Thursday, January 14, 2010

A return to the paddock (as skipper?)

As some readers of this blog might know, I played some cricket in Sydney during my two year stint there (2000-2002). I played in the Northern Sydney Suburbs competition, in the C-division. Over the years, I've made several trips back to Sydney and have always managed to play a game with the boys. The return games have been a treat; Centrals (my team) is made up of a bunch of cricketers who play the game seriously on the field (with a fair amount of banter amongst ourselves, and sometimes directed at the opposition) but don't take it too seriously once they step off the paddock. I count my days playing cricket with them amongst my fondest memories of Sydney. To top things off, North Sydney has beautiful grounds set in the bush (and one of them even offers a great view of the majestic azure waters of Sydney Harbor).

My return trips to Sydney have thus followed a pattern: I write ahead to my old teammates letting them know I will be back in town, and they pencil me in for a game. I'm always given a ride from south of the bridge, and after answering the inevitable questions about life in the Big Bad City, we get down to playing cricket.

This past Saturday, came the chance for the guest appearance. The first thing I noticed on reaching the ground (at Gore Park) was the number of new faces. Recreational cricket always involves turnover; players acquire professional and personal responsibilities elsewhere in their lives and cricket on Saturdays can take a back seat. Still, the great thing about the Centrals vibe is that the newcomers were all as friendly as I remember my older teammates being.

Saturday the 9th was a bloody hot day, and my fervent desire was that we win the toss and elect to bat. (There had been a period in the past when we had always bowled first!). But this time, thankfully, the coin came down right, and we settled down in the shade. Except of course, for the two lads that had to go out and umpire. Taking one for the team for sure.

I went in to bat pretty late. (Turned out, we had 12 players but one of the scheduled players, Ben, sportingly sat out to let me play). Going in at #10 meant I didn't have much time to bat. And geez, was it difficult. I hadn't picked up a bat in five years, and for a while, it seemed that while I was running runs, they were just byes and leg-byes. Finally, I got an inside edge, and scampered through for a single. But the ump (Nic) was signalling a leg-bye! I pointed out that I had gotten an edge, and shortly afterwards when we were bowled out, and I returned not-out, I was told by the scorers that they had given me the single. Phew. Off the mark. And no average yet for the season.

Meanwhile, I was about to be pleasantly surprised. Our captain, Stuart, had left on a family call, and I was stunned to be told by my ex-captains from the past (Richard and Max) that I should captain when we fielded. I was flabbergasted and delighted in equal measure. I quickly got a handle on the bowler's list, and off we went, to try and defend a total of 151 (in 40 overs).

To say that things turned out disastrously would be an understatement. We went down in 20 overs, as sixes and fours flew all over the place. The opposition had very good batsmen, who loved hitting hard, and to make things worse we dropped seven catches. I certainly didn't lead by example, for I dropped two. (Yup, we were worse than Pakistan) The worst part about my drops was that they followed on the heels of my flippant remark, "Allright boys, captains perogative, I stand at second slip". Gee. (Both catches were down to the right; they were simple but would have looked good; slips catching does require practice, which I didn’t have much of).

To make things worse, I could have looked like a genius at one point, when I brought back our opening quick (Richard) for an over, and promptly dropped a catch off him. By that stage, our drops were inducing giggles and wry grins more than anything else.

But still, the captaincy was fun and challenging. While we didn't tinker excessively with the fields, it was still a treat to work them out with the bowlers and to recalibrate in light of the game's development. And I had all the player interactions that a captain can expect: the bowler changing the field after I set it; the bowler suggesting he stay on if he got another wicket; the advice from slips and the wicketkeeper (including the suggestion I not listen to the bowler's demands for a field); the fast bowler who suggested a field change which placed him in the shade; the warming-up from the bowling hopefuls; it was all there.

We lost badly but it had been a great learning experience. Later, after the obligatory cold beers on the sidelines, I was dunked with ice. The dunkings are usually reserved for victorious captains but Centrals figured I needed one anyway.

I'd always reckoned that I would play a game on my return; I didn't think I'd land up captaining for an innings. Thanks boys.

PS: I wore my South African cap while we fielded (an old gift from a South African friend; its the most comfortable cap for cricket that I have). So, I think this must have been the only occasion in the history of the game when an Indian with an American passport, wearing a South African cap, captained an Australian team.

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Blogger nalam said...

Great description, I can see the action and guffaws as though I was there.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

I was there and Samir described it all even better than I had remembered it. It really is amazing the group of boys that play in a cricket team and how sensational the collective sum of their life experiences can make a Saturday afternoon.


1:59 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Nalam: Thanks for the comments; I'm glad you could share in the experience!

Ross: Good to see you here. Saturday afternoons are meant for playing cricket with the right bunch of folks, aren't they?

7:03 PM  

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