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   The scene in Bombay today is reminiscent of the days... (April 11, 1987)

The scene in Bombay today is reminiscent of the days, some 20 years ago, when people made all efforts to buy tickets to sit in the stadium and watch cricket. Those were not only pre-television days, but also a period when cricket produced results and teams won and lost (India mostly losing). I am, of course, talking of Test cricket.

Getting a ticket was half the excitement. And most of the people who got tickets, or tried to get tickets, were genuine cricket watchers. I am sure they are so now also, at least, the vast majority of them.

I would, of course, be sitting in the East Stand, and since it was 20 years ago, it would be in the Brabourne Stadium. The East Stand was plain concrete slabs (to distinguish it from the North Stand, which had wooden benches). If you arrived early, and I and-several thousand others made it a point to arrive early, you pushed yourself into the upper tiers, where the afternoon sun burnt you 45 minutes after tea time. If you sat in the lower tiers, you had sun from the post-lunch play.

The teams came from the West Indies (the first one was led by John Goddard and had Weekes and Walcott in it, besides Alan Rae and Jeff Stollemeyer), from Australia (one of them was led by Bill Lawry, another had Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson in it, and much earlier, there was an Australian Services XI, led by Lindsay Hassett and with Keith Miller as the team’s debonair all-rounder).

The MCC did not come to India, they were too big, and New Zealand did not come because it was too small. The early Pakistan teams were teams of plodders, with Hanif Mohammad plodding from one century to another.

But I never went to the stadium to see other teams, I always went to see our own team. Polly Umrigar had just started playing, Russi Modi was about to stop, Lala Amarnath had just played his last game, a red handkerchief round his neck, a khaki sola hat on his head. Later, much later, his son, Mohinder, tried to use his father’s hat as a crash helmet, with disastrous results. The hat fell on his wicket and he followed the hat.

After that unfortunate incident, Mohinder was out of big cricket for a while, but he came back, and he has come back several times. I would not be surprised if he comes back once again to play against the West Indies later this month.

The Brabourne Stadium in those days used to be absolutely packed, except for the Bombay Gymkhana stand, where the last of the Englishmen sat in cane chairs and turbaned bearers served them lemon tea and cucumber sandwiches in full view of the rest of the stadium, which would be sweating it out.

Between the East and the North Stand, under the stadium’s main scoreboard, was the press-box. The cricket correspondents also sat in relative comfort, writing their stores. I used to watch them and dream that one day I would also become a cricket correspondent. That is one dream still to be fulfilled. May be next year.

 
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