‘It’s not cricket’ – Anon.
In India, cricket is all-pervasive. Kipling’s ‘flannelled fools’ are to be seen day in and day out on our television screens. Though, apart from being attired in pure whites, you will also find them in blues, yellows, greens and a variety of rainbow hues, depending on the variant of the game that is being dished out – Test cricket, ODIs, T20s, Indian Premier League (IPL). Give me excess of it, is the cry. It is not traditional cricket, however, that presently engages my attention. For that matter, it is not even French Cricket we played in school that concerns me. Remember French Cricket? You stood still, your feet unmoving with only a bat to protect your legs, and a ring of fielders to throw a worn tennis ball at your legs. If the ball catches any part of your leg without first touching the bat, you are out. If you manage to hit the ball, eluding the fielder, you twirled the bat round and round your legs, as fast as your hands would allow, and each successful circular motion earned you a run. The fielder, retrieving the ball, can also attempt to ‘run you out’ by striking your leg while you essayed a roundhouse swing without moving your legs. A skilful and challenging game, French Cricket, but my thoughts are on an entirely different cricketing pastime, one that required no skill whatsoever. If you were born after 1970, chances are you may not have heard of it.
I am talking of Book Cricket. The beauty of Book Cricket is that two of you can compete against each other, or you can just play all by your dog self. As I said before, skill is the last thing you require to be a champion in Book Cricket. Dame Fortune is the overriding factor, and if you are playing solo, you can even cheat! No one will be any the wiser. Allow me to explain the simple rules of the game.
The first requirement is a reasonably thick book. Around 300 pages is ideal. Agatha Christie may be too thin, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare too fat. I would go for something more manageable like Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves or any of Dick Francis’ equestrian mysteries. This is not to be taken literally. Naturally, whatever is readily available on your bookshelf should suffice. A word of caution. Avoid Hitler’s Mein Kampf. You simply cannot play Book Cricket, or any form ofcricket, knowing you are holding a book by an author who couldn’t tell the difference between Buchenwald and Bradman. Incidentally, paperback or hard cover will do equally well, if the earlier criteria are adhered to.
On with the game, then. There’s just the two of you. And the book. After tossing for who bats first (inserting the opposition is futile), we start the game. Let’s assume you are taking first strike. You place the book on your lap, say a little prayer and open the book, completely at random. This is how the runs are scored or a wicket taken. When the book is open, two sets of page numbers confront you, left page and right page. You go with the left page first, followed by the right page. If the page number is 124, the last digit, 4 in this case, counts as runs. So you have scored a boundary, and if the last digit is a 6, say page 86, then you’ve cleared the ropes – sixer. Bravo! Likewise for any numeral under six. If you happen to cop a 7, 8 or 9, that will count as a wide or a no-ball, giving you an extra run and an additional turn. Then comes the biggie. If the last digit, woe betide, happens to be a 0, as in 170, then you are OUT! Back to the pavilion. Caught, bowled, LBW, run out, makes no difference. In a nutshell, that’s the game.
Bearing in mind these simple rules, you are all set to play Book Cricket. A sheet of foolscap paper or an exercise book, if you are a stickler for maintaining records, is a must to keep score. The two of you can then decide who wants to be India, or toss for it. The opposing team can be anyone – Australia, Pakistan or England, whoever you hate more. You then write down, in batting order, the names of the playing XI of both sides, and the names of the opposing bowlers as and when the captain throws them the ball, speaking metaphorically. The game can be of one innings duration or two, choice is yours. The rest is easy, if you follow the rules adumbrated earlier. One last point. The batting captain gets to open the pages and the bowling captain keeps score and a hawk eye on the page numbers, to ensure no funny business takes place. In other words, he is the umpire. The roles are reversed when the second team bats.
If you cannot find a partner to play with, you can play the game solo. How cool is that? There are great advantages to be accrued from this solitaire version of the game. Say your favourite batsman, Tendulkar, takes strike. First ball, left hand page, 140. Ayyayyo! Damn and blast. Tendulkar, out, golden duck. ‘I cannot allow this.’ So you pretend as if nothing has happened, look around you guiltily and start over again and do whatever you like till the great little man gets a hundred. During my younger days, the likes of Umrigar, Hazare and Pataudi would regularly score double and triple hundreds. I only allowed Bradman or Sobers to score centuries for the opposition, provided they did the decent thing and got out immediately thereafter. Otherwise a page number ending with 0 was only a flip away! India had to win, at all costs. By the time my book cricketing days were over, I was easily the most well-read person in town!
‘Ayyayyo!’- Tamil colloquial expletive for ‘Omigosh!’