Players and spectators at Kolkata Maidan's Third Ground familiarise themselves with the snacks on offer

A player and onlookers at the Third Ground familiarise themselves with the snacks on offer at the Maidan

© Srenik Sett
6

Dear Cricket Monthly

Third Ground

Letter from... Kolkata

Mudar Patherya

Dear Cricket Monthly,

I was schooled at St Xavier's but my life's university was Third Ground on the Kolkata Maidan.

Third Ground (between Governor's House and Fort William) was like the outcry chaos of the stock exchange. A number of teams played concurrently; the midwicket position in one match would be the leg slip of another; the gully of one match would be the mid-off of another. There should have been an insurance scheme to cover the health hazard that fielders negotiated without abdomen guards, shin guards or helmets, instinctively covering their heads when they heard a middled stroke within 20 feet and praying nothing happened. If something did happen, the poor fellow would be carted to hospital, stitched up and returned to the ground to resume fielding (somewhere safer as his captain's concession). We learnt survival skills on Third Ground.

Third Ground was the cathedral of our existence, where Shield matches would be held. These were the tournaments for which my father's club conducted meetings wearing specially monogrammed ties, deliberated on tournament practices, wrote extensive minutes in archaic English, planted green flags on boundary lines, set up scorers' tables, attired umpires in dentist-style overalls, served players chicken soup (strength!) between innings and congregated with families in the evening for the post-mortem followed by a thaal dinner. We learnt organisational skills on Third Ground.

Third Ground was a place with a multi-generational reference point. When my father was into his sixties, he would occasionally be stopped by someone 20 years younger with the words, "Kaisey hai, uncle?Yaad hai aapko bees saal pehle apne khele the…" [How are you, uncle? Remember we had played together 20 years ago…] Or when someone mentioned that Haider bhai had died, there would be a shaking of heads among old-timers of other teams with the words "Kya legcutter daalte the." [What amazing legcutters he would bowl.] We learnt to respect on Third Ground.

Bohra Muslims played Burrabazar Marwaris; Bhowanipore Gujaratis played Sindhis. And we understood communities better when we played against them

Third Ground was mini India. The oldest pitch "tenants" were Bohra Muslims who accounted for three strips and had been playing there since the early '50s. The Sindhis played on one standard pitch for decades, the Marwaris accounted for another three, and some of the Gujarati teams floated from one to another based on their playing schedule. This was where entire communities, who otherwise lived clannish existences, briefly (but periodically) interfaced with each other. For most of those from my clannish Bohra background, the Sindhis were a people belonging to a remote world; on Third Ground they were touchy-feely, they were outstanding gentlemen, and their portly Subhash (nobody knew his surname) was the friendliest face of a friendly team of a friendly community. And so if the Sindhis lost, questions would be communicated from person to person until they reached them four pitches away: "Prem itna lallu ball mein out kaise ho gaya?" [How did Prem get out to such a useless delivery?] Or if they pulled off an unexpected victory over, say, Paridhee, teams from other pitches would turn around with a "Well done!" before turning to take the next ball. We learnt to engage with others on Third Ground.

Third Ground was a crucible where all these teams (60 in all) participated in the overarching Maidan League, which was our version of the World Cup. This league was the brainchild of Ram Nivas, better known as the Maidan's Kerry Packer. Ram Nivas was ahead of his time - his starched white kurta-pyjama would contrast the general playing attire; his briefcase would carry team schedules, umpire reporting sheets and cash; he was team owner (of Ankur) and tournament organiser, which would have carried charges of conflict of interest today; he was known to "buy" players for his team before anyone had heard of auctions.

Ram Nivas' legacy to the Maidan was that he created a tournament that extended into May and attracted participation from all communities. Bohra Muslims played Burrabazar Marwaris; Bhowanipore Gujaratis played Sindhis; you know what I mean. And we understood communities better when we played against them. There was a Maidan awe about the way Mohib bhai moved the new ball. Everyone feared the Sunil Gupta who peppered Red Road with 60-yard sixes. We learnt to appreciate people for what they were on Third Ground, irrespective of which pocket of Calcutta they came from and what we might have earlier heard about them.

Low visibility is only a deterrent for wimps

Low visibility is only a deterrent for wimps Dibyangshu Sarkar / © AFP

And lastly, Third Ground was our Facebook. We identified people by their cricketing quirks. Pawan Haralalka bowled the fastest off four steps. Pradeep Acharya never bowled without chucking. Bala Parekh overcame a physical handicap (one leg shorter than another) to bowl into his fifties. Chandresh Soni was the guy who wore a harlequin cap while opening. Feroze Degani probably ran faster than he bowled. Sanjay Chowdhry was the only one on the Maidan who batted with an original Gray-Nicolls. Manoj Chharia rode the sexiest Honda bike to the Maidan. Usman and Uchit were the maalis who watered our pitches, applied choonaon our popping creases and got us nimbu paani between innings from absolutely unhygienic metal containers. Bharat "Express" Thakkar could be recognised from 500 metres away due to his Michael Holding-like evenly paced run-up. Taher Muchhala bowled legspinners till into his late sixties, driven by the dream of beating CK Nayudu's feat of playing first-class cricket at 69. The Bohri Shield matches generated a crowd of 2000 (1000 women!) that made it worthwhile for every single batsman to want to hit a six while they were around. We learnt at Third Ground to belong.

