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Journalism of Courage

Did Viv Richards hit a six to smash a hotel window or did Thiruvananthapuram, a city of stories, imagine it?

India take on South Africa in first T20 in Thiruvananthapuram but its a city that’s enamoured with its past tales

Viv Richards has shown up twice on this ground—once during a mid-series practice game in the 1984 tour and then an ODI in 1988. (File/Insta)

All six gates, barring the entrance of the University Stadium, remain locked all the time. Not for the fear of miscreants sneaking into the ground that hosted the state’s first-ever international game at night and turning it into a bar, but to keep off cows and goats. A policeman that mans the gate points out to a grassless patch, a trail of destruction left by a nanny goat that wandered into the building, office to some state sports body associations. “To tell you the truth, we end up monitoring goats and dogs more than human beings,” he says.

The Greenfield Stadium is a sparkling modern venue, where the India-South Africa series kicks off from Wednesday, but the soul of the city’s cricket is trapped inside the unkempt University Stadium, neighboured by the State Assembly Building, the Palayam Mosque, the Mascot Hotel, the CSI Christ Church and its cemetery. The moment you step inside the stadium, rather a disarrayed ensemble of net-less goalposts, worn-out running tracks, and creeper-embroidered stands, it is like stepping into the past.The two ends of the ground, supposedly a fast one, went by the names Church End and Hotel End.

Between the two ends, cricket tales swirled with unavoidable flourishes and exaggerations. Like this one. For several years, a broken glass window remained unfixed at the Mascot Hotel. The story goes that a hefty six from Viv Richards shattered the glass and the hotel wore it as a badge of honour. The waiters would take the guests around and proudly show them the unattended window. They finally fixed it when the hotel was refurbished. Or the story goes.

Richards has shown up twice on this ground—once during a mid-series practice game in the 1984 tour and then an ODI in 1988. According to the scoresheets, he did not strike a six on either instance—in the ODI, he was not required to bat as West Indies smashed India by nine wickets, whereas he was out for one in the warm-up game against India u-22, bowled by former India opener WV Raman’s left-arm tweakers, one of his five wickets in the game.

“I know it’s a treasured wicket, but I frankly don’t remember how I got the wicket. The match happened so long ago, nearly 40 years ago that my memory is grainy. All I remember was that it was a great opportunity for us to play against the great West Indies team and obviously good for the city. I remember that I reached the city just on the morning of the match and had to rush. Clearly, we were all super excited, ” Raman told this paper.

The stadium in Thiruvananthapuram. (File)

So the mystery remains. If indeed he had struck one, in case it was a scorer’s blip, that would have been a monstrous one. For the hotel is beyond a 30-feet road outside the stadium. There is another 20-feet of garden. But Richards being Richards it would not have been implausible either.

There are those who claim that have seen the legendary batsman break the glass or those that have heard the shuddering sound of leather on glass. Suresh Kumar, one of the ground-attendants, has neither seen nor heard it, but he is convinced that it was Richards who broke the glass, “because his grandfather had told him so: “A glass on the ground floor of the hotel, where the old bar was. I can show the exact spot,” he says.

The stadium in Thiruvananthapuram. (File)

There are other stories—of dusk to dawn binge-drinking sessions of the MCC team that dropped by for a charity match in 1981, of Patrick Patterson almost getting drowned at the Kovalam beach, of Kris Srikkanth hooking Winston Davis for a six en route to a hundred.

At least, this has proof. Says S Raju, who was the scorer’s assistant and later became a statistician: “I saw that shot and sat stunned. I got an earful from Murthy sir, my senior, for not jotting down the shot immediately. That happened to be the first and the last international match I kept score for.”

Another tale goes that someone from the crowd sneaked into the dressing room during the presentation ceremony—where Richards, the captain, was presented a bronze Charminar replica as trophy—and stole gloves and bats. Neither Raju nor Suresh could vouch for the legitimacy. “Could be possible. Look even now there is no fence. Would have been sold at the Chaala Bazar (an old shopping area)!” says Kumar.

A city of stories


But let fact not spoil the beauty of a story. And, Thiruvananthapuram is a city that loves its stories and loves even more to narrate the stories. Of the various battles Marthanda Varma, the most powerful king of the erstwhile Travancore dynasty, has waged; of the musicians from the country that had flocked in the durbar of Swathi Tirunal; of the vintage cars and the infinite wealth of the royal family; of the grandeur of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, its hidden treasure vault guarded by fire-emitting snake-guards.

A man rows a traditonal boat at a coastal village, in Thiruvananthapuram. (PTI)

Or tales from the Cliff House, the residence of the Chief Ministers, their quirks and habits, or the scandals from the secretariat or the shifting political squalls that waft through the corridors of the Niyamasabha Mandiram (Legislative Assembly Building); or the countless strikes at the samara-panthal (an area demarcated for demonstrations near the secretariat), of the blood and sweat that has blended with tar and history, of ideas and ideologies, that swirl around like ghosts that cannot be exorcised, or the slogans that continue to reverberate even after the strikes are over. There’s one for arts too—the sprawling Kanakakkunnu Palace complex that houses an amphitheatre, a fairground and a charming century-old palace, where there is always a literary event.

Yet, the city has a ferociously pragmatic streak that ensures that it does not wallow in the romance of the past, but meticulously plans its future. It didn’t shed a tear when it was pushed into the periphery of the State’s cricketing map, when it no longer hosted a domestic game, let alone an international game. It doesn’t frantically run behind sports or sporting icons.

As loved a figure as Sanju Samson is in the city, his hometown, the fan-fare is not feverish. The ire that has followed his snub from the World Cup squad was more social-media generated than a reflection of the local angst.

Even when international cricket returned to the venue after three decades in 2017, the reacquaintance was quiet, the buzz minimal, unlike during the ISL games in Kochi or the Sevens in the Malabar, or when Kochi used to host international cricket games. The stadium was packed, the spectators celebrated in the gallery, but the build-up was hype-less, as was the post-game hangover. As if nothing had happened, as if the city never stopped for the match.

R Ashwin on Instagram. (File)

In a sense, the city oscillates between its dreamy past and glimmering future, the present is often an afterthought. Perhaps, nowhere else in the state is the pursuit for academic excellence so frantic. The city has the best schools and coaching centres in the country; the finest academicians and minds; it is often said that a child’s academic route is charted out the moment it’s born.

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Sport, on their priority-scale, is tangential. Often the city wears the garb of a detached observer, or even a chronicler, one that does not invest emotionally into any stream, apart from academics. The city is not averse to modernity, it has embraced like most other capital cities, just that it loves its past more. And the stories of the past too, be it from the Cliff House, or the Palace or the University Stadium, trapped in the six gates that remain locked forever.

First published on: 27-09-2022 at 07:52:17 pm
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