Been back in India for about a week. Came upon this scene while walking around my house in Gurgaon.
A dusty patch of land surrounded by overgrown weeds.
Within minutes, a cricket match (the Thums Up Trophy?) commenced.
Naturally, I could not resist and asked to join in. The players were happy to oblige. I swung my bat every ball with no other thought but to hit it as far as possible. I scrambled in the dust to field the red tennis ball. I bowled loopy leggies since anything quick-ish was outlawed. Several of the classic gully cricket rules were on display.
The ball bounced awkwardly in the dust, wickets were celebrated with breathless intensity and fours and sixes greeted with high-fives all around!
The ball was missing often. The players waited patiently while it was retrieved. This was a common scene.
Finally, play was abandoned for the day with the ball lost in the bushes.
After the game, I spoke to some of the participants. It got me thinking about the future of cricket. Not test cricket. Not one day cricket. Not even T20 cricket.
But the very existence of gully cricket.
Some of my best memories from childhood are of playing this fascinating game. It taught one how to bat with control on different surfaces, how to bowl at strange angles and, perhaps most importantly, how to be diplomatic while arguing.
But there were no children playing this particular game.
All the players were either my age or older.
Naturally the question arises – is gully cricket going to be lost to us?
With the relentless march of development, there is certainly less space to play with more construction taking place on empty plots. There are more cars on the road meaning playing on the road is more dangerous. A lot of parks have banned ball games. With the internet, kids have innumerable distractions. Football, tennis and squash have converted more than a few. And with the mushrooming of cricket coaching centres in cities, I suspect parents feel better sending their kids to coaches to learn the ropes of the game (and hopefully set them up for IPL stardom).
One can only hope that the kids of today are not having the joy of the game coached out of them. For me, the real tragedy would be if the next generation knew what a DLF Maximum was but never experienced the thrill of taking a catch one tip, one hand.
Perhaps I am wrong and gully cricket still thrives in other places in India. Smaller towns and cities with less complicated lives. But its evidence around me is scant and my fear is that the next generation, without knowing any better, have already discarded gully cricket as a relic of the past.