Taking a tour through the orkut albums of some of my friends from my school, I happened to see a photo of us in the playground, shot after a game of cricket. And there I was - thin, short and most surprisingly for me, with a cricket bat in my hand. True, I have seen the photo a number of times, I had even commented on it, but today, the bat in my hand reminding me solidly that I once used to play cricket and love it.

Good-old days: With friends after a game

Good-old days: With friends after a game

Of course, football was the favorite sport, but the students in the school loved playing cricket. One of the prime reasons was that Mr.P, the man in charge of Sports and Physical Education possessed a not so great opinion of Cricket. So he restricted the students from playing Cricket other than on Sundays. On the other hand, playing football was widely promoted - if you just wanted to juggle the ball alone, you could have a ball issued your name, such was the number of balls. There used to be around 10-12 different football matches in progress simultaneously in the playground.

Mr.P’s honest comments about cricket included “anybody could play cricket, even somebody who was not physically fit”, “Cricket as a game cannot contribute to physical well being” and quite simply “Playing cricket in the ground destroys the window panes !”. The third point he made was what made the authorities sanction the restriction on cricket.

The restrictions imposed on Cricket was counterproductive. It induced a greater love for the game and Cricket thrived in hostel corridors, places behind the hostels and inside new buildings being built. It was “gully” cricket and inside the walls, “County” was what we used to cal it. It was all “under-arm”, “hit-a-six-you-are-out”,and “no-shots-on-the-legside”. The bats were made out of planks the construction workers used to support the concrete, and balls were either rubber-balls or made out of socks filled with paper and a small piece of rock.

Any word about “County” would be incomplete without a mention of Kandahar. Kandahar was the most famous County venue. Kandahar was the concrete slab of septic tank of the new hostel building under construction and the areas around it. As it was wedged between the compound wall and the building, the occasional tours by teachers near the hostels failed to disrupt the flow of the game at Kandahar. The name Kandahar was coined after the (in)famous hostage drama at Kandahar in Afghanistan involving an Indian flight.

I was a good County player, I used to love hitting the balls bowled under-arm, as they were always under the knees and cried to be hit. I enjoyed bowling too - both off-spin and leg-spin (When you bowl underarm, it is very easy).

On Sundays, when we did have the permission to play cricket in the main ground, all of us couldn’t play - you cannot have 10 simultaneous games of cricket in a ground, we managed three or four. The part of the ground that contained the main pitch in the centre was the most valuable piece of earth on Sundays, and we used to go to extremes to ensure that we got it. If you wanted to play in a pitch, you had to “book” the pitch before everyone else. “Booking” involved writing stuff like “Booked by Shiwalik 11th” on the sand. There was an unwritten rule that whoever “booked” a pitch after 12:00 AM on a Sunday had the right to play there. And bookings went to the wire, invariably.

I was the one responsible for “booking” the pitch for my friends from our hostel -Shiwalik. I remember waking up at 3:00 am, and pleading with the house captain for the key to the doors. Gradually, others began to push the boundaries and it became very competitive. There were incidents of a pitch being “booked” at 12:00 am. Such was the wish to play cricket.

But in spite of my abilities for booking the centre-pitch, and my prowess in playing “County”, I was very bad at the real game. My batting was poor, bowling laughable. Fielding was the only thing I could do.

When we were in 11th standard, cricket inside the walls got a huge boost, as a great gentleman named Subith was appointed our Computer teacher. He joined us for games of cricket on Sundays and since he was very good at playing, everyone enjoyed it. He was great company, too. You could talk your heart out to him, and trust him to not to tell other teachers. We, teenagers inside the walls really needed someone like him.

My love for cricket died the day I stepped out of the gates. There I was, free to play any game I wanted, with nobody to tell me not to play a game. And I always had greater love for football than cricket, and so I chose football.

I really miss the race to “book” the pitch, the wooden plank bats and the socks-balls.

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, you can get in touch with me on Twitter @sdqali.