By JAMIE ALTER
We each have our field of dreams – the space where we first really took to a sport, where we played it because we loved the feeling of it. Maybe it was a parking lot or a sandlot, a maidaan, an open field, a side street, a gully, a stadium, a terrace. You know what I’m talking about.
For me, that field was a beaten up, run down former tennis court tucked away between the magnificent deodar and handsome Indian chestnut tree, sturdy Himalayan oak and serene maple trees at the far end of Landour. A little piece of heaven where, in days of yore, missionaries and teachers– and my father – spent sunny spring afternoons playing tennis and rounders but which by the time my friends and I took over had withered into a rough, mossy mess of dilapidated cement and dirt. It was perfect.
It was here that I established and furthered friendships that have lasted nearly three decades and will always do so. Many years ago, a friend and I, with help from my father, arranged for a crease at either end of the tennis court to be painted in thick, green paint. We measured the crease with tape. We measured the length of the pitch. We had the grass cut; the stinging nettles and dock leaf in two corners – square leg and long-on – and the clovers along the wall that ran from second slip to fine leg.
When it rained, we mopped up the muck and slush. We used gunny sacks to absorb the muck and laid them down like mats, three feet from where we batted. The rain didn’t deter us. Neither did the snow. In winter, my friend Ronjoy drove up from Dehradun to play cricket with me. We scraped aside the snow and bowled in the freezing cold until we were called in for Christmas lunch.
Most matches on this field of ours were ten, twelve and 15-over matches. We also played Test matches, without a time limit. We played one-on-one matches. Countless weekends were spent on that court, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., often with hardly 30 minutes for lunch. Sometimes, we skipped lunch. Friends often groaned that Maggi noodles and lemon squash wasn’t enough.
There were countless last-ball finishes. We fought, we cursed, we laughed. How many tennis balls refused to come down from the tops of trees or from their branches and how many disappeared down the khud or into my aunt’s garden, I cannot recall. Once, a visiting American professor was startled at his laptop when a ball smashed through his window.
One night, before I was to fly back to the USA to resume college, we played night cricket from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Two halogen lights from Landour Bazaar did the job. We had enough people to make three teams of six, and had a tri-series. It remains an unforgettable night. The lighting from behind the bowler was poor, and to spot a dirty green tennis ball from out of the dark was very tough. That night, twice I steered my team to victory after the others had fallen in the dark.
Today, that field is a spruced-up tennis court once again and there is no cricket played there. It saddens me, but I understand that times change. I am fortunate, though, to be able to return there and lob a tennis ball to my five-year-old son and watch him swing at an over-sized cricket ball. One day, I will tell him stories of the Oakville cricket team, and how we beat teams from Char Dukan and the Cantonment, both, ‘home’ and ‘away’, and how we all lived for cricket.
Thank you, Oakville, for all the memories.
(Jamie Alter is a sports writer, journalist, author and actor).