My father moved jobs from Kolkata to Mumbai in the early 70s; the cities, then, were known as Calcutta and Bombay. The residue of British East India was still a flavour of Calcutta — Anglo Indians, ballroom dancing, Elvis clones strumming Suspicious Minds, Cabarets at Moulin Rouge or Western music at Trincas. All this and more were part of the city’s social fabric.
Cricket was still an elite, gentleman’s game. Employees of tea companies and Burra Sahibs played club cricket in Calcutta with CCFC (Calcutta Cricket and Football Club) being its hub.
Public schools still had Anglo cricket coaches. The prosperous and highly talented were privileged to play the game that was getting popular with the middle class. Moving to Bombay then was thus, a cultural antithesis from a cricketing perspective.
The Shivaji Park and Matunga regions were primarily a Maharashtrian middle class dominated cricketing environment. While the Matunga school of cricket had deafening discipline and military control, the Shivaji Park cricketer was, by and large, about flair and a carefree, confident swagger.
If English cricket had reason to be proud of the traditions at Lancashire and Yorkshire, Shivaji Park Gymkhana and Dadar Union had enough history and legacy to swank about.
If not in skill, south Bombay clubs were elite and cosmopolitan in lifestyle and cricket. Infrastructure was privileged. The gymkhanas were private cricket grounds that served sit-down lunches and cucumber and tomato sliced sandwiches at tea.
They also provided sightscreens that may have needed serious laundry, but all the same, it was a sightscreen meant to pick a bowler’s hand. Playing at the gymkhanas and clubs, even if they were friendly fixtures, meant a lot for maidan teams.
There was an aura about club cricket in Bombay. Playing in it was good enough, excelling at it was a bonus! The city was a hub for cricketing opportunity and recognition. Decision-makers, influencers, all lived here. The pulse would be felt at the maidans.
The cricketing calendar never stopped. Seniors scrutinised special talent; retired cricketers’ opinions had value. The lifeline of Bombay’s cricket and in a sense Indian cricket, was club cricket. Yes, the quantum of cricket over the years has magnified, but the framework of the game in the city stays the same.
The Kanga League was where the season opened (in July). New gear, new ambitions and hopes for the young kid wanting to make something of his cricket. Low scores, outright wins were a precursor to the highs and lows of the season.
The League provided an opportunity for performers to make that special list of Bombay probables. Some may have never played for Bombay but making it to that list of 30 may have been a highlight of their life, if not their cricket careers.
I hear the monsoon league may not happen again. Some will miss the khari and cutting chai during the rain break, some will miss the glucose biscuits and tea under leaking tarpaulin tents or even the high cholesterol, oily cutlets and gravy with crispy paav during an early lunch of a truncated game.
But a generation of cricketers will miss playing in slushy conditions and congregating with colleagues after a break. The banter, camaraderie is the ethos of Bombay’s cricket. It was woven into the knit to be a stitch of the Kanga League.
Mumbai’s cricket will not die with the league being virtually scrapped through a September start, but the death of history will affect the tradition of the game. Mumbai cricket is not only about winning and adding to the 40 Ranji Trophy championships. It’s about rituals that keep the game’s history alive.
A part of Bombay’s cricketing culture will soon be dead. Those who played the Kanga League will savour it; those who didn’t, will never know how it tasted! Administrators need to smell the coffee to keep the game alive. Everything to do with cricket, as in life, is not about pragmatism. History, if preserved, will be valued.
* Shishir Hattangadi figured in the Kanga League for Karnatak Sporting Association, PJ Hindu Gymkhana, Cricket Club of India (CCI) and Jolly Cricketers.
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