By Sudeep Sonawane
December 05, 2004
The 52-inch LED television mounted on the wall opposite the entrance to the Recreation Room is showing the live broadcast of the One-Day International cricket match between India and England. The room is full of people, but few watch the game.
Two middle-aged men talk animatedly outside the Recreation Room. They are sitting on the long balcony, running parallel to the wings of the Recreation Room, facing the lush green garden dotted with Acacia trees along its edge.
“Cricket is not the same any more, partner,” the man with salt and pepper beard says. “We enjoyed playing the gentleman’s game during our era. I loved competing on bowler-friendly pitches and watching others play.”
“Yeah,” replies the bald man sitting next to the man with beard. “This age cannot match those wonderful years. I miss them – the white flannels, stripped blazers, handmade shoes, lemonade breaks, tea with biscuits and intelligent spectators. Cricketers and the spectators loved the game.”
The greybeard agrees and says, “There was grace and skill on show in a relaxed setting unlike the win-at-all-cost approach that we see these days. Opponents and spectators would understand a classic cover drive or a square-cut.”
“Yes, yes old chap… A batsman, caught in the slips edging a late out-swinger, admitted the bowler’s good delivery while returning to the pavilion.”
“Did you do it in your time?”
“All the time,” replies the bald man. “Every time a batsman despatched my good deliveries to the boundary, I would nod my head. I did not do it when they hit my bad deliveries. Bad balls deserve punishment. Most batters complimented my unplayable deliveries.”
“Times have changed Mr Swinger. Now people wildly cheer mishits and edges that fly over the third man boundary.”
“It is sad,” sighs the bald man. “Blame the Asian emigrants for this deplorable trend. I say old chap, these Asians may applaud even a no-ball in future.”
The bearded man does shadow-boxing and says, “Worse. Like English football fans they might start a riot inside the stadium, throw rubbish at the players; May be some may even beat umpires.”
“I’m glad I played cricket in an era where players and spectators celebrated victory with dignity, accepted defeat graciously. Defeat did not mean humiliation,” says the bald man. “I often bowled some of my best spells, took wickets, and yet ended on the losing side. The skipper encouraged us saying, “Well played lads, good luck for the next game.”
“Familiar words these. I recollect scoring more than one century that did not help my team win. Satisfaction outweighed my disappointment. At least my team and I tried to win. Often the victors and vanquished relieved the good performances of the day over drinks. Gone are those days… sigh.”
The two men sat in silence for some moments. They look pensive as both replay their performances in their minds.
After some time the bearded man spoke. “Jardine stared the rot. A cocky fellow, I must, say. He injected pride and arrogance into the game. He made his teammates aggressive because of his passion for the game. Spectators too became emotional. His tactics to win the game at all costs started the rot that we now see. Cricket has changed since the Great Depression.”
The bald man stares into the distance. A draught of cool summer breeze suffuses the balcony. The Bowler takes a deep breath and turns to face his friend.
“Cricket has lost its freshness. Organisers want more money, so do the players. Corporate bosses and advertising agencies now drive the game. The game is one big sales pitch and the media, too, broadcasts this deplorable circus.”
“Cannot stop this slide, brother,” says the bearded man. “Sell the game hard and make money is the modern mantra. Look at the number of television channels competing for the rights to broadcast the profitable soap opera that international cricket has degenerated into.”
“Yeah, pity our era did not have many television channels. They would have filmed us in action and preserved videotapes in library for cricketers from the next generation to watch.
“I doubt it. Who would bother to watch us play?” says the bearded man.
“Many would,” the bald man snaps.
“I don’t think we were good players.”
“You under estimated yourself. You had a complex. You considered yourself inferior to others. This has affected your mind.
This slight angers the bearded. “You fast bowlers never think rationally,” he hisses. “All you guys know is how to bowl fast. Accept the reality – we were not good cricketers. Accept this indisputable fact.”
“Oh shut up you strokeless grafter,” retorts the bald man, raising the pitch of his voice. “You were always slow. You struggled to score runs. I was different. I was not only good, but a great fast bowler.”
“We were not good,” says the bearded man sternly.
“You were not good, but I was great.”
“No we were not good.”
“I was GREAT,” screams the bald man and throw down the steel glass he is holding. The glass goes bouncing, noisily into the balcony.
Two men dressed in blue uniform enter the balcony hearing the din. They quickly walk towards the Batsman and the Bowler.
“Gentlemen your break is over,” says the older of the two. “You have to take medicines and go to bed. You two had enough cricket for the day.
“Oh no, please, it’s not cricket! We’ve hardly talked today,” protests the bald man.
“Leave some issues for another day,” says the younger man as he grips the handles of the wheelchair in which the bald man sat. The senior man takes the bearded man’s wheelchair.
The Batsman and the Bowler do not speak as their wheelchairs roll along the corridor and pass the Recreation Room. The cricket match is still on. There are fewer people. The television cackles to life with spectators’ loud roar. The commentator exclaims, “That was a super shot!” There is no applause from the Recreation Room.
The men in blue move the wheelchairs through the room and pass the dining hall. They find their way out. They turn and enter the corridor leading to the dormitory. On the wall above the swinging doors, a signboard says, Duke Edward Memorial Dormitory, the Royal Mental Health Hospital.