Friday, May 9, 2008

Cricket on a Mount(ain)

In India, it's almost a cliche to say that you can find cricket being played at the unlikeliest of places. We play on the streets, we play on beaches (not as common as in the West Indies though). We play on apartment terraces and balconies - and yell out to passersby to chuck the ball up four floors, when the inevitable "sixer" lands on the road below. We play in temple courtyards and cause worshippers to pray even harder than usual. We play in school corridors - only during breaks, of course! But sometimes, we even surprise ourselves.

I had one such surprise in store, during a trip to Mount Abu in Rajasthan - a pretty little hill station it was then, around 1983-84. I'd gone there with a large group of friends and relatives, perhaps some 25-30 of us - we'd driven up there from Mumbai in a bus. It was a somewhat strange choice for a vacation spot, because this was around the end of December - peak winter! Mount Abu was cold - very cold, by our Mumbai standards. One of the nights we spent there, the temperature actually dipped below freezing, and the Nakki Lake in Mount Abu actually froze. As kids of course, we didn't particularly care. And who knew that there were lakes in Rajasthan (always associated with "desert"), especially lakes that froze!

So, we were strolling around the little town, making our way to the usual sightseeing spots - the lake, the Sunset point, etc. And wonder of wonders, what do we find? A cricket ground! This "Mount" actually has sufficient flat space for a cricket ground! Even more amazingly, there's an actual match going on at the ground, and it's a "proper" cricket match played in whites, with full gear, a scorer and the usual tiny scoreboard near a makeshift pavilion.

The "cricket stalker" in me is instantly in action! I forget about the usual "sightseeing", this is the sight most worth seeing after all - willow on leather, nice grassy field, chilly winter weather! While my companions went ahead to Sunset Point or wherever, I stopped and found a nice spot from which to watch the game. Nothing remarkable about the game itself, but I do recall that one (Sardar) bowler bowled particularly well, getting some swing and picking up wickets. The standard of play was quite competent, about the level you'd expect at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. In Mount Abu, Rajasthan! What a treat for a cricket stalker (even if my friends thought I was a bit strange).

Much later, I discovered another cricket field on another "mount" - well, at a hill station anyway. The place is called Chail, in Himachal Pradesh state, and it has a cricket ground adjacent to what used to be the Maharaja of Patiala's palace (now a hotel). This is touted as the highest cricket ground in the world, at an altitude of more than 2000 metres. Unfortunately, it's more of a tourist attraction than a cricketer's paradise, so there was no cricket to "stalk" the day I visited, at least. The ground is surrounded by tall trees, which are infested with pesky monkeys! So if you ever go there, hold on to your bags and purses, because those monkeys will grab anything they can get!

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