Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bored to Death by spin bowling in a Test Cricket Match

Though I am a fan of cricket from my school days, I rarely had the opportunity to watch an International Cricket match live from the stands in the ground.  Back in those days there was no Television and only 5 Day Test Matches, which were played in big cities like Delhi, Calcutta, Madras etc which are called Test centres.  That left us glued to our Transistor Radios to listen to the All India Radio running commentary to follow the match. In the 1960’s Test cricket had become less popular, because of uninspiring captaincy and a safety-first approach to the game. Teams played for a draw rather than try to win a match.

It was while studying in Madras Loyola College that I got my first opportunity to watch a Test match live. The First Test match between England and India  under the captaincy of legendary Nawab of Pataudi was being played  at the Nehru Stadium, Egmore  from 10 th January  1964 to 16 th January with a day of rest in between. England toured India for what was by the standards of the time a whistle-stop seven-week five-Test series. After two warm-up matches, England arrived in Madras for the first Test, ready for what was expected to be a battle between spinners and the bat, so much so their team had only one fast bowler.

Since the Test match coincided with the Pongal Holidays, I was keen on going to the match, but Five day season tickets were very expensive and hard to get. Huge crowds jostled in the ticket counters just to get into the galleries, which were issued on a daily basis. Some early birders even slept overnight at ticket counters to get the tickets first!  I was wondering how will able to get in and watch the match and resigned to hear the commentary on the radio. But my more experienced mates had a strategy to get the tickets. Some of them will go early in the morning to stand in the “Queue” armed with bed sheets. As soon as they enter they will reserve seats for others by spreading them in strategic places on the cement galleries. Meanwhile another batch will arrive with food packets for breakfast and lunch supplied from the Hostel Mess. Jointly as a big group they had a field day enjoying the match.

On the first day, the Nawab of Pataudi, India's captain, won the toss and batted, and a crowd of Thirty thousand  left happy as India closed on 277 for 2, with opener Budhi Kunderan making 170 not out. The next day India moved on to 457 for 7 ( Wicket Keeper Kunderan dismissed for a career-best 192) before declaring 90 minutes before the close of the second day, and England reached 63 for 2 by stumps. I was very much excited by India’s high scoring innings and envied my friends who had watched the game in the stadium. I decided to join them at any cost to witness this Test match.  Fortunately, next day I got my place in the late comers’ group which hauled the food stuff as more healthy individuals were deputed to battle the crowds at the gates.

So on January 12, 1964, I got the opportunity to watch a Test match in person. The Nehru stadium was fully packed with enthusiastic crowds making all kinds of noises with bells, plates, drums, horns etc. The match starts at 9.30 A.M. and the impatient crowds welcomed the umpires entering the pitch with a huge applause. In those days jumping barricades and invading the Pitch was common and so a lot of police personnel were posted around the ground  to prevent this. They had to be alert and constantly watch the spectators for any misdeeds. At times they get carried away by some spectacular shot hit by one of the players and turn to see  it for a moment. The instant they turn their backs, is an opportunity for the crowds to pelt them with paper balls and fruit peels and have some harmless fun.

The English side was already suffering from the perennial problems associated with an Indian tour, mainly with food.  Micky Stewart was indisposed with upset stomach and high temperature. Before England started their innings, Jim Parks joined him on the sick list. On the Third day, Fred Titmus and Barry Knight were also feeling unwell. Parks and Stewart had stayed in their beds at the hotel, with a car stationed to get the latter to the ground in desperate situation.

Our slow pitches were prepared to aid the spinners and it started showing signs of wear and tear by the third day.  The Englishmen decided that they would stonewall their way to guard the sick and ailing team members. Only night-watchman Don Wilson showed some enterprise, as he did not fancy his chances of batting through the day. It was mainly due to his 42 that the first session was mildly watchable. But, when Wilson was dismissed, Ken Barrington joined Brian Bolus, launching a partnership which would bring time to a standstill and freeze the scoreboard.
Bapu Nadkarni in action
After lunch Nadkarni came on , rolling his arm over again and again, his deliveries slow and flat, and landing on an imaginary coin on the pitch with nagging accuracy and slight turn. Ken Barrington and Brian Bolus could do little but pat them back along the pitch. From the other end, Borde kept sending down his leg breaks. Ball after ball was blocked or patted away. The first run after lunch came in the 12th over, stirring some of the spectators awake with the by then unusual sight of two batsmen crossing over. By the end of the first hour, lethargy had seeped into the veins of all the batsmen, fielders and – most of all – the scorers. Only the two bowlers kept coming in, briskly running the few steps and sending them down.

We spectators were utterly bored by the happenings at the pitch and started booing and clapping for every ball. Even a rhythmic chorus of “Barrington …Bore…Bore.” ……. “Barrington …Bore…Bore.” had not no effect on the batsmen. In fact Barrington seems to have enjoyed the attention being given to him and encouraged us by punching his bat in the air rhythmically. Once, a stray dog was chased by the spectators on to the pitch. The play was stopped for awhile and resumed after the dog was shooed off by the police.

The spectators were bored to death by the constant maiden overs bowled by Nadkarni and the batting of Barrington and co. In order to liven up the proceedings someone flew a paper kite over the pitch with a snapped string. Again play was halted and Barrington sportingly caught hold of the thread and brought it down to the applause of the crowd. Meanwhile we entertained ourselves by throwing paper balls and fruit peels on to unsuspecting spectators sitting in front.

Barrington finally scored a single off Nadkarni after 21 overs and five balls had been bowled by the left-arm spinner without a run being scored.  He had bowled 131 consecutive dot balls! According to The Times, he “was immediately taken off as though being altogether expensive.”

It was a world record, breaking Horace Hazell’s record of 17 consecutive maidens. At first, Nadkarni was not aware of his achievement. “I came to know about it later. In the evening the official scorer came up to me and told me that I have set a new world record and have bowled the most economical spell. A few of my team-mates took a dig at me. At that time there was no media coverage and things like these went unnoticed.”

One curious aspect of Nadkarni was the fact that he wore loincloths (Langoti)  instead of underwear, often causing amusement in the dressing-room. As a result he earned the nickname ‘Bapu’, for Mahatma Gandhi used to do the same.

The five-match series ended in one of the most stagnating 0-0 stalemates in the history of the game.I was so thoroughly disappointed by witnessing 21 Maiden overs being bowled in my Maiden Test Match as a viewer that I vowed never to

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