The humble rubber ball is the perfect way to experience international level cricket in remote areas
Cricket is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in India. From the posh areas of Delhi and Mumbai, to the rather unknown villages of Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh, this game has cemented its place in the heart of the country’s people. While those residing in cities do not face too many issues with finding branded bats and traditional cricket balls, it’s the Indians residing in far-flung villages and towns who do not have access to these ‘luxuries’ and have to spring up their own ideas to spend their afternoons playing cricket.
Sticks and pieces of wood, sometimes moulded perfectly enough to even have a functionable handle, take over as bats. Stones are perched on top of each other in place of stumps, and a rather barren patch of land works as the 22-yard pitch. The problem, however, is obtaining a decent ball, as paper balls seem to be reluctant to reach the batsman, tending to float in the air for longer than intended, eventually falling closer to the bowler than to the batsman. Cloth balls, made with discarded socks wrapped around cloth or stones, are also an alternative, though they have to be bowled at the full as they are too heavy to get back up once thrown on the ground.
Tennis balls seem to be the way to go under such circumstances, as they are available in these secluded areas too. But another ball, which is even better than the tennis one, and is indigenous to such villages, is more fun to play with. Over the past month, I got the chance to visit my house in the hills in Uttarakhand, which is around 40 km away from Nainital. The urge to play cricket eventually got unbearable, and some arrangement had to be made. That is when the stumper ball came to the rescue.
During my recent visit to this hilly and remote region in Uttarakhand, the stumper played a significant part in getting me through the afternoons. It is the closest alternative you can find to a leather cricket ball, with a well-pronounced seam and a sturdy structure. It is the ball to go to if you need to knock a few hits around. The closeness it has in structure and weight with the cricket ball is a great joy to witness, and catching it is almost equally as hard too. Play a game of catch for about 20 minutes, and your hands are red as a tomato and a few fingers may be throbbing with pain as well. The well-made seam on the ball makes it cut both ways and if one manages to land it on the seam as perfect as Mohammed Shami, it is guaranteed to deviate to either side and completely flummox the batsman.
While bowling spin, you can bowl your own Shane Warne deliveries as this ball spins back from off stump to leg stump and vice versa too. If the batsman is up for the challenge and manages to strike it with impeccable timing, the ball races away at a lightning speed, and can disappear into nearby bushes in no time if not kept an eye upon. It is a sight of tremendous joy for the batsman to slam the ball back past the bowler or cut it through the point region, simply because of the noise it makes off the bat when hit.
Bouncers with this ball can be lethal too, and if the batsman doesn’t defend or sway away from it in time, he could find a few teeth missing or maybe even a blackened eye, much like it is the case with the leather ball. The thing that is the most pleasurable though is this ball’s availability. To find a ball of this quality in such surroundings, away from the city, was a joyous moment. The fact that this stumper almost broke the handle of the local bat we were using in the first three days is a fitting testament to its strength.
While bowling on tiles, the ball skids off the surface at such fierce speed that it is almost like you are facing Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee at their peak. While bowling with this ball, there is pace like the WACA in Australia, swing like the Kingsmead in Durban, and turn and bounce like the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
International cricket like experience in an Uttarakhand village? Not bad.
There are quite a lot of other rubber balls in the market too, but the stumper comes as cheap as Rs 30, making it an automatic choice over the rest. All in all, this ball is a wonderful object to play cricket with, and is more than handy at other self-made games too.
Rural India has a special connection with stumper, because this is the ball that allows them to have a go at the game wherever they might be. Many top international batsmen have been helped amazingly by practising with a rubber ball like this. Even ace Indian batsman Ajinkya Rahane says that he practised with wet rubber balls before tours to South Africa and Australia just to get his hand-eye coordination right and to get some idea as to how the pitch would play. He is probably doing the same in Australia now before the upcoming Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Won’t be a surprise for me if those knocking this rubber ball in the hinterland soon find a way into big leagues too. An amazing ball of outstanding cricket effects, this is all a cricket lover needs while travelling to or residing in such sequestered regions.