Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 22, March 1-15, 2020
These days cricket is in the air everywhere, all the time. It is played throughout the year at the national and international levels in various formats, day and night. It is a constant presence on our TV screens as live telecasts. On the TV channels, seasoned cricketers of yesteryear such as Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath and L. Sivaramakrishnan take up the commentary, explaining the finer points of the game in flawless English. As a result, one can hear even grandpas and grandmas, who might not have so much as touched a cricket bat or a cricket ball in their lifetime, making learned comments on ‘yorkers’, ‘inner edges’ and ‘fair deliveries’. The rich vocabulary of cricket terms has been mastered by the fans.
This was not the case in Madras during the 1940s, ‘50s or even ‘60s. As cricket fans of that era hailing from Triplicane, Mylapore, Mambalam and Washermanpet, we had our own rich cricket vocabulary, far removed from the official version. The terms we used were either ‘Tamilised’ versions of English terms, or Anglicized versions of Tamil terms. There were also terms that were exclusively ‘Madras baashai’, not derived from any language, living or dead. And some terms were derived from the creative misuse of English words, warping their function to convey a meaning other than what is in the dictionary.
Quantity-wise, there were almost an equal number of cricket matches being played during that era to keep the fans interested. Only, the quality or the class of cricket played was much lower. In Madras, we had inter-school matches conducted by the Madras Schools Athletic Association (MSAA), inter-college matches, inter-university matches, league championship matches (played amongst Madras-based ‘league’ teams), Ranji Trophy matches, and the occasional test match played against a visiting team. There were only two formats of the game – the single-inning matches played in the local tournaments, and two-innings matches played at Ranji Trophy level and above. The audience at these matches varied from a few tens to some tens of thousands, depending on the level of the game.
But whatever the level of cricket or the audience strength, the colorful terms used by the fans to describe various aspects of the game were the same. Some English words, as I said, were misused. Fast bowling, for example, was called ‘rude’ bowling. “Rude-aa ethinaan” (literal translation would be ’He mounted in the rudest manner’) was how we described C.R. Rangachari’s bowling. ‘Ranga’ was our great favourite and we paid him the ultimate tribute payable to a fast bowler – by describing his bowling as “Thottaa sixer, vittaa bowled” (conveying the idea that ‘If you as much as snick the ball, it will be flung for a sixer because of the pace. If you don’t play it, woe unto you, you will be clean bowled’. So much wisdom packed into a couple of phrases!)
Gaaji was another term in most common use then. It is a term of unknown origin, but its meaning was very clear to us. It means a chance to bat or bowl. ‘Batting gaaji’ would be much sought after during the evening practice sessions, and so had to be apportioned in a fair manner among all the aspirants. ‘Bowling gaaji’ was also in great demand, particularly among those who imagined themselves to be the ‘next Rangachari’. In a match situation, if a batsman crossed over with a single off the last ball of an over and thereby kept the strike, he was termed having taken an ‘over gaaji’.
The Sanskrit word dhandam meaning a stick was, for some unknown reason, used by us to describe poor quality. Continuous poor performances would make us dub a player’s game as ‘dhanda batting’ or ‘dhanda bowling’. We had our limits of tolerance for poor performances. Dropping a catch was called a ‘kottai’. A ‘dhanda fielder’ of the home team, who ‘kottai vittaan’ (dropped) an easy catch of the opposing team batsman, would be booed right through the match. Even an umpire could be a dhandam. If, in the opinion of the audience, the umpire had given a wrong decision in declaring a batsman out, it would be termed a ‘dhanda out’ and the umpire would be booed at.
To make an appeal was termed as making a ‘claim’ — or more colourfully as “Howzat pannaan” (literally meaning ‘He made a Howzat’). In the small time matches, a batsman given out on a ‘Howzat’ for lbw would invariably contest the decision. The most common excuse given by the batsman would be that there was a ’tip’ – meaning there was an outer edge or inner edge. But such a batsman who contested the umpire’s decision would be called a pottai. Any unfair practice was termed as ‘pottai adikkaradu’ and was looked down upon. In Tamil slang pottai means a woman; and it is a reflection on how things were in our society before the women’s libbers came into the picture.
There were many colourful terms in use to describe the exploits of batsmen. Stepping out and hitting was described as ‘yeri adikkaradu’, literally meaning ‘climb and hit’. Similarly, playing off the back foot was called ‘jaga vaangi adikkaradu’ (‘taking Jaga and hitting’). It was apparently derived from the Hindi word ‘jaga’, meaning ‘space’. Modern day commentators would convey the same idea by describing the batsman as having used the ‘depth’ of the crease.
A bump on a batsman’s forehead, as a result of being hit by a short-pitched ball, was called an urundai – which in Tamil means a sphere. Obviously, the term originated from the most common hemispherical shape of such a bump. Wickets falling in quick succession, causing as it were a ‘procession’ of batsmen in and out of the pavilion, was termed an ‘arubathimoovar’. It is named after a festival celebrated in the Mylapore temple, when idols of celebrated saints are carried in palanquins in a fast moving procession.
A shot where the batsman has a wild swipe at a ball, connects, and hits it away for a boundary or a sixer, was called a ‘gaadaa’. A habitual gaadaa hitter (the way most fast bowlers were) was called a ‘gaadaa Munusamy’ It was believed that the nomenclature was after a historic marker at the Chepauk ground of that name who was a great hitter, and mostly played gaadaa. A gaadaa hitter was on any day preferred by us to a slow plodder who blocked and blocked. Our favourite shout at such a batsman would be “Hit out or get out!”.
Like cricket fans all over the world, then as now, we rooted for our home teams with great passion. Our expectations from our home-side players were always very high. But we were well aware of the fact that even the best of players suffered their bad patches and that cricket is a game of chances. But that was not the way we described it. A batsman out for a low score would be consoled by being told ‘After all, cricket is a lucky game’. We were also well aware of the fact that it is, equally, a gentlemen’s game. Those who adopted foul, ungentlemanly practices like questioning an umpire’s decision would be firmly told “Umpire’s given is given”. Even if it be a dhanda out.