While at school we had started a club, which for no apparent reason, we named ‘The Minerva Cricket Club’. At the clubhouse, which was a classmate’s outhouse, we had a table tennis table, a chessboard and good reading material comprising of comics, westerns and a wide selection of magazines and novels. For covert reading we had Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Nabokov’s Lolita and D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover; some of us could reproduce verbatim the meticulous observation and commentary made by the gamekeeper Mellors on close scrutiny of Lady Chatterley’s anatomy, during one of their illicit liaisons.
We were calling ourselves a cricket club, but we were woefully short on cricket equipment. Most boys had their own bats, which they were reluctant to lend to the nine, ten and Jacks of the team.
This was when the former Test cricketer Vijay Merchant chose to visit Cochin. Merchant was also a millionaire owning several textile mills in Bombay. He was also a philanthropist who did yeomen service for the handicapped and was also a huge promoter of cricket.
The Cochin United Club organised a net practice session so that we could all bowl to him and see the great batsman in action. He was well past his prime but was still a joy to watch, playing our fast bowlers with consummate ease. About seven years earlier he had scored 157 in a Test match against England at the Ferozeshah Kotla Grounds, Delhi, making him the only Indian over the age of 40 to score a Test century. This record stands to date and is unlikely to be broken.
After the nets the Club hosted a tea party in his honour when Merchant spoke to the select gathering. He said he hoped cricket would pick up in Kerala and that a Test player would soon emerge from the state. He told the ladies present that they too had a role in encouraging their sons to play and excel in the game. He told us how the English County Yorkshire had a rule that only persons born in Yorkshire could play for the county. Expectant mothers were known to dash back to Yorkshire, if they were away, just so that their offspring, if it were a boy, could qualify for Yorkshire! (This condition was repealed in the mid-Nineties).
In a brilliant move we decided to change the name of the club to Vijay Cricket Club. We then put our heads together to draft a letter to Vijay Merchant. We told him how inspired we were by his batting that we formed a cricket club named after him and to commemorate his visit to Cochin. We then told him of our plight; how short we were of cricket equipment and solicited his help in any manner possible.
In a few days we received his response with his best wishes for the club and enclosed in it was a cheque for an ‘adequate amount’.
We whooped and went shopping to the Cochin All Sports in Broadway.