Where did the game of cricket begin? This question came from my friend Paul, who is from the Netherlands.
He was visiting Kerala, the southernmost state of India where I was born. He came here to enjoy the hot Indian summer. But there was something hotter than the sun brewing in India at that time. It was the Indian Premier League (IPL) season.
Everywhere we went, the only topic of discussion was the Kochi Kerala Tuskers, who were debuting in the IPL. Sir, your friend has come to see the matches? the regular newspaper boy enquired on seeing Paul. Will Sreesanth play today? the milkman asked. Sure sir, McCullum will hit ten sixes, the guy who made tea at the tea stall said with certainty.
The excitement reached its pinnacle with the arrival of master batsman Sachin Tendulkar, representing the Mumbai Indians, in the match against the Tuskers. Cricket enthusiasts raised banners all over the state which read: The God is visiting the God's own country. Indeed cricket is placed at a pedestal higher than any religion in India and Indians worship Tendulkar more than all Indian Gods combined.
I want to watch this God in action, was the unexpected demand from Paul. He did not know anything about cricket but an entire nation gripped by the fever was affecting him as well.
We flew to Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala. An airport official we met warned us that the tickets for the match would be impossible to get. Paul was disappointed. This is India man. Here if you have the right contacts impossible will become possible, in no time, I cheered him. So I met a friend who is friends with someone who is a friend of none other than Sreesanth's brother! As complicated as it might sound, it was the end result that mattered. We got the tickets!
In the second over of the match it started to rain. Not the summer rain that is common to Kerala. It was raining boundaries. Sixes and fours were flowing at will.
It was during the match that Paul asked me about the origins of the game. And I had no answer to his question. From that moment I could not concentrate on the match. He had hurt my ego. I always thought I was an encyclopedia on cricket. And yet here I was, stumped, I had no clue about the origin of my favorite game! Even when Sachin executed a perfect straight drive, blasted a cover drive and stepped out to hit the spinner out of the ground causing the entire stadium, including Paul, to erupt in loud cheers, I sat in silence with my mind preoccupied by his question.
So where did this game originate from?
As soon as we reached the hotel I started surfing the Internet for clues. To my surprise, the word cricket actually originated in the Netherlands - yes Paul's motherland. It also said that the shepherds of Flanders used to play a game which was similar to cricket.
The name may have been derived from the Middle Dutch krick, meaning a stick. There were medieval trade connections between England and the County of Flanders. This could have resulted in the game spreading to England and through it to the colonies including India.
When Paul heard of this, I sensed that he was feeling 10-feet tall. As a friend, it was my duty to bring him back to earth. I reminded him of his ignorance that his country indeed had a cricket team which played in the last World Cup.
So after a couple of weeks of many more cricketing experiences, about which I will write later, he returned with a promise that he will be back for the next IPL season.