Mrs Tekwani is surprised to see her 14-year-old son Yash’s MRF bat lying at home one late June evening. Looking down from her balcony at the Raheja complex in Powai, she finds him playing goalie in a game of football. The “D-line” he’s guarding is makeshift—and so is the game he’s playing. Rocks as goalpost marks, invisible bylines and unoriginal Rooney T-shirts are only some of the adoptions Mumbaikars such as Yash have made after the relationship with their preferred sport ran into rough weather.
Rains and cricket are the only equalizers in our mega city (only in times of a torrential downpour or a tense humdinger do Mumbaikars stand as one, in awe of proceedings). But what happens when one equalizer flattens the other?
It takes a lot for the inimitable spirit of cricket here to take a beating. A disastrous performance of the national XI and an overflowing rain gauge (both consistent in the recent past) have put the MRF bats in a corner. The galis are missing howzat roars and the gymkhana pitches have inch-high grass on them.
Ironical, when Mumbai is credited with hosting a cricket tournament—the only one in the subcontinent—during the rains. It’s the Kanga League, named after former national selector H.D. Kanga, and it has been operational since 1948. “The Kanga League tests cricketers in extreme conditions—damp wickets and rough outfields— and that has been the reason why Mumbai’s players have had an edge over others,” says Ajit Wadekar, former Test captain and Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) president.
Unfortunately, though, dark clouds have started looming over the annual tournament. Torrential rains in the past few seasons, coupled with the lure of playing county cricket abroad have kept many a budding talent away. Sangam Lad, secretary of the Bengal Cricket Club, one of the premier academies at Shivaji Park, Mumbai’s cricket Mecca, agrees: “Last year, the Kanga League was totally scrapped. Though this has only happened once before (in 1984), its future appears bleak to me.”
In the millions of bylanes, it takes little to wash away the players’ commitment. The first showers of mid-June wash away the stumps drawn on walls and cricket goes on the back foot. Thereafter, football takes over. This year, the game has received a boost in the galis thanks to the dismal show of the men in blue at the World Cup. “Cricket on TV fails to keep us off the field any more. Unless there is an extraordinary game being telecast, we won’t stop playing football,” says young Jimit Vora, a recent convert. Gali football has its own charm, and gets better with the rain.
But, halt before you think Mumbai has abandoned its favourite game. Many of the city’s nearly 150 clubs start fitness sessions from July for professional cricketers. Sixteen-year-old Chirag Bhatt, a U-19 aspirant, says: “Rains are indispensable to cricket here; if I totally stay away during these few months, I’ll lose touch.” The secretary of Bandra’s MIG Club (frequented by Tendulkar and the Tendulkar-inspired), Pravin Barve, is defiant: “Monsoons give us the time to lay the pitches and revamp the outfield. It’s a much-needed break for us to start the new season afresh. And the game never stops because we have cement pitches, too.”
MCA is also reportedly planning an indoor facility at Bandra-Kurla. So, although our spirits are now damp, all it will take is a dry spell coupled with a Test series win by Dravid’s men for the city’s blood group ‘C’ to start flowing again.
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