Parks, platforms and even backyards turn into cricket grounds in Chennai, famous for its epithet ‘one-pitch city’
Two teams, two bats and one ball — that’s all it takes to make an entire country go dizzy. The addiction called cricket is so deep-rooted and far-reaching that it effortlessly cuts across social barriers. The influence of the sport is evident when you see river beds turn into playgrounds, and bricks into stumps in rural areas. It is not uncommon to see kids, teenagers and adults play cricket in bylanes, subways, parks, grounds and even on the terraces of residential apartments. And fascinatingly, the size of the ground, the number of players or snarling traffic does not take away from the sheer joy of playing the sport. Welcome to street cricket (also gully cricket).
While dead branches of trees and stones double up as stumps and bails, writing pads turn into bats! And, invariably, rubber or tennis balls are used. The rules of the game are flexible, and can differ depending upon the location and the number of players. As for the umpire, one member from the team takes up that role.
It's in the name
The teams are locality-based, and come with names that are funny and whimsical. Sample these — Soma Friends, Nanban Da, Blackcabs, World 11 and Chennai 28… Karthik of Soma Friends says, “We all met in Somasundaram ground, became friends and play there regularly. Hence the name.” Chennai has earned the epithet one-pitch city since street cricket players consider one-pitch catch a wicket. Surya, of Soma Friends, says, “We play only four to five overs for all matches. Most of the grounds in Chennai have about 500 players on weekends, so the pitches are small. In such a scenario, one-pitch wicket makes sense. Dhanesh R., IT professional and all-rounder for Saravana Friends Cricket Club, agrees. “We play in narrow lanes, sometimes at car parks, so we restrict ourselves to one pitch. Sometimes, the distance between each pitch is only four feet.”
Traumas and trophies
While playing is fun, there are flip sides too — think broken windows and injured people! Though most incidents end with apologies, a few may reach the cops who help everyone involved arrive at a compromise. Tournaments are restricted to teams within the same locality. One team hosts the tournament, and entry fee is collected, usually used to buy trophies and medals. “Sometimes, when we win a tournament, we get sponsors for bats, balls and jerseys, but most of the time, we use the prize money to buy cricket gear for our team,” says Surya. The larger tournaments involve 40 to 50 teams battling against each other. “Winning a title gives us a great sense of achievement, and helps us improve,” he adds. While international players travel across the globe to fight it out with their opponents, street cricketers only have to step out of their homes. Sometimes with just a dead branch of a tree. And a writing pad. For endless hours of joy!