A passion that started in India


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Category: Reflections 18 Mar 07


As a little girl, one of the questions I asked my father, who was in the Indian army at the time, was: “What did you do in the war, Daddy?”


The answer was: “I fought, and I fought, and I fought.” That he did, in three wars, against Pakistan and China. If the army’s perpetual upheaval due to my father’s postings from field areas to peace stations, from city to city, school to school, was one pillar of my childhood, cricket was another.


It feels like centuries and a world away, but at home in the garden, walking through India’s crowded cities, we took cricket for granted; like the foul emissions from the three-wheeler auto rickshaws, like roses in winter, like the crackle of fried jelabis in open bazaars, like wild ivy on crumbling ruins, like India with its bewildering contradictions that take you from ditches to marble, slums to diamonds in ten seconds flat.


The view from the sky during cricket season was throngs walking with transistor radios pressed against their ears, women riding in the back of scooters, saris and kurtas whipping in the breeze, shouting scores to their husbands, fat vendors sitting cross-legged weighing grain, punching the air over a “sixer” screaming “bowled” in thick accented English.


My brother always got large groups of boys to play in the back of our house, under the fruit burdened jamun and mango trees, where monkeys leaped. I played for their amusement.


They rolled about on the ground with laughter at my contortionist efforts at avoiding the dreaded cork ball.


My father and brother kept up their passion after we came to the West Indies, feverishly staying up all night, ears stuck to the radio, to commentary.


Now, instead of the war, I ask Col Mahendra Mathur about cricket. He says:


“My love affair with cricket began in 1946, when an Indian cricket team went to England led by Nawab of Pataudi, father-in-law of the actress Sharmila Tagore.


“The team wasn’t strong, but when they began winning county matches, India’s interest in this gentleman’s colonial game rose.


“In 1948, when I was 16, I watched the West Indies play in Delhi.


“Within half-an-hour, three top batsmen were out—Alan Rae, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, and George Headley—by India’s fast bowler Rangachari.


“We thought the game was India’s, but Gerry Gomez and Walcott took the score from 27 for three wickets to 294 for three.


“They batted all day long. The West Indies team earned India’s respect.


“Sardesai’s and Gavaskar’s game in 1971, when it was led by the great Gary Sobers, was a treat. Cricket fever grew to a pitch for Indians.


“In 1976, when I moved here, I saw the match in Port-of-Spain between West Indies and India, where Clive Lloyd had declared and India needed 403 runs to win.


“There was a day-and-a-half left, and everyone thought India would lose, because they couldn’t play the fast bowlers well enough, but Sunil Gavaskar, and Gundappa Vishwanath scored centuries and India won the match by six wickets.


“In 1983, when we were in Tobago, India won the World Cup and I blew my entire month’s salary on champagne.


“In 1994, when Lara’s 375 and 501 not out broke world records for the highest Test and first class scores, respectively, I was proud to be a fellow Trinidadian.


“Millions of people belonging to the top eight teams: West Indies, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England, and have their eyes and ears peeled on the matches in the World Cup.


“It’s cricket fireworks. While it’s day here, all of India awakes every night to follow the game.


“As an Indian expatriate, I want India to win, but my heart also roots for the West Indies.”


Wars may be won and lost, but for my father, cricket is for keeps.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur