These images prove that the soul of Indian cricket lies beyond the pitch

Trying to visualize the game of cricket, the imagination quickly takes us to a wide expanse of manicured lawn, in the middle of which is a carefully preserved strip of ground, bordered by an architectural marvel. But only a tiny part of the game is played in such a framework. The soul of cricket resides beyond borders – on the rough terrain, beside the wasteland, under the canopy of dense trees, or a dilapidated bridge, and on the deck of a ship listing in the middle of the sea Mediterranean. If you think about it, all you need is a piece of wood that can fit in your palm and a ball to play the game with. we largely understand it, part of it manages to be immortalized in pictures.

It’s the only way this innocent and pure nature of the game will be galvanized into the annals of history. In fact, early cricket literature paints an imaginative picture of obscure games played in rural settings, told through the eyes of the writer.

It was not until cricket was institutionalized and a governing body was formed that matches played by amateurs fell out of favor. There is no malevolent force at play here. It’s just an inevitable march of time that has widened the gap between amateurs and pros. Faced with a choice, there’s no reason viewers shouldn’t opt ​​for a more competitive game, played by men and women who have spent lifetimes perfecting their craft.

Still, there’s something about indulging in it just for fun, though. Cricket played off the pitch is equally pleasing to the eye and the photographers with their keen eyes managed to sing a deserved hymn to the game. So we are looking at some footage of cricket matches played off the pitch, with the goal to relive the true essence of the game. Just in case you lost it somewhere in the vagaries of life.

Suburban Cricket

This image takes place in a suburb of Mumbai. The ball balloons towards the batter, who stands well outside the crease, with fine concentration, aiming to take a base hit. It looks like a projector. Or maybe the ball lost its flight just in front of the fortune teller, made of a half-cut plank of wood, held upright by what looks like a banana tree stalk.

Atul Kamble, a senior photographer for Mid-day, clicked it while traveling by train during his week off. “Due to an ongoing tunnel project, the train could not accelerate. The moment I saw a cricket match from the window I rushed out the door to get the perfect frame. I climbed down on the running board, held the iron rod tightly on one side, and took the picture on the other.

Kamble’s image was nominated for the 2022 World Sports Photography Awards. It speaks volumes about a city, where public spaces have been compromised instead of relentless urbanization. Kamble tells us about Mumbai’s undying love for cricket, depicted in matches played on the streets, parks, amidst wastelands and wherever gambling-loving children can find an iota of space.

The artist behind this stunning work, published six years ago by All India Radio, is unknown, depriving us of a good story. Especially given that it’s such a cheerful contrast to the often nihilistic imagery around beaches. It also accurately captures the trivial joy associated with the game. Interestingly, a game on the beach is more akin to baseball. In that the balance is heavily skewed in favor of the batter. Take inspiration from the boy in this photo. Simply release the leg and send the launched lollipops towards you.

There is a popular story behind the origin of the cocktail, sex on the beach attributed to Ted Pizio, a Florida-based bartender. To promote its peach schnapps, Pizio named the concoction after two of the most popular spring break attractions: sex and the beach. If Pizio had been Indian, he would certainly have called him Cricket on the beach. Although some might argue that in a nation of over a billion people and only 7,516.6 km of coastline, sex is probably more popular than the beach.

The terrain here resembles a typical Indian dust bowl – a spinner’s paradise. Judging by the distance between the wicketkeeper and the stumps, it is safe to say that the bowler in this frame is a point guard. There is a man at the small central counter, in the shade of the Chinar tree, who is dangerously close to him. He may end up hitting the tree if he tries to catch a ball passing directly above him. The same goes for the extra short blanket man. Stay safe, my man. The batter cannot hit the ball directly and high in the evening sky, otherwise the ball will hit the tree and its projectile motion will then be converted to linear motion. To score big, he must be attentive to the geometry of the field. Anything to the right of the center counter looks like a safe bet.

Saqib Majeed, whose photo it is, may have had none of this in mind when he photographed a group of enterprising boys playing cricket under the Chinar trees in the Mughal Garden. Still, he managed to capture something, or else why did he win Wisden’s 2016 Photograph of the Year award? Majeed was the second Indian, after Kamble, to win this prestigious award. Few of the photographs depicting anything beyond the border win out, 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 some of my friends and saw these kids playing cricket. The light was perfect, so I clicked four or five pictures from the nearby terrace,” adding that when the kids watched him, they asked him to stop. And the rest, as they say, is (photographic) history.

(Feature image credit: Saqib Majeed)

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