Bats, batsman, batting


< For those who’ve found this post by searching for “mustard oil on cricket bat” or similar search terms, my advice is DON’T.>

My two older, much, much older, brothers were already established stars in school cricket when I got my first cricket bat. A Gunn and Moore Nonjar, size 3, I believe. I was about 4 years old. And they took ownership of the seasoning process the minute it came home.

Lacking the approved linseed oil as well as patience, they seized upon mustard oil, easily available from the kitchen as the means to season the willow blade. Willow and linseed oil go together like they were made for each other. Willow absorbs the oil thirstily, in a slow but satisfying way almost as if it was savouring a fine wine.

Mustard oil lacks the subtlety of linseed. It plays vinegar to linseed’s wine, the rough Punjabi to the cultured Bengali. The willow blade of my new G&M Nonjar choked and gagged over the harsh, brash mustard oil and refused to absorb it. The enterprising and resourceful young cricketers had an answer; a pair of dividers, to be found in every geometry box ever brought for a mystified child in school. It was the one piece of equipment in the set no child in my lifetime was ever taught to use.

But my brothers did find a use. They seized the recalcitrant willow blade and scarred it with tiny holes. I waited patiently over the next few days for the bat to be turned over to me for my use as the blade was oiled and hammered to produce the finest “stroke”. Finally, the great day dawned when I was given the bat to use for the first time. The older brother said, “Put your left hand down and the right hand on top, close together. Now feet slightly apart, watch the ball and put your right foot as close as possible to the ball as it comes to you and keep the bat close to the leg as you move the bat through”.

Understanding little of what was said but glad to finally get the bat in my hand, I stood prepared to bat; the newest little left handed batsman batting for the first time in the front yard. The bat was heavier than I expected and when the hard leather ball, thrown gently down, underarm, hit it the first time, I felt the shock travel up the arms into my shoulders. Messrs Gunn and Moore were obviously guilty of some optimistic marketing when they labelled their product Nonjar.

I remember at an early age reading an article on why India produced so few left handed batsman but had many quality left handed bowlers. The author, maybe writing with his tongue in cheek, likened it to why Indians frown upon eating with the left hand. You will have to look it up or ask an Indian friend. The situation has changed now, the Great Bengali Cricketer leading the way, though he stills remain the most prolific Indian lefty batsman.

It was hard to find left handed batting equipment growing up. The outside of the leg guards were always missing the protective 2 inches and right handed batting gloves left your bottom thumb cruelly exposed to the crunch of the hard ball trapping it against the handle. Many a bleeding thumb ensued. Cracked bones, bleeding fingers, ripped nails were just a part of the game. Cricket was a hard game played by hard men with hard balls.

I was taught to play straight, watch the ball, keep bat and pad close together, play through the ball, keep the right elbow high and keep the head still and tucked in with level eyes. Watch the ball in the bowler’s hand, watch the seam, cover the swing, go back and across or forward decisively, use my feet, get to the pitch of the ball and a countless other exhortations that would make me the greatest lefty the neighborhood would never ever know.

There were some who were impressed by my “copybook style” coupled with the left hander’s “natural grace”. I was pushed up the order, batting at #3, based on the prevailing theory that a batsman with solid foundations who was also left handed was ideally suited to the peculiar demands of that position. Batting did not come naturally to me. I was tense and tightly strung. I lacked the instinct to score runs and runs did not come. That raised the tension amidst the tut-tuts as another grim, dour innings composed of hard graft and body blows ended in another low score.

I was a failure as a batsman.

<to be continued. Why? Because this is my blog and I choose what I write about. >

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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. josna

    Being a fellow-leftie, I empathize with your batting trials and tribulations. I had a similar experience with field hockey. We search the sports equipment shops in Calcutta and finally found a left-handed hockey stick. However, I couldn’t help fouling every time I tried to intercept with my stick. I was a rotten hockey player, and they must have kept me on out of sheer sympathy, or because they needed another body to complete the team. As it was, I was a total liability.
    Also I’m neither Punjabi nor Bengali (although I grew up in W. Bengal), but I’d like to harass you a little about your mustard oil-is-to-linseed-oil as rough-Punjabi-is-to-cultured-Bengali analogy!
    Waiting for part two, though I suspect you are deliberately taking your own sweet time in order to produce the cliffhanger effect in your readers. If so, it’s working. . .

  2. TheLastWord

    Heh! What’s the point of a blog post that does not provoke controversy by carefully seeding a stereotype? And as a Punjabi I’m allowed to be critical of the paiyo and pehno..
    I’m surprised you even found a lefty hockey stick. You cannot tackle from that side – it is a foul. Well, it used to be back then, now it seems field hockey allows “turning”, rolling subs and, worst of all, sleeveless shirts for the men! I played field hockey in college for 2 intra-college championships and was left out when I played. Or more often simply left out! I played mostly because I knew the rules and owned a stick and the side needed 11.
    And I’m not a natural lefty, by the way. But more on that in later volumes….

  3. Anonymous

    And the older brother’s perspective being…….
    Only a couple of Punjabis could have come up with idea of mustard oil instead of linseed oil.
    The reason….only mustard oil would make the bat stronger (like a Punjabi, eating “Sarson ka Sag” and pakoras fried in mustard oil)…And one would not need the so called parchment on the stroking
    area of the bat.
    And then the advantage of becoming a lefty….got you to bat at #3 generally… the best batsman’s number on any team…..and this older brother truly justified batting at this position in School.
    In the words of the great Don Bradman…if you cannot bat well at least dress and look the part of
    a great batsman….and looks like you did succeed at this by acquiring the “copybook style”!
    And finally what is the point of being a Punjabi…if one cannot take a few blows from a cricket
    ball….imagine and remember the thrill when that mustard loaded bat sent that leather ball crashing
    into the outfield.
    Maybe the second brother became an awesome off break bowler rather than
    listen to this eldest brother’s “copybook style” right batting techniques…..I will never know!!!! …

  4. misskzebra

    I found this post to be humorous and educational, if only because I know absolutely nothing about cricketing.
    Good story-telling.

    1. TheLastWord

      No cricket knowledge, eh? You should come back to read the next 16 volumes, heh, heh!
      Thanks for dropping by and your comment. There’s rather more to the blog than cricket – in fact this is only my second post about cricket.
      I think I’ve figured out why my stories have minimal dialogues….I’m too lazy to put in all the quotation marks and commas and the he / she / it said.

      1. misskzebra

        I’m afraid I love dialogue and use it wherever I can, but I’m not immune from making lots of mistakes.
        I had to go back and edit my whole novel because I’d capitalized the first letter of all the He said/ She said etc.

  5. LeggieLefty

    Reblogged this on LeggieLefty and commented:
    Folks keep coming over to read this on a regular basis. They come here because they’re searching for the answer to the question:
    “Can I use mustard oil to season a cricket bat”. The answer is very simple. Please, do yourself a favour and don’t even think about it. Your bat will thank you.
    This is a personal recollection of my career, a very poor career, as an amateur cricketer. I hope this helps.
    There are other things to read such as some groundbreaking, earth shattering ways to improve cricket. Check the “Opinions” option in the menu at left.
    Thank you.