“If you want to watch cricket played with fervent passion and surgical focus forget the stadiums, go to the gullies” words from the late cricketing great Amarnath needs no rationalization.
Gully cricket to me personally brings back memories of a playful childhood – the mystical aura and nostalgia of cricket played in the by lanes and maidans of Bombay or for that matter in any part of India holds a special place in many a heart. Those who have experienced the game in this form would surely agree.
It is said that trademark straight drive from the illustrious Gavaskar originated here
The great Tendulkar still makes his rounds here and the late Vijay Merchant regarded the place as a cricket baptism of sorts. Many a professional and amateur cricketer will vouch its influence in their respective careers. The gully game undoubtedly is played with great gusto and enthusiasm necessitating the current Indian coach Greg Chappell to admit “the level of competitiveness witnessed in the gullies should be channeled to the international playing arena”.
I remember as a kid, we always met after school to play in the gullies or lanes, since the grounds were already packed with footballers, field hockey players and cricketers. At times, there were six different games being played and no one complained or uttered word about the other. Of course, the first comers often got the best share of the ground and that made us kids head for the gullies due to our school timings. The rules in these gullies were strict and rigid. A wooden plank, and sometimes school bags, played the role of stumps. A batted full toss on the left or right side a over a certain discussed boundary would mean marching orders ? you were out. In a sense, our young minds had to develop a different mindset whilst playing here – the level of concentration, skill and reflexes were undoubtedly the main characteristics for success here.
However, life was not always perfect and we had our share of Hitler’s ? one especially in the guise of a woman whom we wickedly nicknamed in Bombay slang ‘The Wiper’. She never returned the cricket balls whenever a mistimed shot landed in her compound. The choicest of expletives would follow to the batsman at the crease. Our young minds could never fathom the animosity this lady had against us kids or our game of cricket. However, the love of the game was so great that we ignored her comments and continued our game. The breaking of a windowpane would result in everyone contributing towards the damage done. Such was the teamwork and spirit that the less fortunate would not be asked to pay. However the fear of a broken window pane and the torture of being kicked out of the gully was more alarming resulting in every player being inventive in his cricketing shots.
Our gully game had a major benefactor in the form of the local ‘Sherbet Walla’ or the cold drinks man. He virtually made a major chunk of his daily livelihood through our regular practices. He knew everyone by name and was a regular of sorts with his cart in the corner dishing out the sherbets and his ice Popsicles that seemed like ‘manna’ from the gods to us thirsty souls.
And who could forget the kind 80-year-old man, (god bless his soul) who would daily sit on his armchair with a cup of coffee watching our game with interest and amusement. He would occasionally offer us some cookies once the game was over whilst narrating exploits of the ex-cricketing greats, the Amarnaths, Griffiths, Trueman, etc. We listened and grasped the stories with eagerness though at times we were bored to death since the stories seemed long and repetitive. The boys would wink at one another saying “Buddhha, katam kabhi karega or When would the old man finish”. However, our respect for the man prevented us from stopping him midway through his story session.
The gully aura is something that ought to be experienced and whilst not every one turns out to be a Tendulkar or a Sehwag, one can take heart that the shots played by these gentlemen originated in the gullies. In Mumbai speak, these shots automatically would be complemented with “Sahi shot tha baap”.
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Author: Irwin Rego- Bahrain