Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings ...
A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings and Kolkata Knightriders during the DLF IPL T20 tournament (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Log 305

A cricket tournament that is taking place in the unimaginable heat of the Indian plains --- I can sympathize, having experienced it once myself

For the last several weeks I have been mesmerized by the IPL (Indian Premier League), the 20/20 cricket league that has transformed the world’s greatest game from a sleepy, often-resultless enterprise into one of the most exciting sporting occasions on earth.
I expected to deplore this development, because of all its dressing up in multi-colored uniforms, the presence of dancing girls, the use of media technology to have the players talk about the game while out in the field --- all these innovations in a game that had always been beyond such fol-de-rols.
In the event, I have discovered it to be completely enthralling as it has offered play distinguished by the most amazing skills one could ever hope to see.
In fact, this new form of the international game, in which each side has only twenty overs (six balls to the over) to make its runs, turns out to be the game that most of us who have played cricket have always played. Most cricketers go out on Saturday afternoon around 1 o’clock, bat until the team is out, and then put the opponents in to bat and try to score more runs. The only thing missing from our version of the game that I played at high school was the limitation to 20 overs. Otherwise, it was almost identical in form.
But marvellous though these games have been --- one only  has to remember that the bowlers are among the best in the world, and they are really, really trying to get those batsmen --- also among the world’s best --- out, which is easier than in the most standard versions of the game because the batsmen, whether they like it or not, have to force the pace of scoring if they are not to be stuck with some easily-beatable low total of runs scored --- it is not the values of this new form of cricket that I want to write about today. It is the pre-monsoonal Indian heat that has caught my attention, as the players remark about how hot it is out there, and visibly begin the wilt in these tough conditions.
I once experienced this heat myself, when I visited India in 1951, straight from the moderate climate of New Zealand, and took up residence in an little adobe house in a refugee colony that had been erected 85 miles north of New Delhi.
I have no idea what the temperature was during this season, but I can tell you  it was  unimaginably hot, and beat anything I have ever experienced before or since.
As the days, weeks and months passed, the heat steadily grew, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and there was almost no relief from it, the only slackening in its intensity during the day arriving each morning for maybe half an hour at about 5.30 am just before the sun rose. When this happened at 6 am, one was immediately plunged back into the full fiery intensity of the Indian summer. And that intensity during the day reached its peak in the early afternoon, a time at which every sane person who could do so retired into his or her house behind windows that were painted blue in an effort to reject the sun’s rays. One began to understand how it was that the British Raj retired at this time of year to the hill stations that have become legendary in accounts of British India --- places like Simla, which my wife and I visited for a few days, Poona, (now called Pune), where we were briefly before the onset of this heat, Pondicherry, and various other towns whose names now escape me. But even the Indians themselves could not deal with this heat, although they had to endure it year after year as their colonial masters frolicked in the cool of the mountains.
The intense heat continued  until the moment the sun went down in the early evening: but somehow there was no relief even then, because the moment the sun’s direct rays disappeared, everything seemed to become hotter. At that moment, one could place one’s hand against the wall of one’s house, and it felt like you were in an oven.
I will never forget one moment when it rained briefly, and everyone in the village stood outside in the rain, arms flung towards heaven, yelling and laughing with the relief. But it was soon gone, and we were back into the furnace.
This is the kind of heat that has been assailing the cricketers as they play this tournament, and I am able to sympathize with how they feel.
Personally --- of course I wasn’t eating very well during these months --- I quickly developed a severe case of diarrhea which only disappeared after I moved in mid-summer to the gloriously beautiful, and since tragically destroyed Vale of Kashmir. Both of us, my wife and I, managed to recover while there. But by the time we returned to mainland India in September, the monsoon had actually arrived, and the very moment we hit the plain our diarrhea returned in full force.
Maybe on some other occasion I could write something about the delights of having such a disease in the Bombay of those days --- a horror show if ever I was subject to one.
And I have noticed in the cricket fraternity that many of the visiting cricketers from other countries can fall suddenly and mysteriously ill with that sickness known in Mexico as Montezuma’s Revenge.  That they are able to play such wonderful cricket in these circumstances says much for their tenaciousness and guts. I take off my hat to them (or would if I wore a hat)
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