January 13, 2015

House Games in Flannels

While in school, my sport of choice was football. I was a goalkeeper of some reckoning in local and club-level tournaments. The only reason I made it to the school cricket team (as wicket keeper) was that my friend was the team captain. For the past three years I have been keeping wickets for the Parliamentarians' XI. Every December, towards the end of the winter session, MPs play journalists in a 20-over game. The match is held in good cheer and for a good cause—children's health and fighting childhood diseases. The NGO Global Health Strategies organises an event around the game.

This time, the match was played on December 20, 2014, at the Delhi Public School ground on Mathura Road. The MPs' XI was a multi-party team, though Congress MPs, so visible in previous years, were missing. The Journalists' XI had more television professionals than those from print. Perhaps television journalists are physically fitter and simply run around more than a print journalist!

Batting first, the MPs' XI collapsed to 109 in the allotted 20 overs. Our star batsman in 2013, Mohammad Azharuddin, was not with us, having not been elected in the Lok Sabha polls. Navjot Sidhu was not there either, since he didn't contest the 2014 elections (though some say he did manage to stump his party in his former constituency, but that's another story). Sachin Tendulkar didn't show up. He scarcely makes it to the Rajya Sabha, so he couldn't really be expected to come for the MPs' cricket team.

One by one, all our stars failed, even Kirti Azad and our captain, Anurag Thakur, the two former cricketers in the MPs' XI. I was run out early, the fault of a mix-up with the non-striker, Dushyant Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal. The dynamic duo from the Biju Janata Dal, the movie star Siddhanta Mahapatra and Kalikesh Singh Deo, who had a glittering sports career in The Doon School, also scored poorly. It was left to Manoj Tiwari—not the Bengal and India cricketer but his namesake, the BJP MP from Delhi—to play a lone hand and keep our score respectable.

Chasing 110 in 20 overs shouldn't have been difficult but the Journalists' XI made heavy weather of it, losing six wickets before getting to their target. They suffered a shock after a brilliant run out, effected by a sharp throw from Thakur. For me, this was the moment of the match. It was very impressive fielding and an indicator of just how seriously the match was played. This was no exhibition game, but truly competitive.

On January 24, I am organising a match between MPs and Journalists in Kolkata, at the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club. I am proud to be a member of this club. Founded in 1792, it is the world's second-oldest cricket club, right after the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Our MPs' XI for January 24 will comprise both Bengal MPs and those from other states. I am looking forward to Kirti Azad, who is flying down to Kolkata for the game, hitting the ball out of the playing arena, onto the tramlines outside the club.

In the summer of 2015, an Indian MPs' XI is travelling to London for a cricket match against a British MPs' team. The dates have not been finalised but I expect this will be after the general elections in the United Kingdom in May. Let it be clarified, this is not some junket. The 'cricket tour' will coincide with an official trip being made by MPs in their professional capacity. I am excited about playing on English green. Of course, it would help if my Rajya Sabha colleague, the honourable Mr Tendulkar, were to take guard.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress