On tour with the Bushmen Cricket Club

Published June 20, 2020

Back in 1998, Michael Kaye reported from Kerala for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent.  I think it’s worth republishing!

The Bushmen Cricket Club has been in existence at Bush House since 1943. The Club prides itself on its eccentricity and on ever more exotic foreign tours. Since they started in the early 1970s the tours have moved from Munich in Germany to Monaco, from Milan in Italy to Oporto in Portugal. But at the beginning of this year the Bushmen excelled themselves with a cricket tour of the southern Indian state of Kerala. Michael Kaye was on the tour.

Raj took his eyes from the bumpy road and turned towards me. “When I was at school I played cricket every day. But now I have no time.” Raj is that invaluable source of information for visiting journalists, a taxi-driver. But the Ambassador car he’s driving doesn’t belong to him. The capitalist who owns Raj’s taxi takes 80 rupees out of every 100 that the driver collects from his passengers. On our way back, we pause to photograph black pepper, green cloves and cardamoms drying in the sun. These are the riches that have drawn foreigners to Kerala since the time of King Solomon.

Raj wears a handsome moustache. He’s only 24 and wants to get married by the time he’s 26. Like most Keralites he works as many hours a day as the job demands, seven days a week, 52 two weeks a year. After six hours with us, he was due to drive for several more hours that evening. Throughout India Kerala is renowned for hard work, carefulness with money, literacy and no holidays. Raj told me his home is his holiday.

From the cars, rickshaws and boats, we took in Kerala. We could see dusty gaggles of boys playing cricket with extemporised bats and stumps. It was exhausting just to watch them running in the hot sun. In January the temperature can reach 30 degrees celsius. Some relief came from the sea breezes fanning our hotel terrace. But it was wise to breakfast before eight and under a parasol.

We were due to play four matches in Kerala. I’d been worried about the heat. After all, I am pushing 60. My worries were confirmed when a light training session on the beach left me prostrate in the shade of a large rock. But it wasn’t quite so humid at the ground of the Agricultural College outside Trivandrum. Although my sun block made me look like a newly white-washed wall, at least I stayed vertical. Our poor captain had to retire when he developed double vision.

The narrow victory over the Golden XI of Trivandrum filled us with false pride. Our fall followed swiftly with the second fixture of the tour. I suspect that the Reserve Bank of India only employs six foot tall state cricketers under the age of 25. In any event they scored over double our total. And talking of banks, the State Bank of Travancore also put us to the sword in our last match. But at least I managed to score my first run in India.

The most remarkable fixture took us north by coach and boat to Kochi or Cochin, the fourth largest port in India. The ground was a little gem. It’s now run by the Tripunithira Cricket Club but was originally built by the local Maharaja. I believe it was still known as The Prince’s Club when the very first 50-overs-a-side competition began there in 1951.

Our opposition on the day came from Swanton’s Cricket Club, named after Jim Swanton, the veteran English cricket correspondent. Thanks to the World Service and short wave, Keralite cricketers of yore were able to absorb the wisdom of Swanton’s cricket summaries.

But the most remarkable fact of all was pointed out by the chairman of the club in his post-match speech. The Bushmen have the distinction of being the first English team ever to play at the former Prince’s Club ground. “There were Englishmen in Cochin”, we were told, “but we had to go to them. They would never come here.” Given the unremitting kindness and goodwill we were shown wherever we went, I know one group of English cricketers who would be only too happy to ‘come here’ again.

 

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