Caribbean punch straight from the stands

Last week, at former Test batsman Madhav Apte’s book launch in Mumbai, Sunil Gavaskar provided a master class in story-telling.

Since Apte’s cricketing claim to fame concerned India’s 1953 tour of West Indies, where he scored 460 Test runs, it was apt for Gavaskar to dwell on the uniqueness of cricket-following in the Caribbean.

England’s Robin Jackman fielding on the boundary during the third Test against West Indies at Kensington Oval, Barbados on March 13, 1981. Pic/Getty Images
England’s Robin Jackman fielding on the boundary during the third Test against West Indies at Kensington Oval, Barbados on March 13, 1981. Pic/Getty Images

Gavaskar recalled the time when he and fellow opener Anshuman Gaekwad were battling Malcolm Marshall in the West Indies during the 1982-83 series and managed to hold on to their wickets. Gavaskar recalled: “Nothing really was hitting the bat. Nothing was happening. We were still there after four-five overs. We survived. Malcolm was walking back to his mark to bowl when a big Momma from the crowd gets up and says, ‘Oh Macko… oh Macko (Marshall’s nickname)… enough of foreplay. Enough of foreplay. Let’s have some penetration now.”

Gavaskar also recalled an incident on the 1971 tour, when a West Indies batsman top-edged one from S Venkataraghavan which went high in the air for the redoubtable Eknath Solkar to hold on to with ease. As Solkar was getting ready for the catch, someone in the crowd yelled, “Eh Solkar, eh Solkar, if you drop that catch, you can have my sister.” When skipper Ajit Wadekar asked Solkar whether he had heard the comment, Solkar shrugged it off by saying, “Yes, I heard it, but I haven’t seen his sister.” The hall cracked up!

One wonders whether smart comments from the crowd are still heard by the players in the West Indies with the stadiums being spruced up, but cricket writer Siddhartha Vaidyanathan remembers an excited enthusiast exclaiming, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit one of his three sixes in the Indians vs Jamaica at Montego Bay in 2006, “This boy born in the Caribbean, maan. You guys stole him!”

A tinge of humour can be seen even in the most hurtful of comments. Like when West Indies batsman J K Holt, in celebrated commentator Tony Cozier’s words, “dropped more catches than they were prepared to accept” against the 1955 Australian tourists, the Kensington Oval spectators in Barbados prepared a placard which read, “Hang Holt, Save Hylton.” Hylton was Leslie Hylton, who was executed during that Test match for murdering his wife. Likewise, the Calypsonian Lord Relator didn’t spare the venerable Garry Sobers in the calypso he wrote on Gavaskar’s 1971 exploits. It went like this:

But Sobers as the captain
He want plenty coachin’
Before we cricket end up in a disgrace
Bedi hear that he became a father
So he catch out Holford in the covers
But when Sobers hear he too had a son
He make duck and went back in the pavilion

In January 1973, Ian Chappell’s Australians were chuffed watching their opener Keith Stackpole’s aggressive batting against a bowler called Uton Dowe, who kept bowling short to the Victorian. West Indies captain Rohan Kanhai decided that he had had enough of Dowe when he gave away 50 runs without a wicket. When Kanhai brought Dowe back for his second spell, a displeased spectator fumed: “Kanhai, have you not heard the eleventh commandment? Dowe shall not bowl.”

In 1975, the Australians visited Canada before embarking on their World Cup and Ashes tour to England. During one of their games in Vancouver, Rodney Marsh struggled to keep wicket to a wayward Jeff Thomson, something that forced one of the West Indians in the crowd to say, “Hey Rod, you stopping de ball like a full bus’. A little later, the same bloke yelled out, “Hey Rodney, whatever happened to B N Jarman — he on sick leave?” This, as Ian Chappell wrote in his autobiography Chappelli, stunned the Australians because Barry Jarman last toured the West Indies in 1965.

And Ashley Mallett, the Australian off-spinner, will not forget the comment made by a West Indian spectator when he started to bowl with tinted glasses: “Ashley, you are taking a dim view of the game.”

And at the end Apte’s book release function last Friday at the Wankhede Stadium, some of us were left wondering why does India lag behind when it comes to organising functions in which veterans are called upon to talk about their cricketing experiences like they do in England and Australia. Sessions like these can also raise substantial funds for charity. An hour before the start of each India vs South Africa Test this season would be a good time to introduce something like this for cricket enthusiasts who don’t get an opportunity to meet past players. Are the event management companies listening?

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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