Delightful superstitions and good luck charms

I WONDER what was 'happening' in the Indian dressing room, rather who was 'sitting or standing' where when Yuveraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif staged that remarkable recovery in the NatWest final.

Cricket and superstitions go hand in hand. On occasions, every player has a designated place in the dressing room, like planets in space. After all, aren't we great believers in astrology!

Cricket is a game of talent and mind. Yet, despite the special skills in a cricketer, he often needs that something 'extra' to sustain his self-belief.

We all need to cling on to something, in whatever form, that will engender hope during desperate times. It might not make much sense, there might be little logic in it, but the cricketers would not mind it.

I remember it only too well. India was down in the dumps in the league game against Zimbabwe during the 1983 World Cup. The spectre of a humiliating defeat loomed large.

It was when Kapil Dev began stroking the ball with confidence, that we sighted a ray of hope. Our captain was in the middle and he was up to something special.

With an inspired Kapil, in brilliant touch, taking the fight to the Zimbabwe camp, our manager Man Singh too decided to take matters into his own hands! His instructions were loud and clear.

"Nobody would move from his seat", Man Singh said. The point was I was standing outside the dressing room on a cold, windy day, with a cup of coffee in my hand. And I didn't move for the next two hours or so! I wanted to go to the toilet, but Man Singh said "No!."

To tell you the truth it wasn't easy! Actually, it was tougher than battling it out there in the middle. The chill winds made me shiver, I barely had a sweater on, but I really did not seem to mind it. The team was now chugging along nicely with Kapil leading the charge, stringing partnerships with Roger Binny, Madan Lal, and Syed Kirmani.

Believe me, it stayed that way till Kapil walked back with a triumphant 175 not out. Not just me but the entire team stood at the same spots. It was one of the greatest knocks in any form of cricket, but I would like to think that I had, in my own little way, made a small contribution.!

That innings charged the Indians, made us believe in ourselves. We went on to win the World Cup.

Similar instructions went out in our dressing room when India was in a huge spot of bother in the semifinal against New Zealand in the World Championship of Cricket, '85. The match was in Sydney and game was getting away from us, with the asking rate becoming stiffer and stiffer.

Then, Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev took the match by the scruff, pulling out strokes of extraordinary brilliance and we did what we could, under the circumstance. Not budging from our seats. Keeping alive the lucky charm.

Vengsarkar and Kapil not only won the semifinal for us, but we triumphed in the final also.

Not just the teams, but the countless fans watching the games on television also have these superstitions. People have their lucky seats, lucky corners. And who can blame them if their idols and teams deliver. You see in a 'Team' game, everyone plays his part, everyone contributes!

I had my own superstitions as a player. I used to look into the sun as I went in, wore my left pad first, and always walked to the right of my partner, while opening the innings.

It made me feel comfortable, a feeling that I had taken care of the other elements, now all I had to do was to perform to the best of my ability. I had been following them from the beginning of my career, was successful, and it stayed that way. There was only one exception.

Sunil Gavaskar, before he played his final Test innings, an epic knock on a vicious turner in Bangalore against Pakistan, desired a slight change! It was the final Test of the 1986-87 home series, and both the sides had everything to play for, with the series level at 1-1.

The Indian spinners did not bowl too well in the second innings which meant we were chasing a rather stiff target, considering the nature of the track. It was here that Gavaskar approached me with a little request. He asked me 'Chika, can I walk to your right this time?' How could I ever say no to the great batsman. I do not know what prompted Gavaskar to say this. He knew the significance of the occasion, both for India and himself.

A victory in the decider would provide India with a series clinching victory and he could end his glorious career on a high.

Gavaskar walked to my right, and then produced a masterly innings on a square turner. By his own admission, one of his best knocks, considering the pressure, the situation, and the pitch.

Eventually India went down by a narrow margin, Gavaskar missed his century by a whisker, yet his innings would go down as among the greatest on Indian soil. What a way to say goodbye. Did Gavaskar walking to the right of me, have anything to do with this. Who knows!

Similarly, most of the cricketers have their own spots in the various dressing rooms, around the country and the world. The lucky chair or the seats have had as much to contribute to a cricketer's career as his skills with the willow or the ball!

I have known cricketers who have refused to shave in the midst of a good run. It was all in their beard, according to them. Never mind if their unshaven, unkempt looks, did not win them too many admirers!

And some others have worn the same pants for several matches together. Their fear being washing them might end up washing their luck as well.

Now, they hit two birds in one stone! They continued to excel on a cricket field, and saved on their laundry bills! Could anyone complain!

These delightful superstitions and good luck charms would continue to rule at the dressing rooms and the grounds around the globe. They add to the charm associated with the game.

There have been so many changes in the manner in which the game is being played and viewed, what with the boom in the number of ODIs, and the television and big money coming in. Yet, cricket and cricketers will never change, nor will the superstitions.