By Akhil Sood Oct. 03, 2016
The sport is now dead, an unread footnote of history. There’s no space left in Delhi anymore. It’s all cars and horns and testosterone and Punjabi food.
Pacing around the driveway with sugary enthusiasm, a handful of pre-teen half-pints would discuss the merits of Kashmir Willow versus the English kind, holding a BDM bat, or maybe an SS or SG (Slazenger if they were rich).
Accompanying the bat would be a couple of tennis balls – colloquially called “Cosco”, after the brand name, or “kirmich”, after the material (allegedly) – while there’d be a makeshift wicket, usually stumps drawn on the wall using chalk embezzled from school.
Thus would begin a round of the ridiculously fun and entirely made-up game of Driveway Cricket, featuring no more than three or four players. But only after a parent had been ordered to take out the car and clear the area. (Owning a car, or a driveway, or a house wasn’t exactly mandatory; just having a friend who did was enough.) This was Delhi of a decade or two ago, very different from what it looks like today.
Born of necessity and constricted spaces, the sport had its own set of rules. One Tip One Hand was almost always Out, but its interpretations varied. Does the wall count as a Tip (a bounce)? Bat-to-wall-to-floor should ideally be two tips, not just the one, but it depended on the home team’s discretion. So it was the subject of much debate.
Hitting the window with a well-timed square drive was a warning; breaking said window was Match Abandoned, followed by an old-fashioned fistfight. Nothing breakable should ever break was the cardinal rule. One of those breakables was also the pair of spectacles worn by the chaperoning grandparent, gently reading their newspaper on the lawn-chair and complaining about these pesky kids. Needless to say, hitting any part of the grandparent was an instant Out, followed by bowed heads and staged remorse.
It got increasingly more elaborate and absurd. Fast bowling was illegal; only underarm or, if you had a long driveway, then overarm slow-medium pace or spin. Hitting the ball out of the house was also considered Out because you were either A) Banned from fetching the ball from the big bad streets by your parents (hence the backup Cosco). Or B) There was the likelihood of an asshole biker’s front wheel tripping over the ball, which meant he’d get his skull-blood all over it. Inconsiderate prick.
So it’s safe to say the sport has been ravaged by the internet, rising anger, globalisation and global warming, a better economy, technology, and just plain indifference.
Quite obviously, the home team almost always won. The kid who owned the house had the luxury of making up bylaws on the fly – also known as flylaws – while pretending that they’d always existed (“Three chaukas in a row is out, guys”), so no shit he won. The few times he didn’t, the match had to be abandoned because the away team had been kicked out of the house after a fight. Or everyone was feeling too groggy to play after a glass of Bournvita and some classic salted chips.
No more, though. The sport is now dead, an unread footnote of history.
You could still ask your Pops to take out the car, and he’d no doubt do it too because that’s how paternal love works. But then where the hell would he park the car? There’s no space left in Delhi anymore. It’s all cars and horns and testosterone and Punjabi food.
Let’s say he does spot an empty space in a sea of traffic jams. Well, now you’re all set, except where are your friends? They’re all out chasing Pokémon dragons (although that’s so July 2016), or they’re setting up an online FIFA 17 tournament with their friends, at the same time discussing the next paintball visit on Bluetooth-wired headphones after Capoeira or violin class.
For the sake of this story, let’s assume that all the local kids gather for a match one day because the old bores force them to. It begins, amid much howling. On the very first ball, you hit a beautiful six that sails over the house gate, and then it strikes a man typing an important WhatsApp message. He’ll break every window in your house. Delhi’s world-famous temper situation will without fail destroy any hopes of a second innings.
So it’s safe to say the sport has been ravaged by the internet, rising anger, globalisation and global warming, a better economy, technology, and just plain indifference. It’s worth romanticising, but, objectively, was it ever all that much fun? Or did we just convince ourselves that it was (like that other deranged sport, pitthhoo)? Isn’t a 20-over game on an astro-turf at a fancy neighbourhood gymkhana playground, with actual stumps and a full kit and a helmet (kids love helmets), a far more appealing proposition?
If I, as a nine-year-old, had ever been presented with a choice between a glitchy MS-DOS-based round of Pacman over the top 100 free games on the Google Play store, I’m sure which one I’d pick. The rest is just nostalgia.