(This is an Archie gag illustration conceived and drawn by this writer)
Dedicated to my classmates Venky (Venkatesh Gopal) whose tomfoolery made this piece possible and the twins, Meesai (Ramkumar) and Lava (Shivakumar) whose hospitality at their Dwaraka Colony home ensured we played way more cricket than required……..even the evening before the 12th Board Exam !
(Contd from Season I)
Link : https://thezolazone.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/ladies-facing-towards-point-season-i-scientific-cricketsh-sic/)
A for Abraar Aaameed
For some strange reason, Dharma disappeared whenever we had the batting lessons.
Mr.Sambandham presided over these.
First we had attendance (God knows why – maybe he wanted to hand out the course completion certificates to genuine trainees ?).
In our group, attendance would start with ‘A’ for “Abrar Aameed (Ahmed)”. This was a strapping, seemingly sober but cheeky and well to do chap who came to the camp on his Enfield Silver Plus ( a vehicle that was a cross between a bike and a moped).
Riaz Ahmed would be in the pillion seat.
He somehow managed to park his own cricket kit on that small vehicle too.
After the attendance ritual was over, we had to line up in rows, leaving enough space between us to swing our bats.
Mr.Sambandham would then announce each step in the batting drill sequence which we had to execute.
Venky, myself, my brother, Riaz and Abrar Aameed would position ourselves next to each other.
The drills were very challenging to execute, not because they were tough but because of Abrar and Venky anticipating and repeating Mr.Sambandham s moves.
“Position feet apart !!” yelled Mr.Sambandham
(Abrar Aameed would repeat but in a hoarse whisper “Position feet apart”)
“BAACKLEEEFTTTT ……………………( he waited for the echo to die down)
“Backleeeft….” Repeated Abrar Aameed
“Right foot back across the crease.. !!!” announced Mr.Sambandham
(Again Abrar’ s loud whisper “Right foot back across the crease”)
“Lift the BATSH (sic) …… !!”
At this point Venky would start gagging and choking in anticipation of the punchline.
Unlike the rest of us, Abrar’s concentration never wavered………………………………………………….
His face remained serious.
“Ladies……” Abrar started whispering in anticipation of what was to come……………..
but the rest of Abrar’s soliloquy was drowned under the full blast of Mr.Sambandham’s next batting drill instruction.
“LADIES……FACING…….. TOWARDS…….. POINT !!!”
At this point Venky could restrain his gagging no longer and would burst out laughing because Riaz would snigger and join the chorus at this point and repeat the punchline
“Ladies facing towards Point !”
After that any more batting instruction was pointless.
Oh I forgot. What we were trying to execute was the Forward Defense.
After bringing the bat down from its never ending freeze in mid air while executing the backleeft,
Mr.Sambandham demonstrated how to bring the bat down and plonk it right next to the left leg to meet the ball.
But he took so long to do it I wondered if the ball may not have already taken the stumps out for a night on the town together with drinks on the house for the opposing team.
The Corollary to that batting instruction was interesting too.
“You have to SSSMEELLLLLL the BAALLLLL !!!”
I was reminded of that again when the young Velu Naicker, bleeding profusely from the nose and with a gash on the eyebrow, is dumped from the police jeep back at his slum dwelling in Dharavi after being given the lathi treatment.
If we thought the forward defense was incredible the backfoot defense tested our imagination even more.
The ball was supposed to be climbing from short of length but Mr.Sambandham s demonstration was straight out of a slow motion duet from a Sudhakar- Radhika flick.
And on top of everything Mr.Sambandham was again smelling the ball – of the backfoot !
But ofcourse, the formalities had to be completed first.
“Right foot back across the crease.. !!!”
“Lift the BATSH (sic) …… !!”
(And then the ship’s foghorn announcement)
“LADIES……FACING…….. TOWARDS…….. POINT !!!”
Hell – Mr.Sambandham wasnt much taller than Gavaskar and there are countless Patrick Eager camera shots (ripped out from Sportstar centerfolds) and countless replays from the Prudential Cup of ’83 showing how he (Gavaskar) negotiated Garner s acute angle lifters………He was in the air and his feet were pointed straight down like a duck in the water !! He sure as hell didnt smell the ball.
Day after day Mr Sambandham’s admonition left me baffled until it was clarified.
Apparently, the intended instruction was to have us open the face of the bat so that it pointed towards the Point fielder (whew).
Ofcourse, Mr.Sambandham’s French pronunciation of the “is” caused the whole confusion.
French pronunciation is when “Amit” comes out as “Ameeeth” , so “is” came out as “ees”.
