn arrives, Salvi lasts only two balls but the point is made. Bombay will not concede even the last wicket without a battle, without preparation.

When the over ends, we see their fielders run to their positions quickly, putting pressure on the batsman to get ready. They look more organised and settled compared to their opponents. I suspect that’s true not only in this game but also against all their opponents. When a fielder brilliantly stops a certain four at covers, captain Wasim Jaffer quickly runs to pat him on the back.

They appeal at every opportunity, loudly and enthusiastically.

If it is close, the bowler will hold his head in his hands and collapse to the ground. Their opponent should think he is lucky to be around and wouldn’t last against such skillful practitioners of the game.

All this wouldn’t look anything special for the jaded cricket reporter but for someone like me, who is watching a first-class match live after quite some time, it is fascinating to see this game within a game. We chat about how the Bombay team receives such gamesmanship as a legacy of winning nearly half of Ranji trophies played until now.

Sometimes, such aggression on the field can get a bit too much for the gentle cricket aesthete.

The spectators in Mysore have been quick to boo when they see a Bombay player stare at or taunt his opponents. Their favourite target has been Ajit Agarkar, who was fined 50% of his match fee and given a warning for showing dissent when he was declared run out in the first innings.

Like his teammates, Agarkar seems to be a virtuoso in the art of sledging but when the Kannadiga young pups return the favour, he gets upset. Today, he pushed uppishly to Robin Utthappa at short covers and was caught. Agarkar seemed to be upset at the enthusiastic celebration of his dismissal and he left the field pointing fingers at the umpire and  gesticulating wildly for quite some time.

He didn’t seem to realise he was the most accomplished international cricketer on the field and hence a target for his young opponents, who ironically do not care much for reputations as well. They have played against even more accomplished international players in the IPL and aren’t fazed by his  stature.

Agarkar’s behaviour, though, was disgraceful and I suspect he will lose the rest of his match fee, if not get a suspension for a game or two next season.

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What the Bombay team, at least this one, seems to embody isn’t the famed cosmopolitanism.

Rather, it is the hard and extremely competitive life in urbs prima in Indus, which only allows the players to expect to win as they step on the field.

To a man, they seem to embody the aphorism that if you fail to prepare, you must prepare to fail.

Their coach Praveen Amre has been quizzing the curator and the ground staff every day about the finer points of pitch making, the soil used, and so on. Their players such as wicket-keeper Vinayak Samant speak confidently to the press about how their first inning total is more than adequate to win the game.

It isn’t all talk. They back it up with performances, as Avishkar Salvi did yesterday with a five-wicket haul.

Today, Dhawal Kulkarni, who isn’t known for his batting prowess and who was sent ahead of Agarkar and Romesh Powar yesterday, grabbed his opportunity and batted superbly with the lower order to enable his team to set a very competitive target of 338. His offside driving on the front foot was superb but more impressive was his temperament. He held the innings together even after the more accomplished Abhishek Nayar got out and wickets continued to fall around him. His innings could prove to be the match-winning knock.

The young Karnataka squad, on the other hand, has the look of a cosmopolitan side.

If you look at the scorecard, you will see last names from all parts of the country—Pandey, Verma, Patel and so on. Even an older one like Binny.

As Bangalore is taken over by the new immigrant, especially in the last 20 years, his presence is visible in the team, which now isn’t made up only of middleclass boys from upper caste, professional families, as was the case in the past. There are some representatives from the rural centre, too, like R. Vinay Kumar from Davanagere.

But the diversity of last names (from all parts of India) on the squad sheet doesn’t make this team cosmopolitan. This isn’t the place to summarise a discourse on cosmopolitanism. But allow me to say that the young Karnataka team embodies what Bangalore has become.

Bangalore is no longer the gentle home of the retired.

The new immigrant isn’t simply the hard-working IT professional but also the labourer from Jharkhand and the carpenter from Rajasthan, who are all recreating Bangalore in their own image.

They are all skillful and confident about doing business with the world. And on their own terms without the weight of history restraining them. If there is a Bangalore version of cosmopolitanism, this  apparent comfort and ease with the outside world is the essence of it.

Watch the impish strokemaker Manish Pandey at the crease and what I am suggesting here becomes clear.

This evening, Karnataka in a spot of bother as three wickets fall for less than fifty, Pandey began imperiously collecting 25 runs in no time. He drove and pulled authoritatively, even as he flashed outside the off stump and was lucky to be dropped at 44 by Samant. But he didn’t seem bothered at all, trusting his shotmaking ability.

Pandey is an extremely elegant, graceful batsman who plays late, uses his wrists often and makes batting look easy. He is the antithesis of a typical Bombay batsman, say Abhishek Nayar, whose ungainly crouching style at the crease has been the source of many nasty comments at Gangotri Glades.

Pandey, on the contrary, is the most stylish batsman playing here. He seems to have at least two strokes for every delivery and places singles efficiently. Like all elegant batsmen, he also is a lazy runner between the wickets, doesn’t land his bat when he reaches the crease and could be caught napping by an alert fielder.

Yet, of all the Karnataka batsmen, he alone is capable of inspired batting and could change the complexion of the game in a couple of hours.

Along with Abhimanyu Mithun, he must be in the selectors’ short list for the national side.

The brilliant catch Pandey took at long on to dismiss Abhishek Nayar this morning should have impressed the selectors as much as his batting through out the season: he ran towards his right for at least twenty feet and as we wondered whether he would be able to stop the boundary, he launched himself in the air for several feet, caught the ball, and supported himself by putting his right elbow on the ground, never letting his hand touch the ground.

Stunning catch.

My National Cricket Club teammate and respected KSCA umpire M.R. Suresh aka Robin, who was just a few feet away from Pandey, called it the best catch he has seen, live or on TV.

On Pandey’s young shoulders rest Karnataka’s hopes of scoring another 203 runs. Ganesh Satish, who has had an impressive season, is batting comfortably at the other end. They will be followed by the talented Amit Verma, veteran Sunil Joshi and determined performer Vinay Kumar.

They are all skilled but do they have the temperament and discipline to challenge Mumbai’s gamesmanship and psychological warfare? That will be the test tomorrow. The pitch seems to have become batsman friendly and although there is still something for the bowler, the seamer-friendly conditions are gone.

Now, if the young Karnataka side is anxious, that will be because of the occasion and what’s at stake. This has been an absorbing battle thus far because of the superb wicket. Both sides have fought hard and now the stage is set for a dramatic last act. Mumbai are favorites to win the game, but as long as Manish Pandey is at the crease all bets are off.

The Glades will be buzzing tomorrow morning, when play resumes at 9:30.

This is great fun.

Photograph: Former Test stars Brijesh Patel and S.M.H. Kirmani, among others, catch the action at the Gangotri Glades (Karnataka Photo News)

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Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia

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Cricinfo match report: Pandey, Kulkarni set up exciting final

Scorecard at end of third day: Bombay 233 & 234; Karnataka 130 & 135 for 3

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