Best Cricket Stories
with an introduction
(Part of the introduction)
............. This book is an attempt to offer something different. It introduces itself, with a particular eye to the younger reader, as a cricket anthology of pieces which have not appeared in anthologies so often that they have become, like the pre-chewed meat at an Esquimaux dinner, devoid of taste to the recipient. I have sought to find writings on cricket good enough to qualify on literary grounds, and fresh enough to appeal to palates that must be very jaded indeed from the fare they are perpetually and punctually offered year after year, with no off season. That is why you will find names that are probably new to those who choose cricket anthologies as bed-books: William Godfrey, Margaret Hughes, Clifford Bax, A.D.Peters, Henry Blofeld, and N.S.Phadke among them.
................Professor Phadke's story depicts cricket glowing like a beacon above an almost existentialist oriental bloom.
This story was perhaps inspired by the cricketing career of the Great Hazare who very much respected N.S.Phadke for his greatness as a litterateur and also for his immense love for cricket. Prof Phadke is seen here with Vijay Hazare at Poona Club during the match against West Indies in the year 1948.
THY NAME IS BURDEN!
by Prof.N.S. Phadke
It was half past ten on a November morning. The sun shone brightly on a spotless blue sky. Suburban trains arrived every five minutes as usual at the Churchgate station, and disgorged loads of humanity. These hurrying crowds, coming out of the terminal station, which usually flowed through the wide street leading to the offices, and firms and shops round about the Flora Fountain, did not, however, today take the usual course. Instead, they surged through the opposite Nariman Road leading to the Brabourne Stadium and further down to the sea front. Men and women of all ages and descriptions thronged into this wide road, pushing, rushing, hurrying, halting, crying and yelling. All of them seemed to be in a tremendous hurry, impatient and eager. The second Test match between India and a visiting team was being played at the Brabourne Stadium, and people of all kinds and classes, moved by a strange frenzy, were seen running towards the gates of the Stadium. It was indeed a mad crowd.
Kashinath stood on the pavement in front of a big restaurant, watching the stream of humanity rushing past him. He looked like a tramp, his body barely covered by dirty clothes, his eyes haggard and red , his face unclean and unshaven, his hair unwashed and uncombed. Standing on the pavement at the corner of the road, he watched the strange traffic of humanity all around him. Well-dressed men came out of the restaurant and started running towards the Stadium. Crowds rushing like flood water from the arches of the Churchgate station passed across his gaze like eddies and currents. Vendors of wafers and bananas and betel-leaf and cigarettes sent up shrill voices. People asked one another about the latest score. The whole scene around him was full hectic hurry and noise.
Like the men and women marching past Kashinath, memories of the past rushed across his mind as he stood in his place under the huge signboard of the restaurant `Asiatic`. He had been a first class cricketer in his high-school days. He had captained his team and led it to victory and won the championship shield. Time and again he had played a veritable captain's innings, and people had predicted that young Kashinath would become famous as a cricketer. He too had harbored the great ambition of playing for India one day on the C.C.I. wicket. But this dream of his had remained unfulfilled. Life had shown him little kindness. He had suddenly lost his father, and he had been obliged to leave school and make a living by following his family profession of carpentry.......... These memories made him sad and bitter. He wanted to shout at the crowd, 'You fools, I know cricket much more than you! I love the game more than any of you! I too, wish to buy a ticket and get into the ground and see this Test! I am dying to do so. But........but......' He dug both his hands in the pockets of his dirty coat. There was a tattered rag of a handkerchief in one of the two pockets, and in the other were a few cheap country Bidis and an almost empty matchbox. The cheapest seat in the Stadium stands cost two rupees!
Today's Test was bound to be most exciting. India's most popular batsman Bihari was in wonderful form. He was expected to score a century as he had done in the first Delhi Test. This was indeed going to be a great struggle worth going hundreds of miles to watch. Tens of thousands of people were rushing like mad men towards the grounds. But did these idiots know to hold a bat- these fat-bellied men, chewing betel-leaf, and these decorated dolls of ugly girls, who ran past Kashinath? Worms who knew nothing of cricket! Kashinath felt a surge of bitterness filling his heart. He was a cricketer. He loved the game. But he was jobless! He had not a penny in his pocket. He could not purchase a ticket unless he pinched somebody's pocket! Unless he turned thief!