His French pronunciation morphed the “Blade is” to what sounded like “Ladies”.
Finally “graduation” day arrived and we were to get our certificates.
The legendary off spinner ( and fielding / fitness maniac) Venkatraghavan had been invited as Chief Guest.
That was soon after India s 1983 World Cup triumph and the main speaker at the ceremony mentioned that instead of having a passenger like Sunil Valson in the squad if Venkatraghavan had been selected he would have had the West Indies in knots from the league phase.
Interesting aside – India had just played a series in West Indies prior to the World Cup and when counting all the matches from that series onwards till the end of the World Cup – they won every alternate match.
Since West Indies won the league phase match – going by the pattern – India predictably won the final.
But as our favourite Yorkshireman would say “thats just a pile of rrooobiishsh !”
Mr.Sambandham then made some introductory remarks and sure enough rounded it off with his chest swelling.
“We teach ssciientifeec CRICKETSH”
When it was Venkatraghavan’ s turn to speak he told the audience
“Mr.Sambandham mentioned SCIENTIFIC cricket. Believe me I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS “
Mr.Sambandham looked deflated and his face went small (literal translation from tamil)
Loud titters from the audience and Venkatraghavan chuckled.
The White Elixir
It was a pleasant evening and for once even a no-no lofted shot in the nets was applauded by the assistant coaches.
We didnt have champagne at the end of the evening but something even better.
I didnt like the traditional goli soda. It didnt taste good nor did it agree with my gastronomic construct.
The YMCA tea kadai owner had an alternative. He poured a concoction in a glass tumbler from a different bottle.
Venky, my brother and I were already halfway into our daily post coaching session ration of kadala urundai (chikki) when the stall owner handed me the glass with the fizzy white liquid.
The first gulp hit the roof of my mouth with a sharp, sweet sting which caught me unawares and sent me into a tizzy.
The next gulp again hit the roof of my mouth and flushed away the remnants of the kadala urundai sticking stubbornly to my root canal.
When I came to my senses I looked at Venky.
“Its called Panneer Soda” he said in a Roger Moore tone .
(You know…. Roger Moore matter of fact tone “His name’s Jaws…..He KILLS people” that sort of thing)
The lad in the blue-striped track suit
I looked forward to the coaching camp next summer and both – the cricket nets and the panneer soda didnt disappoint.
By then I’d changed schools and this time Abrar Aameed and Riaz weren’t there. I met a whole new set of boys.
Ever since the 4th std I’ve wanted a track suit. The one with the white striped borders. I saw L.Siva (L.Sivaramakrishnan) wear one at a coaching camp I attended at CP Art center.
It wasnt common at that time even among athletes. You had to really earn it.
The next summer , I saw a lad at the YMCA nets with a blue track pant with white side stripes.
He wore spectacles…………… I wondered how he managed with them when playing.
He wasnt the height you’d expect for a fast bowler but he really got the ball to lift at good pace. And his action was ideal for his height. The delivery stride was a looooong step and came down with a thud after being lifted at almost 60 degrees – like a javelin thrower or like the Viswaroopam in the original Dasavatharam (depending on your religious affiliation).
It reminded me of Geoff Lawson’s (the Aussie fast bowler of the mid-eighties) bowling action.
Actually the spectacles helped by giving him a predatorial look which could be useful in intimidating a batsman.
“He’s in the Tamilnadu junior team” my partner whispered.
I watched him for sometime in wonder.
He seemed oblivious to his surroundings but I suspected he KNEW everyone’s eyes were on him.
My suspicions were confirmed when he suddenly strode purposefully in my direction.
“You from Vidya Mandir ?” he barked with a proprietorial air.
Obviously he studied in Vidya Mandir too.
“Well I’m joining there after this summer” I clarified diffidently.
For the next ten minutes he took me under his wing since he could see I was having major problems with my delivery stride and consequently overstepping.
“First measure your run-up” he said and strode purposefully to the wicket as if urging me to do the same.
But I was a bundle of nerves that day and almost did a fast moonwalk shuffle while approaching the wicket.
After looking on with patient exasperation for sometime, he cut his losses and went back to his net practice.
More than a year had passed and by now cricket was out of my system replaced by athletics. I still went to the YMCA but to the running track, where two rival clubs – DBAC ( Don Bosco Athletic Club) and its break away faction Star Track trained.
I “interned” with DBAC meaning that I was allowed to train with the club’s athletes and few months down the line the club would decide whether I could join as a member.
Unlike what I read about middle distance training the coach A.J.De Souza ( we all called him “AJ”) didnt believe in logging 100 miles a week. His mantra was alround athleticism and agility. So he had the 200 m athletes running the 800 m and the 800 m athletes doing shot put, and the filed specialists doing hurdles and so on.
