Not all kids with no siblings are introverts but those that are play more of the solo-cricket than the others who, at the first sign of a gully match, would rush to join the legion and toil in the summer grounds for their chance at the crease.
I’ve played more indoor solo cricket than the usual form of the game that comes to your mind, irrespective of whether or not you’ve been following the IPL.
The object of the game is not to score runs or take wickets or guide your one-boy-team to victory. It’s far simpler than all these put together: while away the little time you have left before mom wakes up from her mid-afternoon nap and screams the usual, divas-poora-khelat-aahes (playing all day) routine.
If you’re born in India - preferably any place other than the North East where soccer evokes a stronger fervour than other games - cricket is imbibed into your cultural upbringing. And so, even as a mono-player, you choose - in the delightful absence of personal computers and smartphones in the good old days - cricket as the means to entertainment as opposed to other popular activities that would well suit a mono-player.
In the heydays of my pre-prime between 7 and 13 years old - (notice how both are prime numbers? now forget this useless fact) - this solo-cricketing was a religious affair carried out with a religious preparation.
Card-boards were procured at three rupees apiece and cut and a twine was attached to the edges: the leg-pads were ready. A pair of woolen gloves that were as old as I was - and torn in places thanks to bloody insects - was not-so-meticulously grabbed from a suitcase containing old winter clothing on one of the upper shelves: gloves were ready too. One particularly dull, cyan-colored (erstwhile) helmet of Amar kaka left behind or perhaps forgotten was also picked from the same upper shelf: the helmet was ready.
And so, clad in the most obscure of tentative cricket guards, I’d take my position at the crease along one side of the drawing room which also served as the hall, the dining room and, occasionally, my bedroom in our 1BHK apartment.
I’d be clutching, quite awkwardly, both the plastic bat and the plastic ball. With a gracious twist of my fingers and swing of my arm, I’d throw the ball onto the opposing wall where, obeying all known laws of Newtonian motion, the ball would bounce back. A pitch before it reaches the batsman results in a spin because I was smart enough to cause the effect before throwing the ball onto the wall. The talented spin will be deftly handled by the batsman and, if I am lucky, the ball will cruise through the room in any direction without shattering the tubelights, the glass panel of the TV-stand (which was already broken by my gymnastics a few years back in the past) or one of the few glass objects on the refrigerator.
Fortunately, I turned out to be lucky 99% of the time and scores will be duly added to the team till the wickets tumbled or mom rumbled from the bedroom asking me to stop disturbing her afternoon nap.
Throwing the ball on the wall and hitting the rebound was only one flavor of solo-cricket I experimented with. There were a few others too.
Tired of this particular routine, I’d often turn to my first love: bowling. While the cross-sectional distance of the dining room was apt for the solo-cricket I described above, the length of the room was required for any exercise in bowling. The run-up to the bowler’s crease was supplied by the corridor of our apartment leading up to the opposite house. A short run followed by an armful of a throw would result in the ball drifting towards the tailoring machine under which a vertically-erected wooden ruler acted as the stump. I can probably count the number of times I hit the stump with the fingers on my hands but self-degradation needs more space.
In both these cases, plastic balls hitting the walls or any other object in their trajectory was a problem. It generated sound and muffling it was not in the best interest of the ongoing game.
Turns out that one fine day, a neighbor - who also happened to be on the payroll of the clerical staff at the school I went to - complained about this incessant annoying sound to the teachers. To my embarrassment at school, several of my teachers would pin-point my solo-cricketing schedules when it came to defaulting home-works and assignments. Not that it would matter about a decade later but back then, it was the height of shame for a school boy full of pride and devoid of a sibling to share the incident and laugh over it.
Furthermore, one couldn’t execute the luxurious strokes that cover-drove the ball between two hapless fielders who’d then run to pick the ball from the boundary. Or the pulls and the straight-drives.
Which was why simulation became a popular sport. At its core, it was the most silliest thing to do to a point where if you were to imagine this without the context of age, you’d think I was lunatic.
With the cardboards and the woolen gloves and the cyan-colored helmet in place, I’d take up the stance at the crease, in front of the tailoring machine which would now act as the stumps. An imaginary bowler rushes in and bowls a particularly calculated delivery. However, the bastman me would execute any of the thousands of wonderful shots in copybook precision and the ball will be delivered to the periphery of the imaginary ground.
Now, when you are simulating the entire charade, it is dumb without the necessary sound effects. Which was why I preferred an old, unused umbrella as the bat instead of the trusty plastic bat which resembled a cricket bat more than the former.
The reason was simple. A loose-hanging plastic within the umbrella produced a distinct ‘tock’ every time I executed a cover drive, straight drive, pull or a hook. Strongly. The sound effect was so much in sync with the sounds of real cricketing shots you hear on TV that it added the zing a solo-cricketing legend so desperately required.
Needless to say, this particular exercise lasted a little beyond the accepted upper age of innocence and naivety while the ball on the wall and rebound sans the pseudo-cricketing guards was exercised till I finished my schooling. I’m lying. I did that even in college.
Speaking of bats, I had one plastic bat to which - in keeping with the general practice of those times - I drilled six long nails into the lower part of the bat which would touch the ground. The general practice, however, was applicable logically to wooden, seasoned bats but you know, I ain’t really smart. This drilling would eventually rip the bottom part of the bat apart but the trusty old bat really lived long enough to see me mature into a guy who’d not choose a plastic bat any longer. Several years later, Toy Story would make me go back to it.
Then came the first and only wooden bat which would be the hero of many window-breakings and one tubelight-shattering in my colony. As luck would have it, this bat too would last long but be treated indifferently after a forgettable episode where you may imagine my mom trying to break the bat in utter anger at my constant cricketing in later years of school. The bat didn’t break but the act broke my courage to pick it up again for a game of cricket in my colony. It would rot for several years on the slabs of our apartment before being discarded.