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Cricket in the fog
Friday, November 25, 2005
Ghoom is a quaint little town up in the Himalayas where illegal pubs outnumber the alcoholics and the alcoholics outnumber the entire population. The populace loves their spirits particularly the local ‘raksi’, brewed rather dubiously from molasses. It is high on alcohol content and it’s not uncommon to see connoisseurs throng these pubs as early as 5 AM furiously blowing on a mug of ‘raksi’ just out of the distillery.
Yet, alcoholism has never been a social problem. Oh yes! Wives and children frequently yelp at night, people often spend the night in drains, poverty is an issue, vehicles belly up, businesses go bust, livers suddenly quit working and yet alcoholism has never been a concern. Nobody’s sad during the day.
Chronic hangovers dog the masses though.
Not much can be said about the weather here. The sun shines in installments for roughly eighty days a year. The rest is shared between the rains, the fog, the foggy-rain and the rainy-fog. This is probably the reason behind the inhabitants’ recklessness.
One good thing about the natives – they’re all sports fanatics. Virtually everybody is good at some form of sport. Excellent footballers abound here, most of whom can play a furious game at least for the first 45 minutes. It does have its share of cricket-lovers too. Volleyball, basketball, tennis, ping-pong…you name it and you’ll be surprised to find a fan-following in almost any sport. It is surprising since level grounds are scarce. The mountainous terrain makes it difficult to construct playing fields and the few that exist have been painstakingly carved out by hand.
During the monsoon months, the natives can be seen thronging the village grounds braving the weather cheering their teams in a football match. Even the thick fog doesn’t dampen their spirits. Sometimes…no…most of the time, people cheer their teams who are nothing but mere shadowy figures running helter-skelter somewhere down below.
The post-monsoon period is the cricket season because that’s when one can expect clear skies. Please note. Expect. A lot of inter-village tournaments are organized during this short dry spell. These games are not taken lightly. Prize-money (ranging from five hundred to ten thousand rupees) and the prestige of the village are at stake here.
Now, it so happened that yours truly was invited to umpire in one of these tournaments. Okay, I must admit that I don’t know the Wisden’s Cricket book of Rules inside out but I obliged.
Did I mention that this particular game happened to be the finals? Serious stuff!
On D-Day, the entire area was cloaked in heavy mist. Very heavy. The teams were ready to battle it out, on or off the field. The players were in their traditional cricket whites and so were the umpires. We might as well have been playing in the dark. I proposed the game start late or be postponed altogether but a few hostile glares from the two opposing captains and some spectators made me change my mind. I sheepishly backed out and took to the field for the toss.
Formalities over. The co-umpire and I set out into the gloom. The fielding captain began setting his field.
“Are you in position---slips?”
“Right here”, came a reply from somewhere in the north-west.
“Long on?” Silence. “Long on?” the captain thundered.
“What were you doing?”
“I wanted to watch it on the TV but the reception is bad’, somebody shouted from the stands amidst laughter.
The batsmen walked in.
“Leg stump, please’, proposed the hazy shadowy figure in front of me.
“OK”, I replied. It was ridiculous, considering the fact that I could see my end of the pitch if I tried really hard.
So here I was. The batsman somewhere in front of me and the bowler somewhere in the cloud behind me. Both ready for action.
“Batsman ready! Right arm. Over the wicket.”
The bowler came rushing in and bowled his first delivery. Boy, oh boy! He was fast. Really fast.
“Howzat!” the players shouted in unison. The bowler joined in and I could see from the expression on his face that he didn’t have a clue what it was all about. I didn’t have a clue either and I couldn’t ask, could I? So, I went in search of the leg umpire for a tête-à-tête and found him equally bewildered.
“Did you see anything?”
“Nope. Not a thing.”
“So, what shall we do then?”
“Refer to the third umpire!”
There was a provision for the third umpire mind you. I decided to give the batsman the benefit of the doubt and declared him, “Not out!”
So the game carried on. A batsman was seriously hurt in the process. The batting team was all out for a measly forty seven.
But things changed for the worse when the other team came out to bat. It started to rain cats and dogs. The field was drenched. Had it been football, the game probably could have carried on. Thank God it was cricket! Thus a consensus was reached. The game was declared a draw and the prize money was shared between the two teams.
After the game, the teams were seen entering separate taverns for a celebration with the umpires in tow.
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