Nostalgia for cricket in an era gone by

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on July 15, 2019

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Then, one watched test matches in a picnic-like atmosphere. The game turning into a money-spinner has taken the charm off

I write this column on Sunday when a billion Indian hearts are aching that India won’t play the World Cup final this evening. Through the week, while cricket pundits debated the ifs and buts of that heart-breaking semi-final which we lost, I wondered why over the last few decades I had lost my passion for the game. World Cup matches where India is playing are watched with interest, but certainly not the IPLs and the rest of the jingbang.

Whatever happened to that little girl and the teenager who would be glued to the transistor for five long days, along with the brothers, as India played a five-match Test series either at home or overseas? And who would turn up in finery for all five days when the match was played on home ground.


It is a nostalgic trip down memory lane to the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. My dad and two brothers were members of the then Madras Cricket Association (MCA) and during test matches we’d get three free passes and option to buy six more on the pavilion terrace for the Test matches in Madras. It was an occasion no less precious than an Idd, Diwali or Christmas, which were all celebrated at home.

With so many tickets available an aunt or uncle would be invited for the match. My mother would carefully plan and meticulously execute an elaborate three-course picnic lunch — complete with kheema/rotis, samosas or shami kebab, different kinds of chicken on different days, and a dessert — for the lunch break. After dropping us at Chepauk (or the Nehru Stadium for a few years), the driver would pick up from the cook the piping hot goodies in a huge tiffin carrier, which was driven to the ground.

Those were days of innocence… zero security, the luxury of space, and VIP passes for car parking for MCA members. Even as the last two overs were being played before lunch, we would troop out to the grass lawn where the driver would have spread the dastarkhan, on a big bedspread under a huge tree, and unpacked the plates, spoons, napkins. As kids and later teenagers, I’m not sure whether we looked forward more to the match or this picnic lunch savoured under a cool breeze — matches in Madras would always be held during the Pongal holidays. I don’t know about my four brothers, but I have little doubt that for me it was the lunch treat!

Five test centres

There were only five Test centres in India in those days — Madras, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Kanpur (one doesn’t know why Kanpur, but it became memorable for the match where the Indian spinner Jasu Patel bowled out the Australian team, claiming nine wickets in an inning).

As the matches played out in other cities, we would be dutifully glued to the radio or the transistor listening to the commentary on All India Radio of Pearson Surita, AFS Taliyarkhan and Anand Rao (the last in Madras on the day the pass had to be given to a family friend). There was no television, leave alone a remote, which allowed you to mute or shift channels during advertisements!

And as the test series was invariably played in the Pongal season, we would arm ourselves with loads of foot-long sugarcane pieces, which would not only be bitten but also de-skinned, with the teeth. The very thought of doing so now brings to mind the dentist or Sensodyn!

And during the cricket season, a lot of the game was played in our sprawling compound in George Town, the iron and steel hub of the city. In exchange for chores such as fetching cold water, funding and distributing peanut candy, etc., the brothers would condescend to give me a chance to bat. The bowling would be gentler but I don’t remember a single memorable inning!

With college days came the infatuation with the cricket legends. Leveraging some “influence” or the other, we’d go to watch our heroes practising at the nets, and the high point of my life was the very dashing MAK Pataudi coming over to chat with us and giving us his autograph.

So over the years why did cricket lose its charm and passion for me? Marriage only moved me from one family of cricket fanatics to another. Well, I suppose too many matches. The market discovered the money-spinner in cricket and the test matches were followed by the one-day events first of 60 overs, then 50 and then the T-20 series.

I’ve now stopped watching all cricket, except the World Cup matches where India plays. In that heartbreaking semi-final when I told my son, who lives in Mexico City, that I even tweeted, he said: “Really Mom? What do you know about cricket to tweet?”

Published on July 15, 2019

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