Ah, the Railway Ground – this was more like it; the India I knew and loved.
This correspondent lived in India, many a long year ago (1982) and the local culture had been absorbed. If you are from the first world and you are only 21, India in 1982 was a challenge. Its sights were odd; its smells were never previously experienced; and there was little reference point of things familiar. It was a former British colony, like Australia; it had democracy, a legal system and cricket, but it had so much more: a billion people; a lot of sacred cows; and a lot of curry.
The Railway Ground was old India. It was on the outskirts of town. It was a suburban cricket field in a residential area; it was nowhere near a railway line, so I guess a club from the Indian railways must have used it as their home ground. It was also adjacent to a garbage tip, where a pack of scrofulous canines were harvesting the dregs of the rubbish. They did not look rabid but they did not look healthy either. Mangy, insouciant and disease-riddled came to mind.
The ablution block was typical – 2 footplates and a long drop; squat at will. Some of our younger crew were truly astonished to encounter the need to bend their knees passed 90 degrees and hold the handle for a steady aim, without any concluding paperwork.
Pakistan won the toss and batted and we were given a lesson in flat-track bullying by Bilal – the nicest man you would ever wish to meet. He was a coffee-coloured, bald man, with a shiny scone beneath a big, floppy hat. His eye was good; his forearms were strong; and he knew a thing or two about timing. He gave the bowlers respect for as long as they deserved it and then he gave the rest of their bowling ‘the treatment’. The ball went all around the wagon wheel, fast and along the ground. The dogs realised the danger and left – if only we had been so lucky.
What a hiding that turned out to be. We were never in the hunt; our batting was a shambles; we were always behind the run rate. The man with no skin on his right elbow got a 40 and the young leftie opener scored a few but the rest were unimpressive. If Bilal was the standard, we were in trouble. Our bowlers were wilting on the hard and unresponsive surfaces and our fielders were trying hard but it was tough. It was hot; it was unfamiliar; and the Pakistanis could bat all the way down – well, at least the ones we saw. Bilal was not intending to share the crease if he did not have to. He was voted the player of the tournament by the end and he deserved it.
Game 2: Pakistan scored a lot and used all of their overs and only a few got out; Australia scored a little, slowly and wasted some of its overs, by not batting through. We needed to lift our game.