Sport Cricket A suburban bowler tells what it’s like to play cricket in India
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A suburban bowler tells what it’s like to play cricket in India

Jack Mason Delhi
Jack Mason (right), with Melbourne friend Karthik Menon, making his international debut in Delhi on October 27.
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Long before I steamed in off a reduced 10 step run-up for my debut international cricket delivery, my borrowed white shirt was translucent with sweat.

It was 8am in Delhi, and when the captain gave me the nod at the end of the sixth over, the ball looked like my dog had gone at it for a day. The morning dew and abrasive pitch rendered it both cut up and completely saturated.

I wouldn’t be getting any swing today.

Back home in Melbourne I ply my trade on artificial wickets mostly surrounded by dirt for the Western Leadbeaters. In Delhi, despite resembling clay, the pitch – one of 30 grounds in a complex Google Maps would never find – was immaculate and the outfield tropical and lush.

The surroundings were totally unlike my reality of India to that point: no rubbish, no cheeky cows formulating plans to camp on the road of a pitch served up to me.

There were youngsters galore in the surrounding nets, and the early start didn’t deter a big bunch of spectators. Commentators with a PA system were having a field day, only matched by the incessant positive chirping from the fielding side to each other.

I couldn’t understand a word, but that made it better.

Having already travelled three weeks in cricket-mad India, I’d been a bit shattered by the lack of cricket to be found. I heard there were games on every corner, but in reality everyone is always either working hard or doing nothing. If I did stumble across a group of kids playing on the street, they immediately dropped the kit, preferring to swarm me for selfies.

So when my Indian-Australian mate Karthik Menon asked me to fill in for his mate’s team for a T20, I couldn’t believe my luck. They would even serve fresh cups of chai during the regular drinks break.

My performance was regrettably average. I dropped the opener on the first ball after sprinting 30 metres, but later held two catches. I was hoiked for 17 off my last over to emerge 0/37 off four, then failed to produce 18 off the last five balls of the innings to win the match.

My typical aggressive fast bowling had no impact on a pitch with no pace or bounce. Variation was required against seasoned Indian batsmen with hardly any foot movement but arms that effortlessly smacked it over the long boundaries.

Going into bat wearing a junior-sized box bought for 90 rupees ($1.80), I was greeted by shouts of “Ricky Ponting!” from the fielding team. An honour, but I much more closely resemble Mitchell Johnson during his long-hair crisis.

Most unlike opponents at Australian cricket clubs, half the team had offered me their bat to use, nearly fighting at one stage about it.

Potentially born from a local obsession with limited-overs cricket and big hitting, the offered bats were the type David Warner would pick up, much meatier than the more constrained Australian club willows.

Scorecard, India v Australia: The fielding was poorer than at home, with players struggling to hold catches and a stack of overthrows, probably because of an emphasis on other skills.

The bowling was much slower, but the batting was better. Again, pitches play into that consideration because the lower bounce means it’s easier to hit.

Unfortunately there was no post-match team get together, but Karthik and I went back to his mate’s place where his servant had cooked up omelettes ready to go – which I felt rather uncomfortable about.

While I had no luck in the game or seeing the Indian national team play on home turf, the cricket gods were with me when I booked a train ticket to Kandy, in Sri Lanka. On November 17, the fourth day of a Sri Lanka vs England Test was in full swing.

Jack Mason Kandy
“Nearly the best day on the trip, seeing the Lankans run riot,” Jack said. Photo: Instagram

I wasn’t born in the ’70s, but have seen enough Dennis Lillee retrospectives to imagine this is what live Tests back in the day might have been like. It cost $2.50 to sit on the grass all day, and $1.20 for a beer in the 32-degrees heat, watching Sri Lanka attempt 302 in the last innings.

Regrettably there were more English fans than locals, all topless and lobster red. Many an onlooker was confused when I enthusiastically cheered every Sri Lankan boundary and mistaken English DRS referral.

The ground was relatively empty but Test cricket on the subcontinent still seemed totally alluring. Passion from those who were there. A day in which 250 runs were hit, eight wickets fell, and seven decisions were reviewed before rain spoiled the last hour and a half.

White-ball cricket is king in the subcontinent and I hope my brief crack at it here will make me a more rounded player. That said, as the boys in the Western Leadbeaters’ shed probably know, I’m itching to get back to express pace.

Jack Mason, 25, is a lifelong cricket fanatic and fast bowler for the Western Leadbeaters, the 2017-18 NWMCA Clint McKay Shield premiers.

The first Test between Australia and India begins in Adelaide on Thursday, December 6

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