Learning to play straight, in the Gully: A Comprehensive Guide to Gully Cricket in India

So there have been a few questions on how this blog came to be named. “One tip, one hand” was one of the fundamental rules of the cricket we played in the streets as kids. This post seeks to capture some of the facets of the game we fondly called “gully cricket” (‘gully’ in this context meaning ‘side-street’, not cricket exclusively played in the fielding position). To confuse things further, while the name gully cricket indicates that this was cricket played in the streets, apart from the streets there were a variety of locations – parks, construction sites and empty parking lots.

Who Played?

A gang of neighbourhood kids of roughly the same age would get together every evening to play (but only after finishing their homework). Quorum for a game was fixed at 3 members to ensure there was at least one fielder at all times. This was, of course, before the advent of PlayStations, and cricket coaching academies for 4 year olds.

Bats, Balls, Stumps?

Every set of gully cricketers required a bat supplier. Ownership of a serviceable piece of willow usually assured one of captaincy.

The next question was that of a ball. We usually made do with what was called a “rubber deuce” ball. This cost Rs. 5/- and consisted of hard bits of rubber pressed together in the shape of a ball. This ball usually disintegrated pretty quickly given our pitch was a road (not in the sense of a good batting wicket but was actually made of asphalt, tar etc.). Sometimes, I would manage to wrangle one of my father’s used Slazenger tennis balls. On such occasions, my popularity knew no bounds.

Stumps depended on where you played. Parking lots simply required scratching / drawing a set of three stumps on the wall. Small trees or metallic tree protectors served as stumps in the park. At construction sites, bricks were piled upon one another.

The most popular form, straight-up gully cricket, meant that three stones were placed in the middle of the road serving as the base of off, middle and leg respectively. Naturally, a large number of afternoons were spent debating whether the ball had gone over/ missed these imaginary stumps! I can say with some degree of confidence that these arguments laid the foundation of my career as a lawyer. Mostly, these intense arguments were won through a combination of loud shouting, advanced metaphysics and threats to go home with bat and/or ball. To put an end to this, one of my friends actually nailed together a portable set of stumps and a stand, which left no doubt as to whether the stumps had been disturbed – absolute genius!

All this still left the issue of the stumps at the non-striker’s end open. This was usually a single brick or large stone. Gully cricketers propagated a theory of ‘connection’, i.e., a run out was affected if the bowler’s foot was on the brick/stone and he caught the incoming throw with the batsman short of his ground.

Environmental Hazards

Each gladiatorial arena brought with it its own challenges:

  1. Wars over turf were common. Prime locations were frequented by various sets of gully cricketers, none of which were willing to be relegated to the second XI pitch. These rivalries were usually decided by what was called a ‘bet match’. The winner of the bet match would lay claim to the pitch. Sometimes, two sets of cricketers would merge to become a larger group to share the field of play and fend off other suitors. Early lesson in mergers and acquisitions.
  2. Annoyingly, a number of houses on the streets possessed windows made of glass. The same was true of cars irresponsibly left parked on the street. Any broken windows meant an instant ban on cricket for at least a month. Certain rules (see below) were developed to mitigate this risk.
  3. Playing on the street meant that passing cars constantly interrupted your concentration. In those days, however, drivers expected a cricket match on every turn and waited patiently for your game to be dismantled. The whole process (including re-assembly) took less than half a Strategic Time-Out.
  4. Suppose you were one of the lucky kids playing in a park. Suppose you played a fantastic shot. Suppose it went over the boundary for a six. Suppose the ball in its flight path intercepted the head of one of the evening walkers. The remainder of the game hinged greatly on the temperament of the walker in question. A good-natured fellow may throw the ball back with an encouraging “good shot!”. Someone in a bad mood could lecture you on the dangers of a tennis ball for up to 30 minutes in fading light. If that was not enough, sometimes the walker would confiscate the ball, effectively abandoning the day’s play. Nightmare.

