Written on July 06, 2006

Depending on whether you think it is “yours” a cricket ground can be either of two things. It can be a temple, going there, or indeed playing there, a kind of pilgrimage. The plaster may be peeling, the bricks exposed, the toilets smelly and wires, unrestrained by clips, creating parabolas everywhere. But that becomes admissible, even part of the charm. Or it can be cold and characterless; blades of grass that don’t recognise you, tired clay looking up at you as another that will trample upon it, unknown faces that might come out of a street corner. It’s the difference between your house and well, someone else’s!

The Lal Bahadur Stadium was like that to us, except that nobody called it by that name. It was always the Fateh Maidan or the “stadium”. It was holy, it was the home of cricket, it was ours. I saw my first match there, played on a turf wicket there for the first time and my first commentary session was there too. Do I give the impression that the pillars spoke to me? I might have thought it was so…once.

At 5 I was denied permission to go there, at 8 I was allowed to and saw one of  my earliest heroes, Eknath Solkar, take a brilliant catch. Chris Old bowled there from the Pavilion End and so did Keith Boyce and they had lovely actions, much copied. And so did BS Chandrasekhar whose action we observed minutely and between overs copied in the corridor at the top of the stands.

And we flocked there for the Moin-ud-Doulah with teams like U-Foam and FD Stewart’s XI competing with the tigers of Bombay; SBI and ACC and  Mafatlal. And it was a matter of prestige to know all the players because if you didn’t someone else did. Like the slightly built left arm spinner bowling one day. We were throwing up all kinds of names from the team sheets, naively thinking they were accurate, until the gentleman to our left, sitting on his hanky, unlike us on our newspapers, turned to us and said “Mulherkar”. And then  turned back and continued watching. He had pronounced the name perfectly for he was Maharashtrian and had come to watch the Bruhan Maharashtra Sugar Syndicate team play!!

We took bus no 6F to Secunderabad station and changed to the double decker bus no 42, hastily clambering up the steps so that we could get on the front row. And there, not quite teenagers, we debated the merits of Gavaskar and Abid Ali and Wadekar and Pataudi. When the conductor came by, we pulled out our change and said “do, stadium”. Everyone knew for the bus emptied there. And as we rushed past the pavilion on the way to the stands, I sometimes wondered what it must be like to be there.

That moment came by and by. The dressing rooms weren’t great but I didn’t care because Jaisimha had sat there and so had Pataudi and Abid Ali and so many visiting players. They wore their pads and came and sat out like I did that day but as they walked out to bat I am sure they didn’t glance into the stands, like I did. There was nobody where we used to sit, in fact there was nobody at all, not even the sweepers. But that didn’t matter nor did the fact that the turf wicket I was supposed to bat on looked a bit naked because there was no matting to cover it!!

Around that time I had first set foot in the commentary box, like the dressing room, a much hyped place made special only by the people within it. All of 19 and wearing a twenty rupee t-shirt, a pair of jeans and rubber slippers, I had done my audition there. It was where Shyam Karwande and HK Srinivas sat and talked about the “Hill Fort End”, Naubat Pahad to everyone else. In my audition I said “Hill Fort End” and felt special too.

It called me back often and I grew to like the little area, only a little bigger than a cubicle with two wide windows we looked through. It was where the first step had been taken, it was mine. Until I went back in the late nineties. The cubicle was there but only just, people were sleeping all over with mattresses strewn around haphazardly, three plastic wires were stretched end to end and there was underwear hanging from it

I felt I was entering a house the landlord had sold. I recognised it but it wasn’t mine anymore. Neither were the stands or the posh dining room. I had never found the toilets smelly but I did now and I noticed the plaster peeling. The memories no longer had a house to reside in. It couldn’t be a pilgrimage any more.