“Woooosshhhh” goes the sound of the red painted tennis ball as it flies past my head. The laughter from the boys standing nearby, when I swing my arms round and try to hit the ball that has already passed me, is thunderous. Welcome to Indian cricket. Street style.
I had come to India to watch England play two Test matches and then, in an effort to gain an understanding of the country, to see a few of its sights. Street cricket wasn't on the agenda. But the sights, though beautiful, had left me empty and the freneticism of Indian life bewildered me. I needed to connect with India in another way, and found cricket was the answer.
You can forget the Taj Mahal anyway, if you are a fan of cricket. The sight you want to see is Eden Gardens, Kolkata; cricket’s answer to that great palace. I was there for the third Test against England and it was from the upper tier of the pavilion end that I could appreciate its splendor. The panorama of Kolkata lay before me, visible through a misty sunset, creating a spectacular backdrop for the serenity of the game itself, which England won easily.
Next stop was Nagpur. "Nagpur. Where is that?" Not even the travel expert in London giving me my jabs knew where it was. Having now visited, I am not surprised. It is called the city of oranges on account of it being a major trader of the fruit. Unfortunately, I only saw one. And that was concrete.
I was here for the fourth Test, which, sadly, was as dull as the city itself. But the lack of visual treats meant that I sought more conversational ones. This came in the form of a steward called Rahul whose seat was beside mine for the full five days of the game. In-between him unsuccessfully preventing people drinking bottled water – an example of crazy Indian bureaucracy - we were able to discuss an array of topics. Subjects like the Indian approach to life (don’t worry, chicken curry), the installations of ATMs (his job) and the best vegetarian restaurants in town (his uncle’s) all passed the time as England won the series.
After the Tests were over, I moved on to the golden triangle (Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi) to take in the sights. It was at one of these, Fatehpur Sikri Palace, in Agra, where I came across a group of boys playing cricket. With a cardboard box for a wicket, the foundations of an old fort as a boundary line and a pitch that resembled the surface of the moon, it was time for my first game of street cricket.
Regrettably, I never managed to get my bat to connect with the ball. I was never much of a batsman anyway. Unhappily, as it turns out, I am not much of a bowler either. My bowling was dispatched around the ground by a boy not much bigger than the bat he carried. This was my cue to leave, using an old back injury - which flares up when humiliation is close - as an excuse to shake hands.