Viewed from the past, modern cricket isn’t unrecognizable.
All that stuff about how the game has changed beyond all recognition is a load of codswallop. You could argue that cricket just went through a Dark Age during the seventy years between 1930 and 2000.
Sure, it may be all a bit unfamiliar to those who earned their living at the game in 1950, but to someone who played in the 1700s and the 1800s much less would seem to have changed.
Third Man’s license to travel through time forbids him from carrying passengers from the past ‘back’ to the future, but if he did ever smuggle one on board the first he’d invite would be C.K.Nayudu.
There is C.K., above, second from the left, fag in hand, making himself comfortable on the bumper of Baroda 34, one of Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad’s splendid coups de ville.
That’s the Maharaja on his right, forerunner of all the super rich owners of today’s IPL franchises.
On C.K.’s left are Sardar Ghorpade and Syed Mushtaq Ali also enjoying the Bollywood lifestyle in their stylish high waisted ‘bags’ (1920’s slang for Trousers).
C.K. not only lived the lifestyle of an IPL superstar, he played his cricket like a modern.
Well, strictly he didn’t to begin with. As a youngster he was a blocker … until his Dad took him along for his old pal Ranji to have a look at him in the nets.
“My friend,” said the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar and one of the two most exciting and innovative players that the game had by then produced, “why doesn’t he smack the ball?”
Great advice from Ranji, though even from a hundred years away you can hear the hint of frustration and ennui in the Great Man’s words.
Later, Dad put his arm around the kid and said, “You want to play cricket, right? You’ve got to learn to hit every bowler on every pitch. Get out in all weathers, make yourself hard.”
The new self-confident C.K. emerged on debut at the Bombay Quadrangular in 1916. With his side reeling on 79 for 7, he walked to the wicket to face that canny and highly experienced Australian leg-spinner, Frank Tarrant.
If you listen carefully you can hear the banter as the lanky, gawky twenty year old walked to the wicket, took guard, and looked up to see Tarrant flicking the ball from one hand to the other, pure cunning menace.
“Four to come. Play.”
The ball tossed high came to C.K. with an audible buzz, dipped and bounced spitefully. He played it with care back from where it had come.
Tarrant, soon at his mark and anxious to give the youngster no time to think, approached once more. Again came the buzz, the dip, the bounce and again the careful defence.
A laugh or two broke out among the fielders and Tarrant skipped to his mark and turned without hesitating. More laughter as silly mid-off retrieved the ball from C.K.’s feet.
As the ball made its way back to Tarrant, C.K. heard Ranji’s voice in his head, “Just give it a crack young man.”
As the fourth delivery flew above his eye-line, C.K. animated and eager, his bat lifted high about his head, jumped out, landed with perfect balance and smacked the ball high and handsome.
There was a moment of absolute silence as the ball soared over the boundary and as the crowd and players took in what had happened.
Then, their tension released, there was a roar of appreciation.