Kashinath gave a little start at the thought. Thief! He had never committed theft. While hunting for a job he had often thought of turning thief. Why not commit a theft and go to jail, he had asked himself. They would give him food and clothes. But that idea had not appealed to his educated and cultured mind. He had never committed theft. The thought of pinching someone's pocket, therefore, shocked him.........But only for a moment. He asked himself, why not?....... Why shouldn't I steal?.........All around him there were shouts: "How many runs?" "How many wickets?" and "How many tickets?".............Kashinath's mind shouted, `Why shouldn't I steal?` `Why not?.............He began to watch the people stampeding past him with a different eye. He began to calculate whose pocket was assailable with the greatest safety to himself. His heart pounded with the thought of doing a thing which he had never done. But his eyes sparkled with the intention to steal. Kashinath was about to faint under the tension of his inward struggle.
A group of half-a-dozen girls were coming towards him, laughing and tittering like sparrows. They came closer. He smelt the fragrance of their handkerchiefs He heard their sweet voices. They went past him. Kashinath saw one of the girls swinging a purse. He looked hard at the purse. It assumed so large a size in his eyes that there was nothing else left for his eyes to see, and he thought that with each swing the purse asked `Why not?` `Why not?` Kashinaath's eyes bulged............the next instant he jumped forward. His hands grabbed. He captured the white purse. And than bolted. "Help! Help! Thief!"-- He heard the girl's cries from a distance. But he ran like a mad man-- like a man who had lost all his senses.
Kashinath heard yells and shouts all around him when he came to his senses. But how different were these! And how different a man was he--different from the unkempt, unshaven, jobless tramp that stood on the pavement before the restaurant! He was no longer a dirty and starved man, with a bitter and cruel face.
He had bolted with the stolen purse for half a mile, and than rushed into a restaurant. He had hurried to a table in a corner and opened the purse. There were four five rupee notes and a few coins. He had put them in his pocket. Also the powder box and the lipstick which the girl had carried. He had found a letter in the purse. He read it hurriedly-----
"My dear Shanta,
I have received the thirty rupees which you kindly sent. I am ashamed at the thought that you must have sent this money with great inconvenience to yourself. I am ashamed when I think of your labor and your sacrifice. I am indeed a totally worthless father. It hurt me tremendously to have asked for your help, knowing full well that you yourself need the money that you earn. But was I not helpless? It was imperative to put your mother in the hospital. I had not a farthing. Your help has indeed come like a Godsend. You have saved your mother. She will now get well........."
Kashinath had held that short letter in his hand for a while. His eyes had become dim with tears. He had imagined that whose purse he had stolen was after all a flippant, irresponsible, pleasure-loving, gay, young student in some college. But how mistaken had he been. She was a good and a kind girl, wanting to help her father-- loving her mother! Industrious, honest, loving! As he wiped his eyes, he had wished to run back and find the girl out and to return the purse........But a waiter was standing in front of him and asking him what he wanted. That changed the direction of his thoughts. He ordered a good meal. After leaving the hotel he had gone into a haircutting saloon, and had had a good shave, and a shampoo and a wash.
Now he had no need of purchasing a cheap seat. He flung a five-rupee note and bought a first class ticket. He had entered the stands and settled in a comfortable seat.........How different were the yells and shouts he now heard!
He looked at the huge score-boards in the corners of the eastern boundary, at the players in their spotless white pants and shirts, and at the two umpires in their white gowns. He couldn't decide if Bihari was still to come and bat. He was about to ask his neighbor about it when he heard a girl shouting to another " Shanta! Shanta! Do you know that........." he startled. Shanta! Did it mean that the girl whose purse he had rifled was seated near him? He looked stealthily at the girl sitting to his left. He could easily identify the dark girl. He had stolen her money! And he was now sitting next to her! Her money was in his pocket! Her powder box and also her lipstick and so also the moving letter which her loving father had written to her! What were the thoughts running at this moment through the poor girl's mind? Did she think of her mother? Did she want to send more money to her father? Did she need the money for herself? Kashinath thought--" But no," he said to himself. He mustn't think of anything. Goodbye to all kind and good thoughts! Goodbye to honesty! Life is such that you must be hard-hearted and cruel, unless you were prepared to perish! He flung aside the weakness that was about to envelope him. Like a hardened criminal he looked straight into Shanta's eyes and asked "Excuse me, but is Bihari still to come?"
