Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hill cricket

A few years back, a friend of mine suddenly decided to leave the corporate world and join a Foundation that was into social work.

What drove him- someone with a promising career ahead of him- to make this jump, I had asked him.

He had happened to attend one the programs organized by the Foundation, in one of the southern districts of Tamilnadu, he told me. It was a sports event- the Village Olympics- in which hundreds of farmers and others from the rural community had taken part. It was perhaps, for the first time in their lives that these people had ever indulged in a properly organized activity of this scale and nature. There was much fun and revelry and the simple folks went back home in such high spirits. It occurred to my friend then that if he were a part of the Foundation, he could put his organizing capability to good use and contribute to the cause of bringing joy to hundreds of people.

Quite an amazing decision, I felt, my friend had taken. And he didn’t sound morally superior or use a condescending tone as if he was the chosen one to light up the lives of the villagers. I felt his passion was quite genuine.

I was reminded of this friend when I read this story of the 1,342-team T20 Mahasangram cricket tournament being organized in the hills of Himachal Pradesh.

In its second year, the tournament, branded as “the world’s biggest”, hopes to take cricket to every village of Himachal Pradesh. Organised by the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), the tournament, which began on November 29, will go on for a month and a half. The participating players are mostly local villagers and though the organisers provide them balls, they have to pool in for bats and helmets, food and travelling expenses.

With breathtaking views of the Kullu Valley and the Dhauladhar ranges, the setting is spectacular. But the playing conditions are nowhere near perfect. The pitch is matting and the playing field is far from level—balls hit by a right hander towards the leg side tend to roll downhill where children in slippers play with bats crudely carved out of any available wood and balls made of cloth.

Balls are sometimes hard to field when they slide off slopes or plop into streams. Occasionally, play has to be stopped as cattle and ponies traipse along the outfield, on their way to the jungle to graze.

Yet, the game goes on. The players, dressed in white, like regular Test cricketers, come in all shapes, sizes, ages and professions. The enthusiasm shows when they bend that little bit extra to send the ball racing, then dive to stop singles and come up smiling after having saved runs and bruised their elbows.

It is a wonderful story, well narrated by Jonathan Selvaraj, the IE reporter.

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