Long before the 2011 census figures uncovered the big bulge in the demography of 11 north Indian states, the Hindi media had sensed the psychological warfare that was waiting to be encashed through the hysteria of the IPL matches.
The big wave soon engulfed even the furthest corners of the Himalayan region. Never mind the uneven surface, the step farms carved out of hill sides and the looming threat from boulders ever ready to roll down during the monsoons. The hills are a part of life in Uttarakhand and form the backdrop to all games from gilli danda to hockey to football – which was declared the state game in 2011 – and last but not the least, cricket, the king of games!
As spring ripens into summers, teams of village boys descend upon any scant flat ground between scrub and pine and Deodars they may have located nearby. The rural cricket lovers swear by the ‘Brilliant Seven’ the tiny state has managed to produce. At the top are Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rishabh Pant. The state has its own cricket association, an Under-19 team, and a hardy women’s team. So it is not an all boys game. There is Ekta Bisht of Almora, the first left-hander to make it to the international women’s team, and Prema Rawat of Sumti village in the Bageshwar district.
By 2019, three players from Uttarakhand were selected to play in the domestic matches by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). So as they say locally, “Cricket mein bhi Uttarakhand ka tempo high hai.”
According to Navin Samachar, Uttarakhand now boasts of its own Kumaon Premier League, KPL. It includes Nainital Tigers, Almora Royals, Bageshwar Devils and Pithoragarh Panthers.
On May 4, 2023, the Sartoli village in Gopeshwar organised a cricket tournament named after the local deity Bhumiyal: the Jai Bhumiyal Devta cricket tournament. The gram pradhan of the village, Vinita Devi, announced that each match should be played in 15 overs and each team could bring in four players from “outside”. An Aadhaar card was a must for entry into the tournament.
The tournament had its own impressive line up of Hindi commentary on Facebook from fans and critics. The “Hindi wallahs” lined up godmen, astrologers, and even grannies who prayed for the success of their favourite teams.
There are some surprising facts here. According to Hindi daily Amar Ujala, the BCCI selection committee for the Uttarakhand team has no members from the state, and neither the trainer nor the coach are locals.
There are also whispers about allegations of corruption such as minor skirmishes with the coaches and also major scams like running enormous food bills for players including several lakhs worth of bananas, though the players often complained of poor supplies. Apart from that, conspiracy theories, tales about plots and subplots created in far off metro towns, have also been flying thick and fast on social media.
But as they say, big people have big sorrows! Let’s leave them to sort theirs.
So let’s introduce you to rural cricket. In Uttarakhand, rules and regulations for playing rural cricket have been crafted by several generations as the topography changed and developed. These rules and regulations are even followed by far off villages. This shows how the love for the game overtakes all hesitations and rivalries, and the Indian genius for jugaad reigns supreme.
In the Almora-Jakhan Debi area, a terrain in my hometown, friends and countrymen, you may behold Kumaoni cricket in all its Himalayan glory. All you may need at the most is your Aadhaar card. I am grateful to the kids who shared their precious information about how the international rules and regulations have been tailored to suit the terrain and availability of gear.
Stripped of all glamour, the highly competitive and entertaining rural matches are a pure Himalayan offering to the original game. There are no big ticket selectors or corporate sponsors, no fat cat politicians and corporates wearing shades and sun hats seated in the best boxes. The aggressive grabbing of all the best vantage points by the media is absent as also the usual fat sweaty policeman guarding the venue and telling the rest to bring an identity proof and go no further on the hallowed grounds than permitted.
Here are the rules for rural cricket:
- A ‘toss’ shall be performed with a flat pebble after marking one side from the other with a big gob of spittle. The captains of the two teams shall suggest if they are with the dry side or the wet.
- Another acceptable variation is both captains bounce the ball on their bat counting Eko, Duko, Teeko, Charo, Pancho...and so on. One who can do the maximum bounces without a break gets to choose if they will bat or bowl first.
- Given the limitations imposed on the choice of the day’s playing field by various local and natural factors, the first ball of the match shall be deemed a ‘try ball’. This trial balloon of sorts reveals necessary factors such as the wind flow, the lay of the land in the day’s chosen playing field and the height of the step fields adjacent to it. Younger onlookers are sent to ascertain that no evil tempered land owner is standing in the step fields within the hitting area.
- To take care of the playing field that can suddenly be hit by strong winds, the Third Man must also double up as a good fielder.
- All teams shall aspire to have at least three to four lefties, given the severe limitations posed by an immovable hillside flanking one side or another of the crease.
- Since the game will be played in flat land below step fields, multiple runs shall be scored as: a shot that flies above five adjacent fields will be deemed a sixer. It has to go up “Direct”. If it hits the edge of the fifth field, it shall be deemed a four. If there is a tree in the middle of the play area, it shall be deemed a natural barrier and a ball that will ricochet after hitting it will yield one run extra for the batsman on the crease.
- The middle kiladi (stump) must be kept shorter than the other two in view of the special terrain.
- A dangerous gendbaaz (bowler) will be one who is capable of throwing at least two to three sutt balls, which are fast-paced balls that will fly without bouncing or rising much above the ground. That is acceptable and to be watched out for.
- The player may hit the ball anywhere to his right but if it flies into the field of the village grandfather or the ill-tempered widow well-known for her cane and her abusive language, the batsman shall fetch it himself.
Break time beverages will consist of homegrown oranges or fresh spring water.
- Before declaring someone “out”, the umpire will be told Kha Apni Maa ki Kasam, meaning swear on your mother’s head, and he must oblige with the accepted ritual of holding his throat, etc., before his verdict is accepted by all.
The rules have been translated from a joint note in Hindi sent by local friends.