…..Now I’m a believer
Not a trace
In my mind
I’m in love
I’m a believer
I’m a Believer. I love that song. Written by Neil Diamond (one of my favourite singer-songwriters, however unfashionable that statement may be) … I hope to see him live this summer, although it won’t rank with seeing Winwood and Clapton play together in New York next month (possibly for the first time since Blind Faith, I can’t remember another instance offhand). Performed by the Monkees.
I’m a believer. A song that got to Number 1 on 31st December 1966, and stayed there for seven weeks.
31st December 1966. The day I watched my first-ever day of Test cricket, and became a Believer. A Believer in the game of cricket.
I’m a Believer. And I’ve been a Believer from that day, even though my first taste of cricket was unusual, to say the least.
Let me start at the beginning. It was 30th December 1966, and my father offered to take me to the “net practice day” at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, the oldest cricket ground in India, and, in my opinion, the most beautiful in the world. But then I’m biased.
The West Indies were touring India, and the Second Test was due to start the next day, New Year’s Eve. And I’d never ever watched even a minute of cricket, so I jumped at the chance. I was a little over 9 years old.
It was a special day. I’d wanted to go to a test match for many years, and even though I was just being offered a “nets” day, that was special for me. To get the chance to see the magnificence of Sobers, the flair of Pataudi, the style of Kanhai, the menace of Hall and Griffith. The debut of Bishen Bedi, and the second-ever Test of Clive Lloyd (who’d just scored 160 runs while getting out only once in his previous Test).
It was a magic morning. And on the way back, I watched my father get lathi-charged. For some reason the crowd stampeded on the way back, and policemen on horseback decided to get us sorted out; which meant charging us while on horseback and wielding their thick batons (called lathis) while doing it. My father was hurt, albeit not very badly, we were tumbled into a ditch, and I was upset. I’d never seen anything like it, and it somehow took the gloss off what had been a fantastic day.
Sometimes clouds do have silver linings. In order to make up for the lathi-charge, my father offered to take me to the 1st day’s play. I went. And I was hooked. I became a lifelong lover of cricket.
This, despite what happened. On that day, 31st December, sometime in the afternoon, there was a riot at Eden Gardens. [Rumours abounded about the root cause, ranging from disputed umpiring decisions through to duels of honour, but I believe the reality was much more mundane: counterfeit tickets leading to overcrowding]. What is certain is that there was a riot. Which meant the usual thing. Chairs ripped up, bonfires made, stadium set on fire. I was forced to climb to the highest part of the stadium, away from the fire, and cajoled to jump into my father’s waiting arms at ground level. I have no idea of the height I jumped from, it felt like 40 feet, was probably half that.
The next day, New Year’s Day, the newspaper headlines read “Hell At Eden”. That I remember. So. Let me summarise:
My first experience of watching Test cricket was preceded by a lathi-charge; my first day of Test cricket was punctuated by a riot and the stadium was set on fire; I then had to jump a zillion feet and hope that my dad caught me; by then he wasn’t the world’s most athletic dad.
Oh yes, and the cricket. I was watching the world’s greatest player at the time, Gary Sobers, the world’s fastest bowlers, Hall and Griffiths, and the world’s suavest captain, The Nawab of Pataudi.
And India lost. Badly. An innings defeat. This, despite losing a day’s play to the aftermath of the riot.
That was my baptism into Test cricket. And it was going to be a long time before I saw India actually win a Test. But I loved my first taste of the game, and haven’t stopped loving it since. I wake up at strange times to listen to commentary, to watch it on television, even to “watch” the scores change on the web. In the past, I’ve even been known to “watch” the game on teletext!
I will go into watching the Third Test at Perth with the same fervour. Despite everything that has gone on in the Second Test. I hope that India does well. But.
This time around, I no longer really care who wins. As long as cricket wins.
That’s important. Cricket must win. So that there are more generations of Believers.