My training partner was a Santhome school athlete with the unlikely name Basu, ( his mother tongue is Tamil).
Today he is a top flight celebrity fitness trainer.
This was a motley group of different ages and consisting of both boys and girls and was very different from the cricket group. They seemed to prefer break dancing to playing or even talking about cricket.
Like Riaz there was a nice amiable “dada” who took me under his wing, a Loyola college athlete named Gavin.
That year, we shifted house once again to Mylapore and I had my first “taste” of the Malabar Saloon. I asked for a “Machine Cut” since I loved the soothing, hypnotic sensation of the “machine” on the place where the hair ends at the neck . Actually its sounds so much more better in Tamil – kichikichimoottufying.
But the experience at the Malabar Saloon was something else. When I asked for the machine cut, the barber responded by completing the exercise in a couple of seconds.
To my horror, with just two big swipes of the machine tool, the entire scalp on my sides was gone and I landed up for training at the DBAC looking like an army recruit.
When Gavin saw me that day, he burst out laughing.
After that he dubbed me “Officer” after the movie ‘ An Officer and a Gentleman’ which was running at the Casino theatre to the packed patronage of the Loyola crowd along with their opposite numbers at Stella Maris and the nickname stuck for as long as I trained at DBAC.
The “Entertainment unit”
For a few days we had to lay off the training and do some maintenance work . This included making a new long jump pit in the next ground after the main running track.
After an hour of toil on the unhelpful ground Gavin jested. “AJ !! ……………. At the rate at which we are digging up this place we’ ll find Jesse Owens’ skeleton !!”
We neednt have worried.
The drudgery disappeared when an entertainment squad made its appearance bang out of nowhere in the form of a film unit.
There was a pot bellied supervisor wielding a megaphone (I use the word ‘supervisor’ for want of a better word)
The youngish extras were mounted on a battered bike each.
There was a car straight out of a fifties movie loaded with female extras.
The only decent bike was a colorful Ind-Suzuki (one of the hot motorcycles of that time apart from the Enfield Explorer).
And the hero, a tall, fair dude with coolers was riding it. He was a newcomer with the unlikely name – Kapil Dev.
The Ind-Suzuki’s yellow and pink color scheme was in sharp contrast to the beat up, dull drab grey of the two wheelers of the male extras. I reckon this was to ensure that the hero got the requisite attention.
And the heroine ?
She (actress Radha) was placed on the bonnet of the car in a hep ‘T’ and slacks and went through the special routine with the dance director.
It was hilarious.
The first bunch of dance steps was executed very near the long jump pit with all the actors in kho-kho position and each one crouching and then looking up on by one to the song’s interlude beat enunciated by some (then) unnamed singer “Chumuku Chumuku Chum Chunguch ….Chumuku Chumuku Chum….”
Take one didn’t pass muster.
Hectic confabulations between the protagonists.
We were wondering what would come of this strategic pow-wow.
Again back to crouching kho-kho position to the same interlude beat.
“Chumuku Chumuku Chum Chunguch ….Chumuku Chumuku Chum….”
This was repeated ad-nauseum for some time.
It then came to a point where the song beat accelerated from 100 to 150 syllables per minute.
As if on cue, the unit dispersed as suddenly as they came .
And how !
The hero and male extras did a turn around scrub on their bikes and vroomed ahead.
The heroine was in full flow, waving her hands and torso like a ballet dancer on the bonnet of the “oldsmobile”.
And they rode off into the sunset…… literally…as it was late evening.
After the ‘entertainment’, I decided to walk around the campus a bit before going home.
I strolled past the Tea/Snack stall, and turned right and walked beside the main track and then to the farthest end of the campus.
It was ages since I’d been to the cricket nets.
Sure enough there were a group of lads with a willow each in hand.
They were all in ‘statue’ mode or ‘freeze’……..
And they lifted their bats held it in the air…..waiting for the next step in the sequence
“Right foot back across the crease.. !!!”
“Lift the BATSH (sic) …… !!”
Until the familiar voice of Mr.Sambandham came blaring through like a factory fire alarm with the next familiar instruction in the sequence……..
NOTHING had changed
Apparently, the Ladies were STILL FACING TOWARDS POINT !!
Illustration note : In the picture, readers will observe that only Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge are looking at the Point fielder.
Also observe the difference in expression – while Veronica is sizing up her quary………………
in contrast Betty’ s expression is almost a KR Vijaya-like, adoring gaze – she seems to be looking at the heavens and Archie at the same time