Book Cricket, age unknown, R.I.P

Dear Reader, 

For some reason, the IPL T20 tournament reminded me of something I used to be passionate about many years ago. 

A decade ago, a game died, and there was sadly nobody to write a eulogy. This is a humble attempt to remember that great game, its classy origins and the treacherous road to its eventual demise.

The game was called Book Cricket. Those of you who are young (in other words, those of you who spell What as Wat  and Anyways as NEwez) may not be aware that such a game existed. But it did, and it held its own against fierce rivals such as Hand Cricket, French Cricket and the rather bowler-friendly One-bounce-out Cricket. 

The unique advantage Book Cricket had was its ability to fill up those dreadfully boring periods of time all of us are forced to waste in school classrooms, unlike the other games which required outdoor space and time. The classic version of this game a involved large, voluminous book (hereinafter referred to as The Book) being randomly opened and the last digit of the page number being scrutinized like Dickie Bird pondering over a leg-before decision. 2, 4 and 6 counted as they were, and 8 counted as 1 run. A page number ending in 0 was of course out. Games were nerve wracking as tomes were jerked open with adrenaline fuelled excitement with complex strategic manoeuvres being played out between opponents. 

There were the Openers (the ones who opened The Book first) and the Middle-Order (players who preferred opening The Book right down the middle, as if it had magical powers that kept the dreaded zero-ending page numbers away) and the annoying Accumulators (who would fold certain pages that end in a 6 and keep opening that very page till somebody realized that something was rotten in the state of CBSE pass mark). Games lasted 2 innings and the final innings was usually a spine tingling affair, and often some idiot would get over-excited and attract the attention of the teacher who was busy trying to force feed us “4 key factors that resulted in World War 1“. 

There were many choices for The Book, but my personal favourite was Wren and Martin. But with increased teacher vigilance, exam pressures and smaller books, the longer version of Book Cricket started to wane in popularity. Time suddenly became money and all that sort of thing, and Book Cricket had to evolve the OMI format – The One Minute International. Each team had 30 openings of The Book, and the highest scorer won. It had little of the finesse of the longer version with careful, well-thought out strategies being thrown to the dogs and unbridled aggression becoming more and more popular. The Book started taking a good amount of wear and tear as the slam-bang version of the game introduced a new brand of Openers, called Pinch-Tearers, who had the nasty habit of unleashing a high pressure separation of pages using their thumbs and index fingers in rapid succession.

But the advent of the computer and the internet dealt another blow to this game. Who wanted to be flipping pages when one could use the special six-hit button on Codemasters’ Brian Lara Cricket? The BCCI (Book Cricketers Council of India) tried desperate measures. They shorted the game even more. 5 page flips per team, and it was even branded as F5. It even encouraged the use of magazines such as Stardust and Filmfare as The Book, so that our players could additionally have the pleasure of staring at Kimi Katkar and Pooja Bedi when they opened a page. 

But the final death knell was sounded when companies was invited to advertise in The Book. Players now had to look at advertisements on the pages they opened. Page numbers started carrying subliminal brand messages, like 24 nutrients in Complan, 300 percent purity in Kalyani Covering Gold etc. The game became secondary, as players spent more and more time discussing the finer aspects of Kimi Katkar’s anatomy and becoming consumerist zombies staring at brand messages all day. 

The game then died. 

ps: I wrote this for the New Indian Express Saturday supplement called Zeitgeist this week.