Those were the good days, and its been a long time.
It still seems like yesterday though. We were still in Cottons, and things like degrees, college, work, and earling a living all seemed to be very distant and nebulous. And we had such good times playing cricket.
Our favorite haunt (we had many) for our cricket matches would be the stadium behind Madhavan Park, in Jayanagar 4th block. There Bharath, Viggy, Mani, Vinay, Vikas, Vishal, Mithun, myself.......all of us would congregate and start our matches. It wouldn't matter if we were just playing with tennis balls, or with the genuine stuff made out of red leather, but we would play. Sometimes we would play in the afternoon on a blazingly hot Saturday. So hot, that we'd be the only group of people in the stadium. Sometimes, it would be so crowded there that finding a pitch would be difficult, and we'd be forced to play with a tennis ball for fear of knocking out some random person in the field with the hard leather ball. Vinay used to unfailingly take the bus all the way from Domlur, and some years later, when Vishal started joining us, he'd ride down from Shivaginagar.
We all had our quirks. Bharath, whom we christened Punjab mail (after a memorable trip to Lucknow, where we had the privilege of riding on the slowest train in India) had the true heart of a fast bowler. He would untiringly charge in, all hustle and bustle, and then bamboozle us with his slow-medium pace delivery. Vishal would bowl his "off-spinners" so slowly that many of us would complete our stroke and miss the darn ball, only to find it still gently floating down, land and touch the stump (I don't think he ever "knocked down" a stump). Vinay was left-handed, but never had a style that would make critics gasp and exclaim "Ah! The fluid grace of a southpaw!" But he was extremely effective with the bat. I've never seen anyone get out as stylishly as Viggy, while Mithun would amaze us with his cross-batted stance. Mani never took to cricket the way the proverbial duck takes to water, but he was always enthusiastically there amongst us, playing.
Vikas was our one-man-army, our 200% man. He'd charge in like a wounded rhino, and hurl the ball with all the force his (strong) shoulders could muster. Or he'd bat like a demon, and make his poor partner (sometimes me) take so many singles that he'd be too weak to even swear! Bharat would usually run him out, and fireworks would ensue. Sometimes, Vikas would REALLY lose his temper, when he found some of us slacking off on the field (his pet peeve was bad fielding) during his bowling. And then the shouting would start. I once had to walk out of the field to give Vikas time to cool down, but my strategy back fired with Vikas ending up sulking!
I never had the skills of a Shewag or Sachin (though it was an innermost desire). Instead I ended up being a dour (read "boring as hell") and defensive batsman, blocking away the overs. The one thing I was truly afraid of was hyper-aggressive fast bowling. The speed itself wasn't the problem, but the bowlers expression would scare me out of my wits. Vikas has knocked down my stumps many times, just by glaring at me.
We graduated from high school and then disbursed across the country to various top colleges. Time flew by, and though we'd meet whenever we all came home to Bangalore for the holidays, cricket became a rarity. Now we're spread across the world, some of us are even married, and some of THEM are actually in a position to call themselves rich!
It still seems like yesterday though. Those were the good days, and its been a long time.