Growing up with six older brothers in India, cricket has always been a part of my life. The bat and ball were like a second set of parents; you don’t remember the first time they came in to your life, but they have always been there. It’s no surprise that I have been playing cricket almost all my life: in our backyard and terrace growing up in Polur, Tamil Nadu; in the streets with neighbourhood kids; in the Fort Ground outside of town on every weekend; and in school with my classmates.
Playing the game from such a young age led me to understand the nuances of the game better and appreciate the essence of competitive sport even more. I understood very early on that I wasn’t gifted enough to be any good at it, but somehow I have stuck with it and still enjoy a game of cricket whenever I can find the time and space to partake in it.
Cricket is not just a sport but a way of life. It makes you deal with failure a lot more than success, and every time the “law of averages” or “the dreaded finger” gets you, you simply have to move on, pick yourself up and look ahead to the next opportunity. Playing cricket allows you to understand the struggles involved in trying to put bat to ball, trying to send the ball down in a desired trajectory, and in taking the most routine catch.
I played cricket regularly in India until I left for the US when I was 21. Access to cricket was limited for the first few years, but then a club was formed in the university I was in, and I have played club cricket since then, for the past 13 years. When the snow begins to thaw in my part of the country, and spring is in the air, my thoughts become almost entirely about the upcoming cricket season. When it starts in May, the next 4-5 months is just a blur, with games on every weekend. My love for the game has taken me around the world in the last few years, and I have taken the opportunity to play cricket in some form on the road as well. I have had the joy of taking part in net sessions, and play weekend games in Australia, the West Indies and England, while also playing cricket in the streets and parks in India and Sri Lanka as well.
One of the neat things to do while travelling—for me—is to look out for cricket grounds as the airplane swoops down towards it destination. It is a fruitful exercise in places such as England and Australia, but not so much in other places. England, with its long tradition in the game, has cricket grounds—big and small—dotting the landscape. Australia with its general emphasis on sport and strong roots in cricket is the best place to spot cricket grounds from the air. It’s usually not cloudy, the neatly built suburbs and lack of pollution help in the sighting of cricket fields from great heights.
The view of an open green with thin brown strips in the middle is something to cherish. The number of grounds you can spot from the air also indicates the strength of club cricket culture in that place. As one would expect, the club culture is quite strong in England and Australia, where it plays a strong societal role as well.
My eldest brother stopped playing cricket by the time he turned thirty. In fact, none of my brothers play the game anymore. I have been lucky. Being part of a university club, and covering cricket on and off in the last few years, has given me the chance to stay in touch with the game and so I have. When I see, mainly in England and Australia, men with grey hair and withered bodies padding up, or trundling up for a bowl, there is something deeply satisfying about it. It gives me hope that when I will inevitably get older and more ordinary with my cricketing skills and fitness, I can still drag myself to a cricket ground and have some fun.
In places like India, people generally quit playing cricket by the time they are thirty. They do however, watch the game, follow it on television and are passionate about the national team’s fortunes. More than the demands of their lives limiting their ability to play, it is the competitive nature of gully cricket that prevents them from continuing to play cricket in a leisurely fashion, and that’s a shame. Whereas in England and Australia, a strong club culture allows one the opportunity to turn up every weekend of the summer and roll their arm over.
But here’s the rub. The more you play, the more you understand the limits of your abilities. You understand the struggle for a run or a wicket; Or, how your body refuses to cooperate with your mind. You comprehend the glorious uncertainties of the game. You grasp—at some level—what it must be like to be a professional cricketer. And that keeps the cynic in every one of us at bay.
The sport and its practitioners at its highest levels are not perfect. The way cricket is run, and has been for ages, is not a pretty picture either. And so, when scandal after scandal continue to erode your faith and joy in the sport, or when the form of your favourite team or player goes from bad to worse, shut out all the cynicism, grab a bat and ball and go to the nearest open space with a couple of friends. Just play. You will soon realize why you loved this sport in the first place, and everything will be good with the world again.
Subash Jayaraman is an Engineer by training and a cricket writer & podcaster by choice. He hosts a popular cricket podcast Couch Talk on thecricketcouch.com and tweets as @thecricketcouch.
This is the first of a fortnightly column on cricket he will be writing for Lounge.