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Pre-IPL era — When I became a book-cricket champion

Book-cricket: bettering Brian Lara and all that
Book-cricket: bettering Brian Lara and all that

As the Indian Premier League (IPL) knocks on the doors of the cricket fraternity, Abhishek Mukherjee takes a trip down memory lane to the innocent days.

Those were the days: the international cricket calendar was not packed throughout the season; fast bowlers fielded in floppy hats; cricketers did not wear dark shades on the ground; catches were dropped; batsmen still faced fast bowling in caps; Doordarshan, All India Radio, and the print media were our only ways to know of the sport; and the West Indies used to rule the world.

We did not have cell-phones, but we had books. Despite all its downsides (the difference in cost, the space it takes, the delivery time, and the easy navigability), there is still one advantage the book holds over the Kindle: you cannot play Kindle-cricket. Or at least, till now.

There were those heroes who played for the schools and walked inside around with their collars high, only to be ticked off by the teachers. We, the lesser mortals, had to restrict ourselves to tennis-ball gully cricket (where you were given out if your shots landed up in certain households).

The only way we could thump those school-team boys were in cricket quizzes; in table cricket (a board game that was in vogue in the 1980s; it consisted of a green square cloth, a bowling machine, a bat, and fielders); and of course, in book-cricket.

Cricket, of course, is a sport of skill — which is what separated us book-cricketers from the champions; so we challenged them in a version of the sport that eliminated the concept of cricket skills altogether. For the uninitiated, you randomly open the page of a book (any book) and consider the unit’s place number on the page on the left: for example, if pages 46 and 47 opened, you got a six (unit’s place of 46), and so on. If the page number had a zero on the left-hand page, you were given out.

The rules were entirely probabilistic, which levelled out the cricket skills. They were also simple; our minds, unfortunately, were not. We all used our own books (after all, players use their own bats). In each class I had a favourite book: the pages that earned you sixes were pulled ever so slightly to ensure my seasoned fingers found their ways to them. Soon I started scoring as prolifically as Don Bradman at a paced matched by only Gilbert Jessop.

The devious minds of my jealous classmates found a way around this: they reached a general consensus, and decreed that if someone hit three sixes he would be given out. Ha! Little did they know that when it came to wickedness, they were no match for me! I picked up a new book and marked out exactly two pages — one that yielded a four and the other a six, and started scoring in a format of 6646446644646464464…

These days, as I walk past grounds watching club matches going on (and an awful lot seem to be going on) and watch batsmen hitting random bowlers out of the park I smile, recalling memories of my 700s and 800s at school-level scored inside a few minutes. If only Wisden had recorded book-cricket scores…

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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