October 09, 2011

Cricket Bat in the Jungle, Batting Wild, Batting Free

On finding a ‘Cricket Bat’ in a Goan jungle, more precisely in the wildlife sanctuary at Mollem.

If you plan on having a ball in the jungle it’d help to have a cricket bat to play the ball with, or better still, have a ball with. You might yet get a pitch to parade your skills on even if it’s a wet one and the soil is loose beneath the surface, and if you’re lucky you can count on a wild bison for a wicket keeper.

It doesn’t matter if the bison cannot collect the ball cleanly, trust its girth to stop some from passing it to the boundary as did Dhoni in the recently concluded Test series between India and England, and life goes on.

Just watch your step if you do not want to sprain your ankle running in. Where Indian Bisons (Indian Gaur) have stepped through they’ve left ample evidence of their weight on the pitch, deep holes where water collects temporarily before seeping into the earth.

And to clear the field a flat batted shot will not do, get under the ball and attempt a skier to clear the trees if you aim to get the ball anywhere, else it’s likely the nearest tree will field the ball long before you’ve completed your bat swing.

For spectators if you’re happy with a Grey Hornbill busy in a fig tree, chattering Flycatchers, Emerald Doves in tree tops, Warblers in thickets, Kingfishers hovering over jungle streams, and Langurs leaping among branches then you’re set for the game, a bee buzzing in your bonnet.

While there’re bees around, there’re no colourful bonnets about to buzz in, unless the colours sported by Bonnet Macaques on their behinds suffices.

However, speaking of colour, there’s plenty around. Winged wonders who’re as exotic as their names would suggest, flit about the field all day, zig zagging like commuters on Mumbai thoroughfares.

Common Map, Common Crow, Common Sailor, Grey Pansy, Grass Yellows, and even a Count you can count on, the Grey Count, among the lesser Commoners who’re no less cheerful or enthusiastic to see you take guard.

Just take care not to swing your bat when one of them is passing by the edge, for there’s just the chance the Hot Spot might awaken that very moment and show up the spot where the wing singed your bat, sending you on your way to the pavilion, except here you’d have to clamber up the rickety steps of a machan to cool your heels, or to the straw hut the forest curator uses to keep an eye on the grass plot maintained for the Indian Bisons in the wildlife sanctuary, not unlike the pitch curator who keeps a beady eye on the grassy pitch lest an Indian player, enamoured by the nightlife in town, and having partaken of its spoils the night before staggers onto the grassy pitch before play begins.

Don’t forget to watch the ball as you cream it through. There’s every chance Langurs might decide to swing it right back and there’s no guarantee they’ll be aiming at the stumps, and not you.

If you clear the field, chances are the ball would’ve to lucky to make it through the vegetation, and there’s no knowing who’s lurking in there for, over the years I’ve seen slitherers of ever kind when hiking in these very patches, including Kraits, Cobras, Russell’s Vipers, Saw Scaled Vipers, and Whip Snakes here.

But then fortune favours the brave, so you might as well make a dash for the ball before the vegetation devours it and you’re apprehensive in reaching for it in the thicket harbouring the unknown – a motivation as pressing as any in diving for the ball before it crosses over.

Is there a lesson I see here in including this patch in the fielding drills Duncan Fletcher puts the Indian Cricketers through given how they rolled over and lay supine before the ball ‘died’ on the boundary. I’d assume there is one.

Aha, the thoughts that will flit about a perspiring forehead on spotting a cricket bat in the jungle no sooner had Philip and I spotted it by a freshly made dirt track in the sanctuary.

We found our own cricket bat in the jungle the moment we stepped through a rocky path laced with straggling grass and into the thicket before happening upon a newly laid dirt track along the periphery of the sanctuary that runs by the highway conducting vehicular traffic to Belgaum from Panaji, through Mollem before surmounting the Anmod Ghats and back the same way.

Looking around me I spied ‘seats’ of leaves, likely Teak, arranged neatly in a small clearing set back from the newly minted dirt path, indicating where labourers had settled down for a bit of shade and quiet at lunchtime.

The leaves were yet to lose their colour and elasticity, indicating it wasn’t a long time ago that workers laying the walking path were batting the lose topsoil into place with the stodgy cricket bat that looked like it was hewn from the trunk of a Jackfruit tree or maybe a Mango tree. I couldn’t be sure, just that the weight suggested the possibility.

And the fact that they’d left the bat behind where we found it meant they would return to work on the dirt road some more, it looked like it might need some more of batting the soil layer down before the Sun, assuming it would manage to pierce.