The girl laughed. "Of course," she said. " Bihari is still to come. He will bat after this wicket. Don't you see him sitting there, with pads on his legs, and a bat and gloves in his hand- ready to enter as soon this wicket is down? Look! There he is."
"There.....under C.C.I. balcony, across the white line of the boundary. Don't you see the wicker chairs in the shade? Just there......" she raised her hand, and in doing so she touched Kashinath's shoulder. She looked steadily into his eyes. Her sweet child- like smile touched his heart. A quiver of shame rushed through all his limbs.
" O, there," he mumbled nervously. " I am sorry, but I cant see well. I am a slightly shortsighted."
" Are you? Wait I'll give you some binoculars. Lata! Lata! Will you give me your binoculars, please?" She took the field glasses from her friend and turned to Kashinath. " Here you are."
" Thank you very much," Kashinath said. `I deserve to be shot down`, he told himself. He put the field glasses on, but he had no wish to focus. Instead of looking through the binoculars, he was lost in his own bitter thoughts.......` Why doesn't somebody shoot me down? Why don't I die.......'
During the days when he had gone through the agonies of unemployment and penury, he had often thought ending his own life. He had often wanted to fling away from his shoulders the burden of life-- the unbearable painful burden of living! The binoculars were before his eyes. But he did not see anything. He was deciding in himself that he would rest himself completely after returning from this match. Enough of this struggle. What sense was there in carrying this burden of life, struggling to keep himself alive, starving, running from place to place, trying to be good, trying not to tarnish the good name of his father? This strange tyranny of life! This queer burden of life! He had carried this burden on his head for quite a long time! Enough of this joke!......After returning from this match he would end.........
" Can you see Bihari?" The girl touched him, as she put the question, with great concern.
Kashinath came out of his own thoughts. " Yes! Yes! I can see Bihari now." He told the girl as he adjusted the focus. " What a fine field glass this is! I can see Bihari almost as if he was sitting in front of me here." He kept looking. Yes, there he was-- Bihari, the darling of the crowds. Two or three young girls, wearing bright- colored saris were bending before Bihari and asking for his autograph. Bihari was making some joke, and grinning. Kashinath kept looking at that charming picture of the great cricketer.
The girls skipped off like gazelles after they had secured Bihari's autograph. Bihari was left to himself. His bat rested between his knees. His batting gloves were put around the handle of the bat. He was waiting for his turn. As soon as this wicket fell, he would get up, and pick up his bat and gloves, and walk with slow steps towards the wicket. Fifty thousand people would send up loud cheers of applause as soon as they saw him. " Buck up, Bihari!" "Come on, Bihari1"....... The air would be filled with shouts like this.
And it was this of which Bihari himself had got tired. He was inwardly groaning under this strange burden of popularity and responsibility! He wanted to look hard at the play going on in the middle, since his turn was due. He must study the swing and direction of the balls. He must decide how to face the bowling. He must watch each ball carefully. But his heart rebelled against this strain. How he wished to close his eyes, and stretch his limbs and go to sleep! He was tired! Very, very tired! He had no strength to walk the road of fame! He wished that this road would some day come to an end. " When did I take on this road," he asked himself. :When? Why? How?"
He remembered things -- some clearly, some dimly. He had never been fond of books in his high-school days. But the prince of a State, wanting to strengthen his team, had picked him up when he was just a lad, and made him play big cricket. He soon came to be recognized as a rising star on the horizon of Indian cricket! Fate had decided the mission of his life. Cricketer! Cricket! He had gone to England and Australia, broken several records, and now he was considered the backbone of India's cricket team. Match after match, he had to carry his side on his shoulders. He had to remember that his side would score only if he played well, and collapse miserably if he lost his wicket cheaply. His popularity had gone on increasing. And with popularity his responsibility too. He had carried this double burden on his shoulders endlessly. This tyranny of retaining his own fame and bringing more and more glory to India! He had to play first- class cricket almost all the year round. When the Indian season was over, he went to England to play in Lancashire League matches. When the English season was over, he returned to India and played in the Tests. India! Lancashire! India again! Struggle for runs! Struggle for wickets! Struggle for averages! Unending struggle! He had never had an occasion to play freely and to enjoy himself! He didn't even have time to be ill and to lie in bed...... He must live up to his name! He must carry the burden on his shoulders without respite, without complaint.
