July 1: Calcutta. A city without playgrounds. But still, a city that has learnt to have fun with what there is – the streets. And street or ‘para’ cricket is one of those inventions. Cricket during the day, under the sun, and cricket under streetlights and floodlights once the sun is down. Cricket played to the cheers of the neighbourhood — the family, the pet, the neighbours, their domestic helps — in short, all.
This is nothing unusual for Indians who have always spent a large part of their lives outdoors, sitting on a ‘charpai’ or stringed cot under a tree or playing games according to the season, be it ‘gulli danda’ in summer or throw a stick in mud and let it hold, during the rain. And cricket has become the king of all street games. The street is where most of our cricketing legends started, including Calcutta’s very own ‘Bengal ka gaurav, Saurav’ (the pride of Bengal – Saurav (Ganguly).
But a Calcutta High Court judgement has dethroned the king. On June 27, Justice K.J. Sengupta passed an order disallowing para cricket between 4 pm and 11 pm. The reason being that it blocks the streets.
A resident of Calcutta, Mr Rajan Sen, had filed a complaint in the High Court against ‘para’ cricket. He said these games blocked traffic in the lanes. And there was a great chance of the ball hitting somebody or damaging property. And that the loudspeakers used were extremely noisy.
Mr Sen also pointed to the changing nature of street cricket. He said many of the para tournaments encouraged betting and gambling.
Just as the nature of cricket has changed on the national and international level, so has it changed at the ‘para’ level. Day-night matches are very popular. The neighbourhood tournaments have sponsors as big as soft drink multinational companies. They put up many prizes. There is money to be made at different levels. It also gives an opportunity to some talented youngsters to climb the cricket ladder.
But, cricket played between neighbourhood kids with a slightly broken bat and an old tennis ball is very different from organised tournaments that look like mini one-day matches or carnivals. Much of the excitement is provided by the special effects: the lights, the crowds, the need to score fast, the big advertising brands, the prizes, the glamour, the betting between friends over who will win, who will score the winning run and who will take the maximum wickets… Where is the actual game of cricket in all this, many people may ask.
Cricket attracts money like very few games in India. All the information that we have got on the match fixing front is enough to tell us that. Recently, the newspapers reported that Sunil Gavaskar’s locker in Mumbai’s Gymkhana Club contained Rs. 4.6 million!
It is now time to think what kind of cricket are we talking about? And what kind of cricket do we want our children to play and enjoy. For the fun of the game.
And the main problem still remains. There are no places for Calcutta’s children to play. Cricket or no cricket.