Monday, June 2, 2008

Cricket in the Desert

Ok, so the title is a bit misleading... It usually refers to cricket played at Sharjah, which was a very popular venue through the 1990s, but has now fallen off the cricket map for various "interesting" reasons! I'm referring however to another variety of desert - a cold desert, where I was thirsting for cricket but unable to find any.

I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota (in Minneapolis) for much of the 1990s. I went there in the Fall of 1991. In those early days, the US of A was truly a cricket-less desert. There were just a few local leagues in some cities, if you wanted to play. But more importantly, there was a total absence of news from the cricketing world! Remember that in those days, there was no "web", let alone any websites carrying cricket news. There was no satellite TV carrying pay-per-view cricket matches either - that came much later.

The University of Minnesota had a South Asian section in one of its libraries. This was my only source of news, initially. It used to get four Indian newspapers - the Times of India (Mumbai ed.), the Hindu (Chennai ed.), the Statesman (Kolkata ed.) and the Indian Express (Delhi ed.). Each of these papers would be at least a week to 10 days old, by the time they arrived! My Saturday mornings would be spent in this library, catching up on a week's worth of week-old news, including especially the local cricket coverage (Ranji, Duleep, Mumbai schools cricket).

One day late in 1991, I emailed a friend about a match in Sharjah about which I'd just read in these newspapers. He told me my news was stale, and pointed me to his daily "online" fix of cricket - the Usenet newsgroup What a discovery! I was hooked instantly. People from all over the world (especially Australia and UK), posting updates on the cricket, discussions, arguments, flame-wars, I loved it all. I became a regular reader and contributor of that newsgroup, and others.

This was in the Fall/Winter season, and Minneapolis is of course a very cold and snowy place. No chance of playing cricket at all, until well into the Spring. When the weather improved and the snow had melted away, some of us grad students - mostly Indians and Pakistanis - started getting together on weekends to play some tennis-ball cricket (with a taped tennis ball, of course). There was a large, grassy mall area on campus, with concrete walkways going across. One of these walkways served nicely as a pitch, other walkways marked the boundaries. The stumps were just piles of books and jackets! But it was a thrill to be able to play the game again, after the long, dark months of winter. The late-Spring and Summer months were great - beautiful cricketing weather. Whenever we played, a small crowd would gather to watch this strange spectacle. Most of them had no clue about cricket, and the fielders near the boundary would chatter away, explaining the game and its rules, without much success!

We later found a baseball diamond near the campus and adapted it into a cricket ground, somehow, so that we could play freely without worrying about the ball hitting anyone on those walkways! It was a good 25-30 minute walk from my apartment, but it was well worth it.

Much later, in April 1994, some of us students got together and organized a live telecast of one of those Sharjah tournaments. We managed to find an Indian community hall in Minneapolis that had a satellite dish. The tournament was being telecast on PPV, and we all chipped in a couple of bucks each, to watch the India-Pak game. Given the timezone difference, it was an all-nighter for us, with the match starting at 12am or thereabouts. But what an experience! A whole bunch of Indian and Pakistani students, competing to out-yell each other. Although India lost that game, we got to watch a wonderful innings from Sachin Tendulkar, in the course of which he played one absolutely stunning hook shot off Akram, for six. Akram himself stopped in his follow-through and applauded generously. For many of us, it was a rare opportunity of watching Sachin in action, having moved to the US in the early days of his career.

So there you go, cricket in a different kind of desert...


Anonymous said...

nice...takes me back to the good old days of IRC and RSC i used to visit #india, #jeopardy mostly. wonder where every one is these days....also makes me feel like a relic!

Neeran Karnik said...

@Dodo: Thanks. For more on the IRC and RSC days, see my latest post on the early days of CricInfo.

For a while, I was also a regular on #jeopardy (with its AlexBot). That channel later had to be renamed to something else if I recall correctly, to avoid copyright problems. I'd managed to rack up a few wins as well :)

Anonymous said...

I meant to post my comment inder your circinfo post but by mistake, posted it here!

any idea about the whereabouts of Kandala, Sridhar Venkatraman?

Neeran Karnik said...

@Dodo: Sorry, I'm not in touch with those guys any more. Perhaps a Google search might reveal their whereabouts...