How often he wished to rest! To be ill, if that alone gave him an occasion to lie in his bed, and to watch his two young children at play, and to hold his wife's hand, and to talk to her of humdrum domestic trifles!.......... His married life with Sudha had begun just when his career as a fine cricketer had started. His life as a husband had synchronized with his life as a responsible and famous player. He loved Sudha. He had spotted her on the occasion of a friend's marriage. He had liked her immensely. He had wooed her, and married her. Even today she was just the young girl who had fascinated him. Fair, delicate-- a charming little doll! Not very talkative but with drops of honey on her tongue!
Dozens of bats stood in a corner of the bedroom in his house. " How jealous I feel of those bats!" his wife Sudha would often say, pointing at them.
Bihari would snap a finger on her cheek. " Jealous? Those poor bats! Why should you feel jealous of them?"
" Why should I not?" Sudha would argue. " You belong to them, and not to me. All your time is given to them! You share all your life with them! They fill your thoughts! They fill your waking hours! Do you ever have a quiet moment with me?"
Bihari would feel like a guilty man. But he would grin. " Sudha darling," he would caress her hand, " there will come a day when I shall throw aside all those bats, and I shall be entirely your. Honestly! You'll see............"
There was deafening applause............ Bihari emerged from his thoughts.
A wicket? He gave a start and moved in his chair, and looked hard........... No! Nobody was out. The crowds had cheered and clapped because one of the two batsmen had just missed being run-out.
He gave a sigh of relief and settled into his chair again. Thank God, there was no need for him to get up and walk into the field.............. He really wanted to do what he used to tell his wife. He wanted to have done with cricket. He wanted to throw the bats away. He wanted to lead a quiet peaceful happy life--away from the madding crowd! He would purchase lands on the outskirts of his home town. He would grow vegetables and flowers. He would have a few cows and bullocks, and also hens. He would dig a beautiful well, draw water from it, swim in it to his heart's content, get ill with cold, and enjoy the luxury of lying in bed.............. His shoulders ached with the burden of fame and responsibility. His head was splitting with this concentration. He would make his last appearance in some big Test like this, and then he would say " Goodbye cricket!" He would put an end to the ordeal of living in the limelight of popularity.
Kashinath was still looking through the field glasses. One person, tired of the burden of life, was looking at another equally tired of the pattern of life which he was required to lead. Only that other person was not aware that he was being watched by a man very much like himself. Bihari thought that he alone was groaning under the tyranny and load of life. Every man thinks so. While the truth is that all men, in their own ways, and in their own measure, are wearied of life.
There was a roar of applause.
A wicket has fallen.
The batsman who was out was returning towards the pavilion. Bihari shook off his thoughts. He got up from the chair, took up his bat and gloves and stepped into the field. He heard a dinning applause. He heard his own name rising from thousands of throats. He reached the wicket and started to play. Breathless silence descended on the scene. He made his first boundary stroke. The whole ground rang with cheers. 'Four runs' Bihari told himself. He needed ninety six runs more. He must score a century. He must. There was no escape. He must hit up a century. Like an ox under the yoke he put himself to the heavy task. The scoreboard rattled. Bihari's score rose steadily but surely. Twenty. Thirty. Forty......Inwardly, however, Bihari was asking himself, how far was the day when he could afford to forget all about runs, the day when he would throw off this strange burden? He was tired! His heart was sick and faint!... And yet he was hitting the ball hard to this side and that. He was piling runs on runs.
At last he reached the coveted three figures, and was still not out. Mad joyful yells filled the stadium. Swarms of people rushed towards the wicket from all directions. They made a ring around Bihari. He wanted to get away from this milling crowd- away from their hoarse shouts. He wished to rest. He wished to run to his own home town, and to lie in he lap of his wife and to tell her that at last he had done with cricket. But he was caught in a veritable whirlpool of admirers. They patted him, garlanded him, grabbed his hand shook it. But he wanted to be left alone.
A man came near Bihari and put a couple of notes and a few coins in his hand. " I am a poor jobless fellow," he said with a grin. " But I am one of your admirers. Once I had captained my school team. You played from another school. You have become a great hero. I have remained a small insignificant man. Almost a worm. I have nothing precious to give you as a token of my appreciation. I have given you all that I have." He faltered a little and then added," Even this money which I have given is not mine. But I can give it to you. Take it, please. Don't say no...". He closed Bihari's fingers round the notes and coins, gave a last grin, and, turning, disappeared into the crowds.