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July 6, 1998


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A letter from Canada

Krishna Kumar

I get a call from the contact person of the Cathedral Cricket Club.

Cathedral Cricket Club It's as good as a weather report -- May has arrived, warmer and drier than usual, in Ottawa. And with it, a new cricket season in the Canadian capital.

In the land of ice hockey, cricket is still trying to get a toehold. The Sahara Cup has been a sight for sore eyes, the last couple of years. But cricket is still an almost forgotten sport in these parts.

Though cricket is largely ignored, it refuses however to rol over and play dead. The presence of a largish expatriate population of West Indians, Indians, Pakistanis and a few from England provide just that bit of oxygen needed to keep it going.

This year, we hear the Ottawa league has dissociated itself from the larger Ontario league. Too much money is being asked, they say. The consequence: none of the Ottawa cricketing faithfuls will get noticed when it comes to Canadian trials this year.

But then again, I don't think anyone here seriously cares. Cricket serves more as a rejuvenant in these parts, a sort of rediscovery of your roots, of yourself. Like poetry, it serves as an outlet, a release from the travails of conflicting cultures.

It is, for us, a reaffirmation of our non-North American-ness (if I can coin such a word).

So I get this call, and the club contact person tells me there is practice starting Friday. So that Friday, I take the bus downtown. The Rideau Hall grounds are a bit east of downtown -- medium-size grounds, in the visible vicinity of the Governor General's house.

Cathedral Cricket Club Looking out through the bus window on the ride down, the Ottawa river seemed to glisten a bit more than usual. I'd like the Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene with me to serve as some sort of intellectual primer to the season ahead. Cricket, for me, is an intellectual sport.

As I walk onto the grounds for the first time in the season, I feel at peace with the world. There are a few club members, waving or yelling hello at you -- some of them, I haven't met for almost a year now. We don't share many interests, but cricket is a powerful bonding force.

Sport makes you forget your differences -- and as the thought occurs, I smile to myself, wondering if after all, if sport is indeed the Brahman.

Shaking myself free of my random reflections, I don my new track pants. Everyone was a bit hesitant to bat first in the nets -- the matting didn't look particularly reassuring.

The Cathedral Cricket Club is mostly comprised of Guyanese, a lot of them from Georgetown. My friend Malcolm tells me there are more Guyanese outside Guyana, than there are within it -- and he tells me this with a tinge of regret in his voice.

The people from the Caribbean are a proud lot. If Viv Richards exuded pride, my friend's voice reflects it in equal quantity. Malcolm hadn't turned up for practice this Friday, but then he is one of the older lot, has other responsibilities. Life, in a sense, has taken over from recreation, the mundane from the spontaneous.

Cathedral Cricket Club The younger ones had turned up, however. One of them, a Trinidadian of Indian origin, Raj, opted to bat first. He isn't a great bat, but he's all pluck -- on a dicey-looking matting wicket, he chooses to do his thing without a helmet. Maybe it was pluck, maybe just foolhardiness, but he batted with gay, typically Caribbean abandon.

A few Sri Lankans and I bowled at him, bowling well within ourselves. It was like his helmet-less state bothered us more than it bothered him -- he came at us with a few lusty left-handed swings.

We were bowling with old balls, and I was getting the ball to leg-cut quite nicely. Bowling with the older ball always seemed to come naturally to me. I played my early cricket in Calicut, in Kerala, on dusty outfields where a new ball loses its shine in ten overs or less.

But, I digress.

Soon enough, someone shouted "last round" and Raj gave way to one of the three Sri Lankan brothers that Cathedral had recruited for the new season. I always associate some sort of mystery with the recruiting process, but I suppose a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes.

These Sri Lankans are pretty good. One of them, Suravinth, seems to have modelled his action closely on Muralitharan. Except that he'd done a better job than Muralitharan -- you couldn't fault his action. He generates enormous turn off the matting, but when I saw him first he was bowling to his brother, who didn't have much trouble picking him.

The best among the brothers, Sudhakar, bowls medium pace -- and peppers his bowling with the odd expletive. He enjoys himself enormously when bowling, though -- a trait you generally find in cricketers from the Caribbean or the Asian sub-continent.

I guess when we play, we are all trying to live our dreams. We beat the bat, and think we are Kapil Dev; we find an edge, and experience a minor epiphany.In moments where we beat the bat, we equated ourselves with Kapil Dev, with Hadlee. When we hit the edge, we experienced minor epiphanies. Cricket for the club player is dreams lived out, and the source of the game's undying charm.

The second Sri Lankan brother, the offie, got his turn at bat. I clean bowled him once, and felt on top of the world. Then the third brother took his turn at bat, and I found his edge a few times. He looked vexed -- no one who prides himself on his batting likes to get successive edges. So from there he was looking to correct his mistake.

I believe that in cricket, the unplayable ball does exist. Much as the perfectionist in you frets over it, it is there, undeniably. Cricket, like life, teaches humility.

And after all, it is the first day of the season, you are still covered in rust. In this case, perfectionism egged on by passion won out, and he played a few correct drives.

Cathedral Cricket Club Around this time, a fresh-faced youngster turned up, gld chain dangling from a scrawny neck. He was the son of one of our older team members. His father David is a strong, extremely fit man, more so considering his age -- an aspiring Wayne Daniel when in his prime, I guess. His son, who starts bowling, turns out to have a nice, loose-limbed action, and is quite fast for his age. Gold chain glinting in the late evening sunshine, he turns out to be the typical West Indian cricketer.

I heard a member remarking that he was dressed like a film star. For his part, he said that was how cricketers from the Islands were -- and I remember the likes of Wes Hall, Dessie Haynes, all with their trademark chains, and found myself agreeing.

Soon, it was the youngster's turn to bat. I was tiring by now, a pleasant sort of tiredness though -- and that is when you bowl your best. You don't try bowling too fast, you're too tired for that, instead you bowl within yourself, concentrating on cut and swing. I beat the boy a few times outside off, and his eyes reflected respect. Cricketers do that, they accord a great deal of respect to each other, it's in the nature of the game.

All this while, there were a handful of old men chatting, grizzled veterans expressing their opinions on the game, and quite forceful their statements are, too.

Some recalled the days when Cathedral was a strong team, some even ventured to say they were unbeatable. I remember a man of 50 or thereabouts in Montreal, still an active B division player, repeatedly recall a flat six he had hit in his heyday. Hearing such talk, the younger lot there would chuckle and snigger.

Cathedral Cricket Club The Ottawa oldies, I notice, weren't inclined to fantasize as much, they were a more practical lot. And they were a lot nicer, too.

And again, it is the people from the Caribbean who are the most opinionated -- fiercely so.

I remember the square cuts of Gordon Greenidge, the cover drives of Clive Lloyd -- bold, strong, powerful statements, those. The old men from the Islands, at our nets, are the same, in their speech.

A game, I guess, is indicative of a culture. And the game of cricket was making a bold statement, in its farthest outpost.

Mail Krishna Kumar

Postscript from Rediff: We had, last week, called for readers to send in their own contributions to Rediff. Published above, is the first of the responses. We look forward to lots more, and plan on making this a thrice-weekly feature.
Meanwhile, the sports section is, as you probably have noticed, gradually metamorphosing in look, and content. Thus far, all our changes have come at the behest of readers -- this one is no exception.

Thus, the expanded coverage is our response to requests for increasing the scope of stories being carried in this section. We await feedback -- let us know how the changes strike you and, more importantly, what precisely you would like us to focus on.

Mail Prem Panicker