This Side Of Paradise? The Cricket Club Of India
My tribute to the CCI published in the brochure for the Lords and Commons CC tour of India in 2004-05
When I die, assuming I have any choice in the matter, I would like to spend my afterlife in the Cricket Club of India. I would happy to donate my ashes to even out any bumps in the ground.
My last over on the ground – six deliveries of decent line and length – went for 24 runs, and I spent the rest of the innings retrieving the ball from distant parts for my colleagues in the Fleet Street XI. This of course will not be repeated in the afterlife… instead the first five deliveries will be met with nervous defence by the former Indian Test star, until the last draws him forward, clips the edge of the bat, an appeal from the wicketkeeper, the crowd is stunned.
Playing at the CCI encourages fantasy. No, in fact it is beyond fantasy. Where else in the world can a visiting cricketer in the sunset of a mediocre career be treated like a star of 100 Test matches? Where else can you wake up, take a leisurely breakfast, stroll into the dressing room to change into your whites and use the same peg as Gary Sobers once used? There the courteous attendants indulge your every need and whim – a drink, a towel, a deep massage on the table where previously unknown muscles are teased back into life.
Out on the field, drenched in heat and history, everything you do steps out of the ordinary. You feel instead that you are part of an epic drama, a special from Bollywood. The spectators help sustain the illusion, by applauding anything at all which is eye-catching even if it represents failure. When, as frequently happens, you chase the ball over the boundary you are surrounded by autograph hunters. You find yourself playing up to them, making extravagant gestures of triumph or agony.
And when the match is over, and the solemn courtesies of speeches and presentations, you can jump straight into the pool and float away your aches and pains, blank out your memories of disaster on the pitch and retain only the triumphs or near-triumphs to tell your grandchildren. Then if you still have any energy you can flop into a chair and be brought cold drinks.
All visiting cricketers are automatically stars in India, but you feel this in spades in the CCI. It is not just the experience of playing in a Test match ground and being treated as if you belong there. It is not just about strolling through the public rooms, under the gaze of the historic figures in the portraits and photographs on the walls, or drifting into the Library, where little reading seems to be done and where it is very easy to drift into a nap in the over-stuffed armchairs.
To be at the CCI is more than all of these things. It means sharing a part in rituals – tea and plum cake in the afternoon, the evening walk around the ground, where friends and families greet each other, reminiscent of the Spanish paseo – and being given an admission to a special part of Indian life.
Its character is reinforced the moment you step outside. The CCI is surrounded by the vibrant city of Mumbai, humming with energy and commerce. In less than an hour you can cause serious damage to Britain’s balance of payments in the shops.
The Lords and Commons are very privileged to inaugurate this historic tour in the CCI in Mumbai. Whatever the results of our two matches we will try to provide the drama and ritual which this great setting deserves.
Richard Heller has paid two previous visits to the CCI with the Fleet Street XI. His autograph fetched a top price of 5 rupees.