I had a wonderful surprise yesterday, 2nd March. It was a phone call - my old team-mate and new ball partner for The Mysore Gymkhana, Prasanna Kumar from Bengaluru. Delighted, we spoke for a while reminiscing some old times. Somehow we never kept touch. Something dragged him to call me after finding my phone number.
He mentioned about an old picture with him. I did not make out what it was. So he sent it by e-mail an hour later. It was this group picture, taken at Maharaja's College Ground.
I could recognize Mysore's famous cricket coach (from the University), the one and only V.P.Mylevaganam (Mylu, as he was known to everyone), BNS Reddy (sitting with white cap) and Prasanna's face. There was another face I could recognize and it was my own! Even now I cannot recollect being grouped for this picture that day. Our further teleconversation brought out a few more names which I could attach to those strange faces like BT Narasimhamurthy, Prakash Honsoge, Ravi and K.S.Balu (with whom I later opened the bowling for our college).
Prasanna, speaking with very clear memories, said it was taken towards the end of 1978 (it could be early 1979) at the Maharaja's College Cricket Ground and that the group was of selected players from a few colleges attending a coaching camp organized by the University. This, in fact, was my first real stint with the cricket ball. Prior to that, it was all 'tennis-ball street cricket'.
This picture session is complete out of my mind, but I have clear memory of the camp which was for about a month, every morning and evening as it was my first real opportunity to play with the cricket ball. There were 4 of us from our D.Banumaiah's College. The practice sessions used to be on a temporary playing surface on the hockey ground, with cricket mat on it at a corner!
I can vividly remember how I tried to bowl. With the tennis ball I was a 'fast bowler' having a reputation for 'clean bowling the batsboys'! So I tried to do the same with the shiny (new) cricket ball also.
I used to buy Sportsweek from the pocket money (Rs.5/-) just because there was a page dedicated to Sir Donald Bradman's 'Art of Cricket'. It was a very standard manual of that day. I still have the full series that I bound up using my own methods.
(click to enlarge)
I had read in it about 'swing' and wondered.
The tennis ball was lighter and I could hurl it at great pace. This cricket ball weighed 5 3/4 ounces. I felt it quite heavy to hurl it down like that! I was lean and thin - that group picture reveals it. Plenty of effort was required to hurl that 'red cherry' down 20 yards! I knew fast bowlers ran up and delivered the ball and so I had randomly marked a run up that measured ten steps. Ten was an easy figure to remember! With the tennis ball, it required just 3-4 steps!
Now with the new ball in hand, I used to try and bowl straight and try to shatter the stumps of the batsboys. Lo and behold, the ball I hurled would head towards the batsboy and swerve away down behind him and to the wall (there was no stopping net behind). The hapless wicket-keeper could only watch it fly by. This used to happen often and I wondered why. The coach 'Mylu' used to explain that it was 'in swing' and I must try and bowl towards the edge of the mat on the 'off side' so that it would end up at the stumps. It was then I saw what 'swing' was and how others swung in the opposite direction also (out swing). I discovered that when properly directed, it would swerve from left to right a long way, really, and I could still hit the stumps. Often, batsboys thought it was going straight and wider, but much to their surprise, the ball would start dipping in towards them and when they realized, it was usually late! Control and consistency soon improved with some experience in that one month. It was a good beginning.
Lot of protective equipment is involved in cricket esp. while batting - leg guards, gloves, thigh pad and the 'box' to name only those that existed in the 1970s and in our access. I remember when Mylu had arranged a practice match between ourselves, I had gone out to bat without the 'box' completely unaware of its potential dangers of any possible hit that 'most crucial anatomical part'. How would I wear it in front of all the boys there? I was that shy then! In practice also I had batted like that on one or two occasions (and nobody knew it!!) and I wonder now, where all that courage or carelessness came from! Those were times when these cricket gear was common to the team as well.
In a few months, my bowling had improved to such a level that I was opening the bowling. Our college practise sessions mingled with that of The Mysore Gymkhana's (TMG) as 2 key players also played for TMG. I found myself playing for TMG very soon in the 4th division league (took 5 in my debut match) in 1979. In 1980, I opened the bowling for our college in the inter-collegiate tournament at Suratkal and reached up to the final.
The launch pad (Mylu's coaching camp) was of immense help. Our coach's oft repeated words "aim straight at the edge of the mat" (bowling) and "lean into the drive and follow through" (batting) still ring in the ears. Mylu retired and settled in Bengaluru. There was nothing that Mylu did not know about Mysore cricketers then as he was also involved in team selections. He was a talented hockey player also, but was more renown among people for his great gastronomic abilities!
Thanks to Prasanna for sending that e-photo which brought back all those memories from the initial years.