I lifted the solid wooden batter shaped like a cricket bat and swung it in the arcs I used to when I was at school and dreamed of making it big as a batsman. But whacks that life dealt me on the hind quarter with cricket bats of another kind nudged me into batting corporate timelines, with teatime restricted to dip wala chai produced in cheap plastic cups stacked in a corner of a makeshift cafeteria, cups you had to learn to hold lightly between your fingers if you didn’t want to turn them into fountains of steaming tea spouting in your face.

I liked the way the workers had arranged the leaves into a temporary seating. Over time the ‘seats’ would turn to mulch and likely nourish the very tree they came from, not unlike the branches that colourful fungi had made their home on.

In the jungle, the temporary is permanent, and temporariness, enduring.

The number of ‘leaf-seats’ suggested there were no more than four workers involved in laying the jungle path. And if you concede the bisons their right of way, and hence the right to leave their footprints deep in the dirt track there were fewer indentations in the entire stretch of freshly turned over red soil of laterite origin that sloped along to a jungle stream some distance away from where we stood than what you’d find in a foot of city roads in Mumbai.

As Philip and I stepped on the surface, bending to trace the outlines of what appeared to be Bison tracks, I felt the surface needed more of the batting down and baking in the Sun to hold firm if it was to survive more of the monsoons on their way West over the Arabian Sea.

And one Cricket Bat in the jungle, worked by one batter at a time, would not suffice if the surface was to be batted down firmer before the soil dried out. More wooden bats were needed, and more batters to wield them and work the surface.

As Philip and I walked down the incline, binoculars dangling from the neck, I wondered if it wouldn’t help to have the ‘feared’ Indian batting lineup donate their cricket bats for the purpose considering they barely made their effort count on the scoreboard in the recently concluded Test series in England, and given how many were found short on technique in facing the English bowlers would it harm the team to have them assigned to batting down the surface of this jungle trail?

I doubt if it would. If anything it’d give them a better feel of tapping the surface of the pitch with the toe-end of their bats to flatten out unevenness before taking guard at the wicket, that’s assuming they’d be picked up to play for India again.

For Drinks Break they can reach into the crook of a nearby tree for water to quench their thirst. That way they could imbibe some jungle wisdom from the Wisdom Tree.

For a shower, they could make do with the jungle stream that courses by not far from the trail.

And if it turns out the Indian batsmen are no good even at batting down the surface of a jungle trail, then there’s the jungle well to hide them from sight lest they get noticed by the selectors again.


Nona said...

Nice pictures

Ugich Konitari said...

Wonderful post ! I kept looking for some wildflower cheerleaders, as seems to be the current addition to the game. Is it significant that you dont seem to have seen any ? Do our cricket types learn from that ?

Magan said...

Anil, I found this quite poetic. Missed the 'cricket' and the 'bat', both winged kind in your photos. I also felt the pains of our last English tour that I would definitely drown in that slippery spirals of the well and say 'well done'. This version of bat is literally used to 'batter' and hence better a surface, could work on our cricketers.

Anil P said...

Nona: Thanks.

Ugich Konitari: Thank you. Actually I did see many wildflowers on the trail that day, and they'd be more than pleased to cheer the Cricket on, just that it did not strike me until you pointed out the possibility :-)

Magan: Noted the info. Thank you.

The performance of the Indian Cricket team on the England tour was pathetic to say the least. A terrible experience for the viewer as well.

The much touted fighting spirit of the supposedly next-generation Indian cricketers steadily Down the Well if not the hill as the tour progressed!

This bat could perform well in spanking their heavily marketed egos.

am said...

Your playful writing in this post is like a song. As I read and looked at your vivid photos, it was as if I could hear music. Thank you for this.

Riot Kitty said...

Wonderful theme for fall. And I did sprain both ankles recently, so I'll be careful ;)

Anonymous said...

Ah, a cricket fan obviously as well as a nature lover. Right now I am per-occupied by the world rugby championship.

Anil P said...

Am: Thank you. It's a pleasure to learn you liked the post.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. Hope your ankles are healing well. And a Bison trail is no trail to be on even in the best of times, let alone with sprained ankles :-)

Lgsquirrel: The only rugby I see here is the occasional match-up at the Gymkhana, that too while passing on my way to VT.

Red said...

The butterflies look so vibrant in the wilderness. They sometimes get lost in the city bustle.

Anil P said...

An Iengar Chick: They sure do. In the quiet of the wilds, butterflies add the much needed distraction.