Saturday, October 06, 2007

When stars, old and new, shone on the firmament

The Castrol Awards for Cricketing Excellence was an evening of nostalgia and fun

By Shevlin Sebastian

“During our time, we used to carry one bat when we went for tours abroad,” says former Indian captain, Chandu Borde, to a question from Harsha Bhogle, at the 10th Castrol Awards for Cricketing Excellence function held at the Le Meridien.

“Sourav [Ganguly], what do you say to that?” asks Bhogle.

Says Ganguly, without a moment’s pause, “Harsha, if I carry only one bat and it breaks, I could be dropped from the team for lack of commitment.”

The audience bursts into laughter at this bittersweet reply from Ganguly, who was unceremoniously dropped from the Indian team, spent several months in the wilderness, before he clawed his way back.

The Castrol Awards, which is celebrating 75 years of Indian cricket, is an anecdote and image-rich function. A constellation of former stars, like Nari Contractor, Ajit Wadekar, Bishan Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath EAS Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar are present. From the current crop, there is Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan and a few members of the Twenty20 World Cup winning team. Also, as International Brand Ambassador for Castrol, Australian captain Adam Gilchrist is also there.

To celebrate the 75 years, a Castrol Indian Cricketer of the era award is being given for each era: 1932-47; 1947-61; 1961-71; 1971-81; 1981-1997 and 1997 to 2006. Incidentally, India played its first Test, against England, on June 25, 1932, led by Colonel C.K. Nayudu.

For the first era, the late Nayudu is selected as the Castrol Indian cricketer of the era. His articulate daughter, the grey-haired Chandra, receives the prize on behalf of her father. “Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a lot like my father,” says Chandra. “He is shrewd and a big hitter of the ball. My father would have approved of him.”

The awards for the next eras are for the late Vinoo Mankad, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, while Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are joint winners for 1997-2006. For each era, there is a short and beautiful video presentation. Some of images are grainy and shaky, but it reminds us of a time which is rapidly vanishing from memory. This is followed by an interaction between Bhogle and the luminaries present.

Nari Contractor talks about how because Vinoo Mankad could not play in a Test, he is promoted as an opener, even “though I had never opened in school or college or in the Ranji Trophy. But, thereafter, I always played as an opener”.

Borde talks about the menacing speed of West Indian bowlers Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith during the 1962 tour of the Caribbean. “You won’t believe it but the very first ball Griffith bowled against us, a bouncer, the ball went over the heads of the batsman and the wicket-keeper and went to the boundary. All of us watching from the dressing room shivered in fear. Please remember, we did not have helmets at that time.”

Of course, as is well known, during that tour, a short-pitched delivery by Griffith hit Contractor on the head, which caused a near-fatal injury, and ended his playing career.

Bishen Bedi speaks about how the Indian players spent five hours in the sun during the recent victory parade in Mumbai after the Twenty20 World Cup win. “These guys didn’t mind at all,” he says. “Because they knew that when they reached the Wankhede Stadium, fat cheques were awaiting them.”

Jhulan Goswami, 24, from West Bengal, who recently won the ICC Player of the Year Award for Women, announces that Castrol is setting up a new Outstanding Indian Cricketer of The Year award for women cricketers. Bhogle says, “I saw Jhulan bowl at the Afro Asian Cup and boy, was she fast! The batswomen did not like her at all.”

The few members of the World Cup-winning team who are present -- Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma, S. Sreesanth, coaches, Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, and manager Lalchand Rajput -- are presented with mementos. Sreesanth is given an additional trophy. When he sees that he is the only one who has received it, he quickly places it back on the tray. Later, Naveen Kshatriya, the managing director of Castrol India, would explain: “We gave a special trophy to Sreesanth, because he is from Kerala, and the ceremony is being hosted here and also for his magnificent performance in the World Cup.” In retrospect, it seems like a mis-step in an otherwise superb programme.

The climax occurs when all the Indian captains, from Contractor to Dravid, are honoured with plaques. Ganguly receives a special award for being the most successful Indian captain. When Bhogle asks all the captains to stand closer, so that a photograph could be taken, Wadekar quips, “Should we go into a huddle?”

At the post-function dinner, Gavaskar is sitting with Chandu Borde and his wife and is holding an imaginary ball in his hand and throwing it. Amazing, these guys talk cricket all the time.

On another table, a plump Bengali lady, in a red chiffon saree, says, “Oh, I love the fish in Kerala. We went to Fort Kochi today and got such big prawns (she shows the length of her palm) and it costs only Rs 250. And do you know why we bought them? Because, my husband, even though he is a South Indian Brahmin, loves fish.”

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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