India is home to many religions: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and more. But they say the No 1 religion is cricket. And a trip to the Oval Maidan, a nine-hectare recreation ground in Mumbai, seems to confirm this. On a Sunday afternoon here there are so many games going on at once – perhaps 100 – that it’s almost impossible to work out who is playing in which one.
The game is played fast and furiously. It is a dusty surface on which a bowler ought to be able to spin the ball but, despite the heat, all the bowlers steam in and propel the rubber ball as fast as they can. The first delivery will be a bouncer at the batsman’s head to keep him back in his crease. The next will be just as quick but this time at his feet, and if he misses it his stumps will be sent cartwheeling.
But, batting just as furiously as the bowler is bowling, if he connects with the ball it can sail high and long. The spectator will think it has disappeared way over the non-existent boundary of this match and far into the next field of play. But then, as if from nowhere, a fielder will emerge at full pace from the crowd, through the action of an adjoining game, and pluck the ball out of the sky, celebrating wildly as he does so. It seems miraculous that more players don’t collide with one another, such is the chaos. But, like the throng of vehicles on India’s roads, the fielders somehow weave in and out of each other’s way and are able to take a catch out of nowhere.
Every now and then the ball will pass through the railings on to the road outside. It’s a long way around to fetch it so players will scream over the noise of the incessantly honking traffic for a passerby to throw the ball back.
Less than a kilometre away…
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