Over to Vijay ..
I grew up on the shores of Besant Nagar – the best of my memories are from there. Work moved me to Singapore 6 years ago but the heart still wanders along the Catamarans and tennis ball cricket. I work in a Shipping company overseeing their operations in South east asia, and apart from temple art which is my hobby, i still play active cricket in the singapore local league second division. I also manage a team in the singapore T20 event and we were worthy runners up last weekend, being undefeated in the league stage. Kiwi Speed legend Shane Bond was our start attraction apart from former National players like Russel Arnold of Srilanka and Venkatramana of India, combining well with emerging stars of singapore cricket like Chetan, Chaminda, Abhiraj, Varun, Pramod etc. It was a great experience as we rubbed shoulders with legends like Sanath Jayasurya, Shoaib Akthar, Dirk Nannes, Imran Farhat and Alok kapali. It was great for Singapore cricket that the Man of the Tournament was a local boy Anish Param.
I thank LS for giving me an opportunity to rewind and think of the glorious days under the Chennai sun
The image of Elliots beach brings with it sprawling sands, the salty spray tinged with its fishy smell from the drying nets and salted fish, as we nimbly jumped over rows of kattaramarans to fetch the ball. Cricket on the beach had its advantages and disadvantages. The lack of a proper pitch meant that you were fed on a diet of full tosses, but the flip side was you could show off your athletic skills pulling off stunning catches with acrobatic dives without scapping your knees or elbows. For the imitation Kichas ( Krish Srikkant for us) there was no threat of breaking window panes nor lost balls at sea – for the ball would float and the waves would bring it back to shore no matter how monstrous your six was. Showmen that we were, there was no dearth of audiences – we wouldn’t compete with the Eden gardens but we had our own loyal pensioners and auto drivers to support. The legalities of the ill fated East Coast road, meant that we had the best of both worlds. A large tarred road with no traffic with sands on both sides and we temporarily moved further up from Elliots to the shores by the Kalakshetra compunds.
The typical weekend would start with the main investments – The bat, stumps and the ball. Bats were not a problem, as the soft ball would not damage the wood, but then cricket was not restricted only to the sands. Most often the need for solid pitches meant that we would takeover main roads and that meant broken handles and eroded bats – yes, many a bat would be ground to leave just their handles ! Broken ones were mended with an assortment of nails, robber bands fashioned out of cycle tyre tubes and even the humble thread soaked in fevicol. Stumps were the easiest – three brick lines on the neighbors compound wall to start with, but then that meant there would be no Keeper and no play possible behind the stumps. Innovation drove us to the veragu thotti ( dry wood shop) in Vannathurai were we would choose the young casuarina sticks, paid by weight and an afternoon of peeling its dark outer bark to leave a shining offwhite set of stumps – 3 would do, as most often we played one side and the bowler had his ever dependable brick as his stump, with current for run out – meaning, if he has his leg on the brick and catches the ball – is akin to breaking the wickets.
The balls were the most difficult accessory, as they were consumables. The cheapest were the rubber balls – but they would hardly last, the next option being sold ` cork’ balls but then that meant we would risk a more expensive tool – the bat. The best alternative was the ` Tennis’ ball – hardy ones that bounce well – and even when they go bald you can play with them. The problem was that they were available only in the Tennis courts and Besant Nagar had two – one near the Main bus terminus and one near the ` oval’ ground by the beach. They would ocassionally sell ` used’ balls but they needed an expert eye to judge their longevity.
Most kids initiation to the game was tough – the elders, be it the young office goers in the different Bank Quarters or the rough inhabitants of the various fishermen colonies – the ritual was to be a spectator fetching balls for a season, and then be a substitute for some more seasons, before a chance housewife who had had enough of her ` young’ husbands cricketing honors pulls him out last minute and you get your golden chance to be part of the team !
Once you were in, you shone with pride and your name would be utterred in reverence. Opponents would check out your skills and your name would spread – there were quite a few tradiional rivalry – the RBI Quarters team, the CPWD quarters teams etc. They had their senior teams and junior teams and the fervor would match a India Pakisthan match in Sharjah.
The options to progress to the hall of fame was to play the Cricket ball – there was only one ground in Besant Nagar those days – the Amar CC ground which has been sadly lost to make way for the Rajaji Bhavan. School teams were not that popular those days and hence club cricket was the only avenue for us to see the red cherry and white kits.
We more than made up for it with our own tennis ball tournaments and mini tournaments, the most popular being the floodlit tournaments organised by the Shastri Nagar Sharks – with teams parading an incredible ensemble of mascots from Mosquitos to Scorpions. It drove our parents mad, darkened our already mango grey ( maa Niram) but taught us the game, its spirit and kept us away from bad company and the idiot box