Of all the delusions I had, the strongest was perhaps the naive belief that I would one day grow up and play test matches for India. This persisted long after it was clear to everyone, including me, that I would perhaps even struggle to make it to the Tripura Ranji Trophy team. This was the hardest thing to shake off. This has perhaps been true for far more people than me. V Ramnarayan writes beautifully about this. The ironical thing is, in this particular story the fantastical dreams actually do come true. And of course, the imaginary games one can play in one’s head, fuelled by reading about the old masters, are infinitely richer than the real ones.
For who among cricket lovers hasn’t dreamed as a boy that he will one day play for his country, score a century or take five wickets, perhaps do both on debut, as New Zealand’s Bruce Taylor did in the Calcutta Test in March 1965?
I remember trying to replicate Dattu Phadkar’s pre-delivery jump in neighbourhood cricket as early as January 1956. He had captured my imagination a couple of days after Mankad and Roy created a world record with their opening partnership of 413 at the Corporation Stadium, Madras. I was even nicknamed Phadkar for a while, in derision rather than appreciation.
For a brief while I pretended I was Subhash Gupte and constantly tried to imitate the legspinner’s neat little action, imagining the absent cricket ball as well as his full sleeves, as I bowled all the way from the bus stop to school, oblivious to staring onlookers.
Ghulam Ahmed had been another hero. Even when I first saw him in action, he was balding and looked avuncular, but did he spin his offbreaks! With a slightly round-arm action he gave the ball a fair rip, but his gait between overs grabbed my attention as much as his effortless action. Now the schoolboy walked in Ghulam’s elegant swagger, Fergie Gupte already a distant memory.
Like most kids of my time, I tried everything during my boyhood – batting, legspin, offspin, pace – but it comes as a delicious surprise to learn that Tambe bowled medium pace for a long while, switching to legspin only some ten years ago. In my own case, it took Jim Laker’s astonishing 19-wicket haul in the Old Trafford Test against Australia in July 1956 to guide me firmly towards offspin as a cricket career choice.
Though I never saw even a film clip of his bowling, I knew Laker’s bowling action backwards, so profound was his impact on my fevered cricket imagination, entirely based on the written and spoken word, the latter courtesy the BBC’s running commentary. Not only was I Jim Laker in my daydreams, I continued to fantasise about him, or rather about me with his bowling action, destroying some pretty formidable batting line-ups in my sleep.