A few blocks away from Mumbai’s teeming Wankhede Stadium, a very different kind of cricket is played. Emma Levine has been capturing its spirit and passion for a quarter of a century
On my first visit to India in 1992 I fell in love with the country, heightened by the manner in which they celebrate cricket. As a Yorkshire lass I’d followed the sport since a child, learning how to play with my three older brothers and attending county matches since ‘so high’ – my first Test match was Headingley ’81; yes, ‘that one’.
Since then, a tad taller, I’ve been capturing the passion for cricket in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh through photographs. My main focus has never been the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, but the backstreet games (‘gali cricket’), the maidans, makeshift spaces and equipment: the grassroots culture of wannabe Sachins that unites the nation.
My books – Cricket, a Kind of Pilgrimage and Into the Passionate Soul of Subcontinental Cricket – depicted my journeys through the Indian subcontinent in words and photographs. They were published for the 1996 World Cup, co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and won, unforgettably, by Sri Lanka.
I lived in Mumbai in 1997 and since then returned many times to the city that encapsulates that passion. Most recently my mission was to see if the spirit of grassroots cricket still thrives, even in the face of the multi-billion-dollar, Bollywood-infused IPL.
I returned to the barely-changed maidans and backstreets, the dawn practices and men who repair bats for a few rupees; the talented five-year-olds with big ideas and the chaotic back-to-back games in front of glorious Victorian landmarks. I watched a night box-cricket match between blocks of flats behind my guesthouse in Crawford Market.
The locals still play with anything available – piles of bricks, coconut branches, planks of wood. Most importantly, with little money to hand or at stake, they play as if their life depended on it.
These photographs show that, happily, the game of cricket is very much alive and kicking in the metropolis of Mumbai, and continues to thrive. “Basically, it’s in our blood,” as aptly summed up by a local.
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