Mike Sexton in India: Finding Cricket and Space in Delhi

Mike Sexton was in India to launch his book Border’s Battlers and to be part of the Ekamra Sports Literature Festival. He penned this piece.

 

 

 

On the first morning in Delhi, I opened the curtains to see the fog and pollution spread like a pashmina over the dawn. Out of the mist shadowy figures walked silently toward their day’s work.

 

The previous night’s drive from the airport confirmed in a practical way the statistic that twice as many people live in Delhi and Haryana than in Australia.

 

Space is at a premium – as shown by the fearless taxi drivers, truckies, motorcyclists, horse riders and tuk-tuk drivers who compete for gaps that may or may not be there.

 

‘To drive in Delhi you need three things,’ one driver told me ‘a good horn, good brakes and good luck.’

 

So from the third-floor view that morning it wasn’t a surprise that on a section of the roof below was a cricket net and strip of artificial turf. In India, where there is space there is cricket.

 

 

It evoked the beguiling connection between space and technique. We were all brought up knowing that the Don arrived in Sydney after years honing his skill with the golf ball against the rainwater tank in Bowral.

 

The Hussey brothers learned to hit inside-out to score in the quirky dimensions of the family driveway in Perth, Greg Chappell’s precision is in part a result of playing shots in a backyard maze of grapevines, water tanks, chook yards and windows, and Ray Lindwall’s pace and accuracy came from the streets of Paddington aiming at a fruit box-stump.

 

Sunil Gavaskar is said to have honed his technique on the tiny balcony of his family apartment in Mumbai. Not a wasted extravagance in shot-making. Sunny could have batted in a phone booth.

 

The story of India’s first great spin bowler – Palwankar Baloo – is of a groundsman one day being asked to net bowl at the Parsi Cricket Club, at which time he discovered the mysteries of the turning orb and a subcontinental love affair began that has never died.

 

 

These were the type of discussions that took place at the Ekamra Sports Literature Festival where the Indian launch of ‘Border’s Battlers’ (the story of the 1986 tied Test in Madras) took place.

 

 

Two spin-doctors were honoured guests at the two-day Festival. Murali Kartik and Monty Panesar both spoke about snatching opportunities as kids because spin bowling needed nothing more than a ball and a stump to aim at.

 

 

 

Murali Kartik and admirers

 

As a boy Panesar had a book containing a series of photos of Bishan Bedi demonstrating the correct technique. As a young Sikh in England, he found power in the images and rehearsed in his bedroom checking his action in the mirror and then comparing it to Bedi’s.

 

When he was on the verge of first-class cricket he spent a summer playing for Glenelg Cricket Club where he met Terry Jenner. Jenner stood at the top of the net with him and said, ‘feel the ball Monty – feel it in your hand and feel its shape in the air’.

 

What he remembers of that season was the warmth of Bob and Jenny Snewin who hosted him, Jenner’s advice and the 40 wickets he took.

 

Both spinners talked about the elusive ingredient of confidence and both nominated someone who generated it in them.

 

For Kartik it was New Zealander John Wright who when coaching India would slip an arm around him and hiss positive thoughts into his ear. For Panesar it was Michael Vaughan tossing him the ball and saying, ‘Monty bowl your best ball and I will take care of the rest’.

 

Both agreed in cricket you have more bad days than good and so you need someone to have your back when your best ball is hit inside out through the gap for another boundary.

 

When I returned to the hotel that evening the large screen television in the foyer was showing the West Indies v India ODI. The evolution of techniques (some say corrupted by the 20-20 format) – made me fantasise about where the players had started playing and if that was reflected in the way they bowled or batted.

 

Before I closed the curtains in my room I glimpsed out at the gathering dusk. Below two men were at the net. They looked like they worked at the hotel and were on a break. One had a plastic bat and the other was tweaking the ball down to him.

 

Read more about Border’s Battlers in this review from Dan Hoban. HERE

 

 

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About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include "1964", "Fos Wiliams on Football" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Mike, hope that the book is well received in India. Did you run into any Bays supporters while you were there?

  2. Michael Sexton says

    Monty Panesar (being an old Bay boy) put on a good impression of being delighted when I shared the news of Glenelg’s premiership with him.

  3. Interesting perspective and well-illustrated.
    Internet radio has allowed me to follow cricket again from Canada and the most enthusiastic people I have to talk about it with are Indias. They don’t just follow India, they know the results of all the games.

  4. Fascinating as always,Mike best of luck with the book

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Mike.
    I am really looking forward to reading your new book.
    Good luck with it!

    Also, just wondering if the Indian population’s obsession with cricket also translates into a love of cricket literature?

  6. Michael Sexton says

    There is definitely a strong literary tradition in India with cricket – there are collectors who search for books from all over the world, which reflects how many Indians follow cricket – as a world game not just a parochial passion.

    Among the books I really like are ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field’ by Ramachandra Guha – ‘Cricket Country” by Prashant Kidambi – “The Fire burns Blue” by Sidhanta Patnaik & Karunya Keshav ‘Wizards’ by Anindya Dutta and the novel ‘Chinaman’ by Shehan Karunatilaka.

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