Rules

  1. Formats: There were two main formats – (1) team v team, if there was a large number of players and (2) ‘individuals’, if there were not enough to play in teams.
  2. The toss: Coins were not readily available to children. This lack of access led to some ingenious methods of deciding who would bat first in the first game of the day. However, the conduct of the toss depended on the format being played: (a) If you played ‘individuals’, you held up a random number of fingers behind someone’s back and he/she called out a name. The number of fingers denoted that named person’s batting position. This went on until everyone had a batting position. The person with the lowest batting position bowled the first over and so on in descending order. Pretty simple. (b) If you played team v team, ‘tip-top’ was the preferred method. I will try my hand at explaining this-
  • The opposing skippers walked towards each other one step at a time.
  • Each step had to be taken with the back of the leading foot touching the front of the other foot.
  • At each step, one captain would say ‘tip’, the other would take a step and say ‘top’.
  • Whichever skipper stepped on the other’s foot first won the toss.
  • There were also a set of rules as to whether half/side steps were allowed. However, these matters are too lengthy and complex to deal with in this post.
  1. Winner to bat: All subsequent games in the day followed this simple, effective and elegant rule. The rule quickly morphed into “winner to choose” once Sri Lanka won the ’96 World Cup final batting second.
  2. One tip, One Hand (also known as one bounce, one hand): The backbone of gully cricket. This rule catered to the need for quick turnovers to allow several games in a single evening. It encouraged the fielders to get close to the bat and batsman to get to the pitch of the ball. It came with its own set of mini-rules and accepted variations:
    • no juggling was permitted, the ‘tip catch’ with one hand must be clean;
    • it was not out if you used your other hand to support the hand taking the tip catch;
    • if the ball hit the wall on the full and you took the rebound with one hand, it was out;
    • if you nicked it onto your body, that was counted as a tip/bounce and you would have to be caught with one hand to be out;
    • sometimes,when numbers were high, a tip-catch straight off the body was out even thought there was no bat involved!
  3. Three strikes and you’re out: Baseball’s contribution to gully cricket. Three balls missed in a row was out. Getting hit on the body counted as a ball missed. This encouraged us to get bat on ball. This rule has in all likelihood contributed to Virat Kohli struggles outside the off-stump.
  4. Out if you hit the ball into a house: See Challenge no. 2 above. Hitting the ball into a house was a cardinal sin. At best, it meant a broken window and/or a lost ball. At worst, it meant the guilty batsman having to climb a gate to retrieve the ball from the jaws of a psychotic pet dog. Playing with this rule on a narrow lane meant that boundaries could only be scored straight. Explains why every 90s kid worked so hard to develop the high left elbow and that punchy, Sachin-style straight drive!
  5. No “back-runs”: Unless there was a Joker (see number 11 below), the wicket keeper was usually a player from the batting side . As a result, any catches behind the wicket were disregarded and all runs had to be scored in front of the wicket. The BCCI has been debating whether this rule should be included at the test level. However, it would also deprive the Indian team of their greatest sources of runs – the thick edge down to third man and the Chinese cut- so the proposal remains pending.
  6. No opening the batting and bowling: Self explanatory. Developed by majority vote to counter the bully of the colony. Often challenged in light of Manoj Prahabar being batsman and bowler no. 1 for India. This rule was soundly vindicated in ’96 when Prabhakar was reduced to bowling off-spin against Sri Lanka.
  7. No bowling after batting: Developed to counter the best player in an ‘individuals’ game. This meant that the player who just got out would have to wait for everyone else to bowl an over before getting the chance to bowl and defend his own score. Simply put, you couldn’t do all the batting, immediately bowl the others out in your over and then bat first again pursuant to the ‘Winners to bat’ rule (see rule 3 above).
  8. Chucking permitted: Let’s face it, not everyone can bowl properly. We were far ahead of the ICC in allowing chuckers to roll bend their arms over. Indeed, gully cricket welcomed chuckers with open arms, provided only that they declared whether they bowled ‘bhatta’ pace or ‘bhatta’ spin!
  9. Jokers: If there were uneven numbers, the ‘Joker’ batted for both teams. The Joker was usually also the wicketkeeper and the last man to bat. As the last man who batted alone, the Joker had to run two runs each time and irrespective of which end he ran to, he could be run out at either end!

Comments/ suggestions/ further memories of gully cricket gems welcome!

(The next post will cover the first day’s play between England and India at the Oval.)

17 thoughts on “Learning to play straight, in the Gully: A Comprehensive Guide to Gully Cricket in India”

  1. Good one bro… reminded me of our lunch breaks… but you forgot to mention the ‘in or out’ method for deciding the toss..

    1. Thanks man! Was thinking of our lunch breaks only while talking about this. Totally forgot in-or-out! This was with the pebble right, whether it was in or out?!

      Will tag the others on the fb post for them to take a look!

  2. Very aptly described . Perhaps you should have mentioned our Tikona and Bahubali parks hahahah… Brings back some really good memories

    1. Haha, Tikona and Bahubali parks back from the Pushpanjali days! Also forgot to mention how I was never allowed to bat first after the first few times! Hope all good wit you buddy, when you next in London?

    1. Yep, covered that. Another friend @adityasingh22 also pointed out that for those playng on the “chhat”, there was always the risk of the ball going into the neighbour’s house and never returning!

  3. Absolute gem mate! Good stuff. 🙂
    I remember tip top was also used for choosing teams……. and also remember playing with the ‘first ball try ball’ rule……

  4. Absolute gem mate! Good stuff. 🙂
    I remember tip top was also used for choosing teams……. and also remember playing with the ‘first ball try ball’ rule……

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