Third Ground was the address of hundreds for 20 Sundays a year, nine to one. Third Ground was where everyone wanted to make it big (to hell with bloody Eden Gardens). Third Ground was where we wanted to be cherished. Third Ground was the happiest place in the world.

In the mid-'90s, the army carved away a part of the precious Third Ground turf to build a memorial for those who had fought in the 1971 war.

Teams scattered, tournaments disbanded, communities drifted, silence descended.

Nobody plays on Third Ground any more.

Third Ground lives. But only in our memories.

Nostalgically,
Mudar

Once a professional cricket writer, Mudar Patherya is now a communications consultant based in Kolkata

 

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  • POSTED BY BinaShewakramani on | October 16, 2016, 9:32 GMT

    Beautiful memories seeing my husband Moti, in his cricket kit! We girls spend endless Sundays cheering you boys on, while enjoying all the fayre being touted - and being spoilt by our elders - Mohan Mahtani, Sham Mahtani, Jackie Shewakramani, Vashi Gulab, Subash Rajpal, while we watched. Everyone was so cricket mad - my most enduring memory is of Moti insisting that our wedding date should not be on a Sunday!! His team couldn't spare him even to get married! (or was it that playing cricket was more important than getting married!)

  • POSTED BY SupportTestCricket on | August 29, 2016, 12:35 GMT

    Mudar, you have not lost your touch! It was such a big loss to the cricket writers fraternity when you quit writing. The only reason I used to buy Sportsworld week after week was to read anything written by you. Fantastic piece this one. Hope this becomes a regular thing with you and we get the pleasure of reading your articles once again.

  • POSTED BY Jose...P on | August 26, 2016, 2:49 GMT

    Lovely writing on a lovely era. Nostalgic and endearing to the core.

    The lyrically looking (if a photograph can be one) black and white photograph of cricket being played in the twilight between day and night (I think, looking at the dust in the background; and not in the early morning; also a time when cricket used to be played) is a sight to behold. And a gentle reminder to the ones who eagerly look forward to the umpires pulling out the light meter, to escape from a troublesome bowler, to the cool comfort of the dressing room.

    Let me stop my reverie, from overcoming my presence in the present, and pushing back into the past forgotten times of cricket being the great unifier , and great leveler across community, caste, creed, age, profession, or even social status - something,when everyone gets out such maidans, in many parts of our kaleidosopic country.

    Thank you Mudar Patherya and TCM in making many of us, our day!

  • POSTED BY SDG on | August 25, 2016, 6:19 GMT

    Such a sweet nostalgic write up so typical of Calcutta winter cricket season in Maidan and the characters you had them in every team. This is a must read for all guys who are associated with Kolkata Maidan. Just for information I run a FB "Kolkata Club Cricket" which has around 15000 members with current players former players (international, first class, club cricketers), umpires, scorers, groundsmen, club officials club cricket followers, I will share this on the forum as a must read.,

  • POSTED BY Roys8500 on | August 25, 2016, 5:55 GMT

    Just read the entire article by Mr Mudar Patherya. Simply wonderful and being a Calcuttan myself, I could associate with it a lot more! Yes, Calcutta has this wonderful open space in the heart of the city called the Maidan (in Bengali it means large open field) which is oxygen to sports lovers (Just like the savannahs in Port of Spain Trinidad if you know what I mean). But the Calcutta Maidan is famous and huge. Even Eden Gardens was initially a part of the Maidan. Full of characters and great street food (another thing you cannot do without while in Calcutta). Football, Cricket and Sports Clubs are spread in numbers. Its simply one of the good places that often go unnoticed by the tourist in Calcutta. In recent times, yes, the Maidan is polluted and yes, it has lost its past sheen, but still its full of tradition, gossip, stories, controversies and people. Cricket still goes on and so does the Maidan. Many famous cricketers have played on this strip of land.

  • POSTED BY deepak.krishnamurthy on | August 11, 2016, 2:41 GMT

    Hi, Deepak here. I especially liked Mr. Mudar Patherya's article about old-school cricket in the Kolkata maidans. I have been reading his pieces on cricket for quite a while now, and I think it unfortunate that he is not writing as frequently now as he used to do before. He certainly brought back the tang of the "good old days" when cricket had its own distinct flavour, and many was the occasion where we used to play on a crowded cricket ground in Bangalore where things went on smoothly notwithstanding the number of cricket matches going on in close proximity to one another. In fact, I think that many of our outstanding cricketers came up from these kinds of "humble' beginnings in the game . In fact, I think it somewhat a pity that cricket nowadays has become so professional and "sanitised", so much so that 'road cricket' or "gully cricket" is hardly played nowadays here in Bangalore. Thanks, Mr. Patherya for bringing back many good old memories.