I remember becoming fascinated with the color photographs in The Illustrated Weekly of India of the players about to play in the 1969-70 India-Australia series. The players were all caught in posed action where the green contrasted beautifully with the white of their pads and gloves, the cream yellow of their bats, the bright red of the ball. Those pictures were the last I saw of the players before they became headlines and columns in the newspapers and before they turned into sound, their actions were conveyed by the crackle of commentary on All India Radio in the five-Test series.
People a few years older than me remember staying up to comment on that legendary tour of the West Indies in 1970-71, which gifted us with Sunil Gavaskar, among others. I only remember the newspaper reports and the very short clips from the Film Division newsreels that appeared in the cinema before the main film, which were mainly ruled by the stately voiceovers. Meanwhile, playing the game had its own soundscape: tennis ball or ‘duce’ ball on earth or concrete; the hollow plastic ‘ball’ in which Farinni sold his ice creams, which had a cap that, in the hands of skilled adepts, could snap off when the pitch threw, leaving the rest of the ball slicing viciously into your stumps.
Then gradually came the sound of proper cricket equipment, balls and bats, stumps with braces flying off with a rattle that was nauseating or satisfying, depending on whether you were hitting or fielding. For a wannabe wicketkeeper like me, there was the soft thud of the ball lodged in the padding of my gloves. The only thing that remained constant, from gully to club cricket, was the constant yelling of boys as they verbally tore their hair in despair or triumph.
A real stadium like Eden Gardens had its own acoustics. The sound changed over the day as you watched a Ranji Trophy game unfold. There was the chatter of players knocking on the winter morning before the crowd was fully present, echoing from the empty stands, the taps as the balls were gently balled into the center in practice, the hiss as a pretty quick pitch was swallowed by a good goalkeeper glove, the absence of banging as good cricket boots slid over the right grass of the outfield.
When the match started there was a strange echoing silence, like being in a large open-air church. The familiar sounds now came from a distance, filtered through the sense of ritual. Occasionally you could hear the fast bowler’s delivery step; carry the ball in the goalkeeper’s gloves; a call where the batsman turned and walked back to the pavilion – what was that? LB? Caught behind? Then the arc of the bat, the ball disappears somewhere on the green, followed moments later by the report of the shot. As the day wore on and the crowd thickened, you got screams from the stands.
In a Testmatch or ODI this turned into a constant Niagara of massive noise, falling and rising with the action, but never completely absent, always at least the murmur of a few thousand throats, even between deliveries. Watching the Ashes and South Africa-India series with their cavernous empty stadiums makes you realize that big match noise is one of the central things that shaped modern color TV cricket coverage. It’s amazing how in this Cov silence you can now hear intimate chatter from the stump mics, or even a referee mocking the DRS overturning its decision.
But that doesn’t make up for the roar the red or white orb produced as it scorched across the green toward the boundary rope. Regardless of the quality of the cricket, this silence reduces every match to a clash between two First Division clubs in an empty Eden Gardens off-season.