Beach, bats and bullying in Madras

THE ban on informal cricket at the main beach of Madras, announced by the local government in early November, has stirred up a lively debate among the townsfolk and further afield.

Marina beach, part of a strand extending more than seven miles, attracts thousands of visitors at evenings and weekends, and there were complaints that flying cork cricket balls and scuffing sand could spoil the day for families with young children — except that much of the cricket takes place on the service road running along the front, and the objection to that encroachment is that parking access is reduced. One could almost assume that parking is at the root of the city council’s plans.

Though the equipment is crude and the matches strictly make-up social events, the council decided to ban playing altogether for “beautification” of the area, sparking a furious response. Despite the valid objections of beach users, including joggers, the point has been made there is nowhere else in the locality for young people to play games. Another point is that the presence of such widespread activity restricts a potentially vast influx of motor vehicles, a situation that could be said to add to the appeal of the beach not reduce it.

When police broke up games and chased away the participants for a second consecutive Sunday, about 2,000 people, mostly residents along the stretch, blocked traffic in protest, supported by refreshment vendors angry at losing business. One protestor D.J Ramani, 53, made a typical comment to The Hindu newspaper. “My dad used to play cricket on the Marina when he was young,” he said. “We have been playing here for so long and it is a part of our everyday life.” Useful open space used to exist at the Government Estate and the May Day Park where several thousand people could play cricket, but the facility was lost to building development.

Some observers even mentioned that international cricketers used to play at Marina in their youth, though citing the beach as a breeding ground for talent might be taking a romantic notion too far.

Make-up cricket has a strong social attraction. In England a first class match at Arundel, for example, will feature several lively games in the background, depending on the size of the crowd. During meal intervals at any ground the outfield fills with people playing with bat and ball. The hard cricket ball is strictly banned, though realistic soft versions with seam can be easily purchased at low cost. A tennis ball is often used to test the skill of a batsmen — out caught is difficult to avoid. In India players are more likely to use cork balls and bat-shaped pieces of wood.

Here are some of the comments to The Hindu on the Madras question. Sunil Kumar: “The open space in metro cities is falling prey to concrete and glass structures. It is a telling sign of our age, where a simple game of cricket cannot be played in abandon. It has become a luxury. It is sad that concerned government is not ensuring maintenance of parks and playing grounds for public. It seems to have been forgotten that playgrounds make better citizens. Beach cricket has its own charm and it should not be stifled.”

Meera Srivats, an expatriate living in the United States, said what she most missed from Madras was the bhajji stalls, the aroma of agarbathi emanating from all the shops and, above all, the gully cricket. “Strolling along the beach, many a times even at my most depressed state, the shouts and laughter of those kids have planted a grin on my face. One goes to the beach to liven up one’s spirits; it’s not only the sea and the sand but also the people that makes our Marina a home away from home. Before our Government issues furthur orders in the pretext of making our Marina a better place to be, they should stop and think, what is it that actually makes it a better place in our hearts.”

Commissioner of Police in Madras, T. Rajendran, told The Hindu it was mainly a problem of urbanisation and lack of open spaces and that a solution would be found soon. “Sports activities are very important for children,” he agreed.

CHARLIE SAYS: This is amazing. There must be a compromise available to please all parties. Make-up, or gully, cricket is a wholesome pastime that should be applauded, and it can be very addictive. To their lasting shame, the MCC still do not allow spectators on to the outfield at Lord’s for this purpose. Most county grounds are better aware.

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