When trying to visualise the game of cricket, the imagination quickly takes us to a vast expanse of manicured lawn, in the middle of which lies a carefully curated soil strip, skirted by an architectural marvel. But only a minute proportion of the game is played in such a setting. The soul of cricket resides beyond the boundary — on the uneven terrain, beside the wasteland, under the canopy of dense trees, or a dilapidated bridge, and on the deck of a listing ship in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. If you think about it, all one needs is a piece of wood that can fit in the palm and a ball to play the game. And while much of this remains excluded from the conversation around cricket, as we understand it largely, some of it manages to get immortalised in pictures.
It’s the only way this innocent, unadulterated nature of the game will get galvanised into the annals of history. In fact, the early literature on cricket paints an imaginative picture of obscure games played in rural settings, told through the eyes of the writer.
It was only when cricket got institutionalised and a governing body was formed that matches played by hobbyists fell out of favour. There’s no malicious force at play here. It is just an inevitable march of time that has widened the gap between amateurs and pros. Faced with a choice, there’s no reason viewers wouldn’t opt for a more competitive game, played by men and women who have spent entire lifetimes honing their craft.
Still, there’s something about indulging in it just for the sake of it, though. The cricket that’s played away from the pitch is equally delightful to watch and photographers, with their observant eyes, have managed to sing a deserving paean to the game. So, we take a look at some images from cricket matches played outside the pitch, in a bid to relive the true essence of the game. Just in case you lost it somewhere in the vagaries of life.
This picture is set in a suburb in Mumbai. The ball is ballooning up to the batter, who is standing way outside the crease, with a fine-grained focus, aiming to take a hit. This looks like a beamer. Or maybe the ball lost its flight just ahead of the makeshift wicket, made of half-cut wooden plank, held upright by what looks like a stem of the banana plant.
Atul Kamble, a Principal Photographer with Mid-day, clicked it during a train journey on his week-off. “Due to an ongoing tunnel project, the train wasn’t able to gather pace. The moment I saw a cricket match from the window, I rushed towards the gate to get the perfect frame. I stepped down on the footboard, held the iron rod firmly from one end, and snapped the picture from the other.”
Kamble’s image has been nominated for World Sports Photography Awards 2022. It tells you a lot about a city, where public spaces have been compromised in lieu of unrelenting urbanisation. Kamble tells us about the undying love Mumbai has for cricket, represented in matches being played on the streets, parks, amidst the wasteland, and wherever kids passionate about the game can find an iota of space.
The artist behind this stunning work, which was published six years ago by All India Radio, is unknown, robbing us off of a good story. Especially given that it’s such a cheerful contrast to the often nihilist imagery around beaches. It also accurately captures the trivial joy associated with the game. Interestingly, a match on the beach is more akin to baseball. In the sense that the balance is heavily skewed towards the batter. Take a cue from the boy in this picture. Just clear the leg and despatch the lollipops thrown towards you.
There’s a popular story behind the origin of the cocktail, Sex on the Beach attributed to Ted Pizio, a bartender based out of Florida. To promote his peach schnapps, Pizio named the concoction after two of the most popular attractions of the spring break — sex and beach. Had Pizio been Indian, he would have definitely called it Cricket on the Beach. Though some may argue that in a nation of over one billion people and just 7,516.6 km of coastline, sex is probably more popular than the beach.
The pitch here looks like a typical Indian dust bowl — a paradise for spinners. Judging by the wicket-keeper’s distance from the stumps, it is safe to say that the bowler in this frame is a pacer. There’s a man at the short mid-wicket, under the shadow of the Chinar tree, which is dangerously close to him. He may end up hitting the tree if he attempts to catch a ball looping just over him. The same goes for the man at short extra cover. Stay safe, fella. The batter can’t hit the ball straight and high into the evening sky, or else the ball will hit the tree, and its projectile motion will then be converted into a linear one. To score big, he needs to be mindful of the geometry of the ground. Anything to the right of the mid-wicket looks like a safe choice.
Saqib Majeed, whose photograph this is, perhaps wasn’t thinking of any of this while snapping a bunch of enterprising boys playing cricket under Chinar trees in the Mughal Garden. Even so, it managed to capture something, or why else did it win Wisden’s Photograph of the Year in 2016? Majeed was the second Indian, after Kamble, to win this prestigious award. Rarely do photographs depicting something beyond the boundary win it, and that’s a feat.
Speaking about the making of the image, Majeed tells us, “It was autumn in Kashmir. I went to Mughal Garden with a few of my friends and saw these children playing cricket. The light was just perfect, so I clicked four or five pictures from the nearby terrace,” adding that when the children observed him, they asked him to stop. And the rest, as they say, is (photographic) history.
(Featured Image Credit: Saqib Majeed)