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Higher ground

The National Hydro-Power Corporation cricket ground here resounds with the joy of ball on bat. However, the players out in the middle can never forget Pawan Inder Singh. The man actually died during a match last year after being struck on the chest by a ball that was moving with all the alacrity that a budding pacer could impart to it. Shubhodeep Chakravarty reports.

cricket Updated: Dec 30, 2010 00:03 IST
Shubhodeep Chakravarty

The National Hydro-Power Corporation cricket ground here resounds with the joy of ball on bat. However, the players out in the middle can never forget Pawan Inder Singh. The man actually died during a match last year after being struck on the chest by a ball that was moving with all the alacrity that a budding pacer could impart to it.

Such is the challenge of playing in freezing conditions in this part of Himachal Pradesh that the Indo-Tibetan Border Police soldier could not withstand the jolt from a medium-pacer.

"The slowest of deliveries hit like a rock in these conditions. But the game must go on," says a local player participating in the Himachal Pradesh's T20 Mahasangram tournament. The enigmatic approach to cricket is such that despite adversities, the zeal for the game continues unabated.

For the teams that arrive from adjoining villages, the sub-zero temperatures and whistling winds are the least of concerns.

For them, it is more about quality bats that are as rare as sunshine on this pitch which is 1200 feet above the sea level.

In Bharmour, a village not far from Salooni, a helipad against the backdrop of Mount Kailash, looks an idyllic setting for cricket.

"A flat playing field is rare here. The helipad is a blessing for us," says a player, wearing just a thin T-shirt against the severe elements.

Such is the level of passion here that snowfall and frequent landslides hardly deter players from trudging for two hours and then taking a bus ride with their heavy gear bags across the part-barren, part-lush landscape.

But inclement weather and the lack of level-playing fields are not the only obstacles.

Protective gear, as Pawan Inder's death shows, is rudimentary. Even equipment as basic as a bat isn't available. "Our bats are just not strong enough for the leather balls. The ones we get in Chamba are too expensive and break at the slightest heave," says 18-year-old Aakash Kumar.

Aakash says despite regular injuries on the field and the unfortunate demise of Pawan, equipment like quality bats remain a privilege let alone protective gear like chest-guards, pads and arm-bands.

It is not surprising that not just runs and wickets but bleeding wounds and sprained joints highlight most of the matches played here as well. Aakash's teammate, Ashok Singh, says that choosing the game over the fear of injury is not something one really needs to think about. After all, one cannot stifle the spirit no matter how grim a reminder Inder Singh may be.

For most of these players, the experience of playing with a leather ball and with bats with actual grips rather than hewn willow with splintered handles, is reason enough to challenge the odds. After all, many have not even had access to leather balls on a regular basis. They actually make their own at times. These are leather globes stuffed with twine.

"The tournament allows us to play and interact with people from other villages. It gives us the chance to move out of our small backyards and play on a plain field. But most of all, it gives us a chance to dream about a win and be crowned state-champions. It is more than enough," says Amit from Kundla village, an hour's bus ride from here.

With each passing hour spent playing, the daunting natural and logistical obstacles give way to an exhilarating high that echoes beyond the lofty peaks of the Himalayas.