Queering the pitch

Indian cricket team’s win against England early this week was extra special as it came at the Lord’s which is probably the only cricket stadium in the world where it is possible to still feel, even during pulsating matches,  the compelling afternoon somnolence of a college library.

No seriously, the Lord’s is quintessentially British, where Wodehouse and (Jane) Austen characters can feel at home. It is where spirited sport and virile valour meet.  But mostly it is where the great Victorian tradition of turning up shamelessly in bizarre suits comes alive grandly.  The official blazer of the MCC even today is pillar-thick stripes of red and yellow, something which a circus buffoon would refuse to wear on grounds of it being too crude and silly.

At the Lord’s they value history, so much so they still retain the lunch plate, unwashed, on which Don Bradman had food in the 1934 series.  Of course, the stench that emanates from the plate is unbearable and nobody near the member’s stand has been able to breathe easily. That is why it is not uncommon to find most of the members watching the matches in practically a zombie state.

You may be a first-timer at Lord’s, but one look at the ground, you will spontaneously gush ‘hey, this ground so slopey. Did the guys who handled the CWG facilities in Delhi four years ago build it?’ Honestly, that is how skewed the turf at the Lord’s is, and anywhere else such a slanted playing surface would have been a scandal.  But here it is venerated as being quaint.

Talking of which here we take a look at two different stadiums elsewhere and evaluate them in a manner that we have no other option but to call quaint.

MCG: The concrete cauldron, touted to be the most capacious cricket stadium in the world, provides a resplendent and imposing backdrop, which, of course, provides an easy excuse for sports writers to label even damp squib of contests as gladiatorial.

The fans at the MCG know their sport, the case in point being the famed World Championships of Cricket finals between India and Pakistan in 1985. Despite the fact that the match involved two foreign teams, Australians not only turned up in large numbers but also exhibited their sensibility through an evocative placard that read: “Tram conductors vs. Bus drivers.”

Sitting in one of the top tiers of the stadium, alongside crowds bathed in raucous enthusiasm, watching the buzzing action down below on the green turf can almost be a surreal experience for many. Mostly because from those heights, the cricket players seem no bigger than crazed ants.  Also, the beer at the stadium tends to be pretty potent.

Eden Gardens:  This is not so much a vast vessel for cricketing contests as much a sprawling theatre where a cornucopia of emotions plays out in kaleidoscopic profusion.  On a typical day of cricket, the Eden Gardens stadium is more densely packed than the previous sentence.

Talking about being packed, Eden Gardens is all about the teeming multitudes, those passionate cricket buffs who help create an atmosphere that television commentators on air are duty-bound to describe as ‘electric’.  Like everywhere else, the crowds here want the home team to win. But when the home team does not do well, the crowds are understanding enough and behave in a restrained manner by setting fire only to the stands and not the team bus or any of the players involved in the contest.

Eden gardens has been witness to many a momentous match. It is at this very venue that Sachin Tendulkar — I get goose pimples merely writing about it even after over a decade — historically watched from the dressing room as V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid played that tour de force against Australia in 2001.

Sabina Park: If the mere mention of Sabina Park conjures up in you images of lanky, fearsome Caribbean fast bowlers running in relentlessly and hurling the red cherry with intent and incisiveness, while fans dance gaily in the stands with rum in hand and the unmistakable Calypso catchy riffs rend the air even as opposing batsmen cower into meek submission, we suggest that you take the next available time machine and arrive from last century to today.

West Indies don’t do fiery pacemen anymore.  They have moved on to mystery spinner Sunil Narine, the mystery being whether he is a spinner or a gnome who has lost his faculty to smile or laugh. Rum has been placed by fancy cocktails and the calypso beats have been silenced by rap bits. In general, Sabina Park today is closer to a Disney Park.

Sabina Park is where the England batsman Mike Gatting was pulped by a vicious bouncer from Malcolm Marshall and some fragments of his (Gatting’s) nose were found lodged in the ball. Gatting was lucky that the ball did not hit his skull as that would have proved fatal. He was luckier that it was not at the Lord’s because, as sticklers for maintaining history, they would have left him unattended.

On the plus side, he would have had no nose to smell Bradman’s unwashed plate.