Defying the playing ban, many played “Corridor Cricket” in small groups. Hitting a paper ball or a cotton-filled chalk duster with two palms pressed together in a corridor was quite popular.
A countrywide change in school hours took effect in the early 1970s. Accordingly, St Joseph’s College, Colombo, where I gathered my virtue and knowledge, advanced its closing time from 3.15 to 1.30 in the afternoon. The revised school hours reduced the one-hour break for lunch to half an hour. Students were not expected to run around and play any sport during the break, but “Book Cricket” was our innovative option. Two people played it, flipping pages of a textbook at random, and based on the last digit of the right-hand-side (even-numbered) page. Last digits of 2, 4, and 6, counted as runs scored; 0 would be a wicket, and 8, a no-ball. For the toss, both the players opened a page and the one whose last digit was greater won.
Defying the playing ban, many played “Corridor Cricket” in small groups. Hitting a paper ball or a cotton-filled chalk duster with two palms pressed together in a corridor was quite popular. Played without stumps, with the first miss, you were out, bowled. A rare variant was with a tennis ball. Then, you were out, caught, even after the first bounce. Corridor Cricket was more challenging at times than playing in the corridor of uncertainty, due to its varying playing conditions. Like at the ICC (International Cricket Council), the rules were decided and regularly changed by the most assertive person in the group.
On a bright and typically hot mid-morning, an on-field dispute on the previous day kept me out of Corridor Cricket. I was wandering near the statue of St Joseph, located just outside my eighth-grade classroom. I heard a noise substantially different from the laughter, shouting and appealing going on in nearby Corridor Cricket. It was a crackling noise from a portable transistor radio, held close to his ear by a visitor to the college. The voice on the radio struggled to rise above the static, resembling an ocean kissing its shoreline. Within minutes, out of curiosity, a few of us had moved nearer the radio. It was a “description” of a cricket match that I later came to know as ball-by-ball commentary. An Ashes Test, the second day’s play in the fifth Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 22 January 1971.
Rodney Marsh was batting, with his individual score in the eighties and the No. 11 batsman at the other end. He was nearing not only a personal milestone but an Australian record. The famous voice of Australian cricket, Alan McGilvray’s vivid description of every action on the field will never fade away. No other Australian wicketkeeper had ever scored a Test century before, and we braced ourselves to be a part of history. Enchanted by the excitement, instantly I became an Australian fan, and to date, they are my second favourite team. With Marsh on 92, the engrossing battle came to an abrupt end. The Australian captain Bill Lawry declared the innings closed to have a crack at England, an hour before the end of play.
At the closing bell, I walked back to the classroom with disappointment and many unanswered questions.
‘Why did Lawry do that?’
‘Was he jealous of his teammate or did he have other issues with Marsh?’
‘Why didn’t he realize that it would have been a great deed?’
Then, suddenly it hit me from nowhere. Cricket is a team sport, and the team’s success comes before individual success, a valuable lesson for a teenager that got automatically written into my intellectual software. For the record, the match petered out to a tame draw, and England won the then seven-match Ashes series 2–0. Though I have been playing cricket since pre-teen years, my first international cricket commentary painted a lasting memory, including the virtues of leadership qualities, invaluable to my ensuing journey.
(An excerpt from Winds Behind The Willows)