My two older, much, much older, brothers were already established stars in school cricket when I got my first cricket bat. A Gunn and Moore Nonjar, size 3, I believe. I was about 4 years old. And they took ownership of the seasoning process the minute it came home. Lacking the approved linseed oil as well as patience, they seized upon mustard oil, easily available from the kitchen as the means to season the willow blade. Willow and linseed oil go together like they were made for each other. Willow absorbs the oil thirstily, in a slow but satisfying way almost as if it was savouring a fine wine.
Mustard oil lacks the subtlety of linseed. It plays vinegar to linseed’s wine, the rough Punjabi to the cultured Bengali. The willow blade of my new G&M Nonjar choked and gagged over the harsh, brash mustard oil and refused to absorb it. The enterprising and resourceful young cricketers had an answer; a pair of dividers, to be found in every geometry box ever brought for a mystified child in school. It was the one piece of equipment in the set no child in my lifetime was ever taught to use.
But my brothers did. They seized the recalcitrant willow blade and scarred it with tiny holes. I waited patiently over the next few days for the bat to be turned over to me for my use as the blade was oiled and hammered to produce the finest “stroke”. Finally, the great day dawned when I was given the bat to use for the first time. The older brother said, “Put your left hand down and the right hand on top, close together. Now feet slightly apart, watch the ball and put your right foot as close as possible to the ball as it comes to you and keep the bat close to the leg as you move the bat through”.
Understanding little of what was said but glad to finally get the bat in my hand, I stood prepared to bat; the newest little left handed batsman batting for the first time in the front yard. The bat was heavier than I expected and when the hard leather ball, thrown gently down, underarm, hit it the first time, I felt the shock travel up the arms into my shoulders. Messrs Gunn and Moore were obviously guilty of some optimistic marketing when they labelled their product Nonjar.
I remember at an early age reading an article on why India produced so few left handed batsman but had many quality left handed bowlers. The author, maybe writing with his tongue in cheek, likened it to why Indians frown upon eating with the left hand. You will have to look it up or ask an Indian friend. The situation has changed now, the Great Bengali Cricketer leading the way, though he stills remain the most prolific Indian lefty batsman.
It was hard to find left handed batting equipment growing up. The outside of the leg guards were always missing the protective 2 inches and right handed batting gloves left your bottom thumb cruelly exposed to the crunch of the hard ball trapping it against the handle. Many a bleeding thumb ensued. Cracked bones, bleeding fingers, ripped nails were just a part of the game. Cricket was a hard game played by hard men with hard balls.
I was taught to play straight, watch the ball, keep bat and pad close together, play through the ball, , keep the right elbow high and keep the head still and tucked in with level eyes. Watch the ball in the bowler’s hand, watch the seam, cover the swing, go back and across or forward decisively, use my feet, get to the pitch of the ball and a countless other exhortations that would make me the greatest lefty the neighborhood would never ever know.
There were some who were impressed by my “copybook style” coupled with the left hander’s “natural grace”. I was pushed up the order, batting at #3, based on the prevailing theory that a batsman with solid foundations who was also left handed was ideally suited to the peculiar demands of that position. Batting did not come naturally to me. I was tense and tightly strung. I lacked the instinct to score runs and runs did not come. That raised the tension amidst the tut-tuts as another grim, dour innings composed of hard graft and body blows ended in another low score.
I was a failure as a batsman.
<to be continued. Why? Because this is my blog and I choose what I write about. >