by Ashish

Growing up is not a nice thing. All the serious things in life apart, growing old is not a nice thing.

Leave aside for the moment momentous considerations such as a career, buying a home and all that adult crap. I’m talking about the little things that really matter. Which reminds me, that was actually the title for the Remarks page in my school calendar. I don’t know how many of you had that page, upon which teachers would record for posterity – or at least until the end of the academic year – any transgressions that you might have committed. There was an accursed additional column that had to have the parental inscription the next day – and many unhappy memories come flooding back to life.

Still, that is one of the things that I do not miss about childhood. There are plenty that I do – a whole lot more than I would care to enumerate. Pune is a lot more crowded, for one – there’s traffic all around, and big, ungainly buildings that have sprouted all over the city.

There’s no cycles – at least, I don’t see too many kids pedalling away on their Hero MTB’s, bound towards school in the early morning.

And so on and so forth. But the thing that pains the most is the complete, total and utter absence of children playing cricket in their buildings. No teams being formed, no toddlers being called “Limbu-timbu”, no quarrels about “covering the stumps”, no long drawn debates about whether the bowling was “fakey”. It’s just not there.

And trust me, there was enough material there to keep a sociologist engrossed for hours on end. Building Cricket is not a mere sport, it is a parallel universe.

It begins in the evenings on weekdays, about an hour after school is over, or at ten in the morning on weekends and holidays. The first kid to reach downstairs mooches below balconies, yelling out for the others to come out. Eventually, a quorum is formed, and the toss takes place.

There are two tosses, of course – one so that players may be allotted in one team or the other, and the second for deciding who bats first. It is usually contested by the either the strongest players present, or by two players of roughly matching ability. Players are chosen in rapid succession, in decreasing order of skill. Each team usually ends up with at least one player who is an acknowledged liability – the aforementioned Limbu-timbu.

If the number of players is not the same per team, the team with the lesser number of players gets to play last man – in other words, one single batsman may continue batting, even if all others are out.

The rules are decided quickly – a ball hit towards certain areas might get 1D, 2D or even 3D – that is, there’s no need to run – the ball reaching that area is an automatic addition to the score. Other areas are potential pitfalls – for example, a full toss hit onto a car may be automatically out. Full toss outside the building walls is also out, as is a full toss hit onto window panes. Depending on the size of the playing field, “one-tup” might still be out – shots caught after the first bounce are out. An additional level of complication is “one-tup, one-hand”. Fairly self-explanatory, no?

Bowling rules, then. Only a certain number of overs per bowler, and no more. Such contests usually feature under-arm bowling, although fakey (which involves standing upright and throwing the ball with your wrists above shoulder height – bending the elbows is absolutely fine) might sometimes be allowed. Only rarely is the traditional run-up employed.

Game on, then. The umpire is usually from the batting team, with a suspicious bias for giving uncalled-for wides and no-balls. The wicket-keeper is also from the batting team, as is the square-leg umpire. Again, if one team has an extra member, it has to supply a fielder to the other side. One can readily imagine the scope for what we shall euphemistically call disputes.

These games are usually five overs per side, and the hitting and the running is frenetic. Rubber balls of course, unless somebody is rich enough to afford MRI balls. Dabs for singles, full blooded swings for six, and the occasional authentic drive for four. Disputes over run-outs, over wides, over stumpings. Tight finishes, one sided matches and matches called off due to bad light. Day’s play abandoned because a window pane was broken, or because the ball landed up in a particularly difficult auntie’s balcony. Year after year, summer after summer – the game would go on and on.

Screams and yells, triumphs and dropped sitters. Friendships born of those matches, and quarrels that sometimes last for a lifetime.

Glorious, glorious gully cricket. Is it really a thing of the past?