One of the real characters I met and someone I remember very fondly from my cork ball circuit!
While Kerry Packer was creating a stir in the cricket world, snapping up the best players in the world for a fee, he was, at what economists would like to call a micro level, inspiring others to break new ground. And so it was, that in our galli circuit, a storm came to brew!
On the galli circuit, team loyalties were very strong. If you played for the University Campus side, as we did, hobnobbing with the NGRI team, or the RRL Colony or even a motley collection from Tarnaka was out of bounds. Initially, these were simple affairs and matches were played for eleven pencils or, if the stakes were really high, for a cork ball. But nobody liked to lose and I remember our captain once vanishing with the eleven pencils (only some sharpened!) when defeat loomed. When the irate opposition landed up outside his house, his mother said “baahargaya, raatkuaainga.”
It was in such a situation that Packer mama emerged. His team was, quite grandly and equally predictably, called Packer Cricket Club. He was a shortish, dark skinned man with a happy belly that he made no effort to hide. In fact it often peeped out from under a T-shirt that could only be tucked in at the back. He peered at you from behind a pair of spectacles with a fairly large frame and conducted his operations from a shady spot under the tree. Unlike Vizzy, he had no pretensions to playing himself.
Packer Cricket Club began recruiting players and organizing matches against distant teams that we didn’t know. I don’t know why I agreed to say yes because I don’t remember getting anything in return for it. He offered me a bottle of beer once, as a match fee, and though I might have just turned seventeen, it was unheard of to say yes. He drank a fair bit himself, invariably warm, but I don’t remember him behaving differently as a result. In the end, it was the beer and admission to engineering college which allowed me to play a higher level of organized cricket, that caused me to end my little association with Packer Cricket Club.
Packer mama used to bring some of his own gear but it wasn’t too different from what everyone else had. “Gear” is actually a fancy word for what we possessed. You played with a hard cork ball that very quickly lost its red or white paint and became dull grey. There were no pads, at best you wore one on your left leg, but given that there were no abdomen guards anyway, it wasn’t something that you worried about. The greater danger often masks little ones! If somebody came out to bat with two pads on, the run-up would extend by a further two yards!
There would be the odd pair of batting gloves, the palms made of cloth and muddy brown, to go with the terrain we played on, and with the elastic at the wrist having long gone. Packer mama’s finances didn’t extend that far, though I remember thinking that if he saved on the beer, he could have bought nice gloves! The real bullies though swaggered out with just a bat in hand to loud cheers and calls of “dikhademiya”! They were the first ‘stand and deliver’ batsmen I saw and they often hit the ball a long way.
Packer mama flaunted his recruits. We were only two early on, the other was a slim young kid with a whippy action. His name was Ramana Murthy and many years later, he was part of the Hyderabad team that won the Ranji Trophy. And many years later, when he was a test player, Venkatapathy Raju told me he would come and watch our games! Soon a couple of others came in and Packer Cricket Club became way too strong.
But as his recruits moved on, Packer mama vanished. I saw him occasionally when I was playing for the university, sitting under a tree and sipping warm beer. He would wave at me with a smile but we never got beyond that. In course of time, even those fleeting contacts ended. I don’t know where he went but I never saw him again.
I didn’t know his name, I didn’t know where he lived. But I can still see his passion, still see the midriff peeping between T-shirt and trouser. I think if I ran into him today, I would still recognize Packer mama.