Friday, July 11, 2008

A New INNings

The Bat and Ball Inn is steeped in cricket memorabilia and is a must-visit for any fan

By Shevlin Sebastian

One evening, cricketer S. Sreesanth dropped in at the Chennai house of former Kerala Ranji Trophy cricketer, J.K. Mahendra. Over the course of a meal, Mahendra asked Sreesanth whether he would be keen to invest in a cricket homestay called, 'The Bat and Ball Inn'.

"Sreesanth agreed, but when I started the work, Robin Uthappa also indicated an interest," says Mahendra.

The first Bat and Ball Inn, a 4000 sq. ft. homestay, was inaugurated in Bangalore on December 6, 2007. Then Mahendra felt that since Sreesanth is from Kerala and since "I owed so much to Kerala cricket, I decided we should open a similar homestay in Kochi."

When commentator Charu Sharma, a long-time acquaintance of Mahendra, heard about this venture, he decided to become a partner also. "I invested because of the connection with the game," says Sharma. "Even though there is not much of a memorabilia culture in the country, Mahendra has worked hard to set up a fine inn."

The Kochi Bat and Ball Inn, which began functioning a few weeks ago, is on Mills Lane, opposite the Kasavukada shop on Foreshore Road, Kochi.

And the first thing that catches the eye is a long green pole with arrows pointing in different directions. The Cricket Club of India is 1384 kms from the inn, while the Melbourne Cricket Ground is 8876 kms away; Lord's is 8500 kms away, while the Eden Gardens is at a distance of 2366 km.

Near the entrance, there are photographs of some of the greatest cricketers of Indian cricket: Polly Umrigar, Vinoo Mankad, Pankaj Gupte, Amar Singh, and Vijay Hazare.

Inside, there is a signed painting of Anil Kumble by Yusuf Arakkal and a painting of Donald Bradman with a cherubic Sachin Tendulkar. There are dramatic pictures of the 1983 World Cup win and the Nat West Trophy triumph in 2002.

On the ground floor, there is a restaurant, Cornucopia, which serves dishes from all over the world, including Continental, Spanish, Italian and Thai. "The food is top class," says film director Ranjit Thomas, a regular visitor.

In the souvenir shop, opposite the restaurant, there are caps, mugs, key-chains, T-shirts, bats, DVDs and books on cricket, as well as jewellery items on sale.

One pair of earrings has tiny gold cricket balls dangling from it. "One woman, who was mad about the game, bought it," says Mahendra. "I told her she could wear it when she goes to watch a match."

On the stairs, there are magnificent photographs of Ranjitsinghji, Duleepsinhji and a young Donald Bradman essaying a pull stroke. And taking pride of place across one wall is a signed poster of Wisden's Five Great Cricketers of the Century: Don Bradman, Gary Sobers, Shane Warne, Jack Hobbs and Vivian Richards.

Just next to it are autographed T-shirts by Sreesanth and Tinu Yohannan, Kerala's first Test cricketer, who has scrawled, in blue felt pen, across the front: 'To J.K. Sir who gave me my first big break' (Mahendra was once a National junior selector).

On the first floor, there are autographed bats by Sunil Gavaskar, Don Bradman, Gary Sobers and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

"To get Pataudi to sign his bat, I sought an appointment, flew to Delhi and got it done," says Mahendra. On another wall, there is an amusing series of pictures of Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee taking off the caps of Sunil Gavaskar, Geoff Boycott and Clive Lloyd with short-pitched balls.

The Homestay has five neat and classy suites, each in the name of a legend: Sunil Gavaskar, Richard Hadlee, Vivian Richards, Gary Sobers and Dennis Lillee.

On the first floor, there is The Village Shop, where South African Molly Pinto is checking out the home furnishing merchandise.

"This place is beautiful," she says. "I have never seen anything like this in South Africa. The amount of effort that has been taken to set this up must be tremendous."

Indeed, but will a concept like a homestay work in Kochi? "Homestays are becoming popular, because people are looking for personalised treatment," says Mahendra. "We are also providing a different kind of ambience. People who love cricket will like to come here."

Agrees Charu Sharma: "It's a nice place to hang around. The rooms are lovely, the d├ęcor is great and the inn is set in a nice old bungalow." Says Ranjit: "It is more like a cricketer's museum than a homestay. For me, instead of the museum, the rooms and the restaurant are value additions."

Cricket fans, when they visit the homestay, will feel that the entire Bat and Ball Inn is a value addition to the city.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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