The Slang of Mumbai Cricket

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Mumbai recently won a record 40th Ranji Trophy title. And their glossary of cricketing terms remains as colourful as ever

This one was ‘hit across the line’. That was ‘a top edge’. Plenty ‘elevation’ on that shot; just no ‘distance’. That one is ‘a miscued hit’ and will find a fielder under it.

Familiar cricket vocabulary for all followers of the game. Familiar for Mumbai players too, but nothing so prosaic will do for them. In the parlance of Mumbai cricket, ‘top edge’ and ‘across the line’ are ‘kaaranja udavne’ (spouting a fountain).

Last month, Mumbai won a record 40th Ranji Trophy title. Mumbai cricketers may not dominate the national eleven as they used to through the 1970s and 1980s, and even earlier, but the city continues to occupy a special place in Indian cricket. And the flavoursome argot its cricketers speak—as evident in the phrase ‘Kaaranja udavne’—is no small part of that legacy.

This language does not always obey the spoiler called logic. Former Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar laughs as he says, “We have something called ‘kaakdi’ shot. I have no idea why a shot should be named after a cucumber, but it is.”

A ‘kaakdi’ shot is a great shot, by the way. So is a ‘chaabuk’ shot. The distinction, according to Hemant Kenkre, former club-level player and cricket writer, is that Maharashtrian players in Mumbai cricket are likely to say ‘kaakdi’; and non-Maharashtrian more likely to say ‘chaabuk’.

Basking in the afterglow of victory, Mumbai captain Ajit Agarkar is not inclined to get into the specifics of his team’s gift of the gab. But he does reveal a bit about the characters in the Mumbai dressing room. “Abhishek (Nayar) has lots of energy and he keeps things lively (he will get only livelier, now that he has an IPL contract with Pune Warriors for $675,000). Overall, in my years with Mumbai, Vinod Kambli was the ultimate character. He had an incredible sense of humour and the beauty was it came naturally to him.”

There was also former wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant, an ace mimic who reportedly could imitate the sound of a snick and fool umpires. “Every season there would be five or six sessions [of impersonations] by Vinayak,” says Agarkar.

Muzumdar too tips his hat to Kambli. “There were no boundaries with his humour.” And it was extremely quirky. On a television show many years ago, he sang the song Aa laut ke aaja mere meet, replacing ‘meet’ and every word rhyming with it in the song with the sound ‘tyaaon.’ So, Kambli’s cover version goes: ‘Aa laut ke aaja mere tyaaon, tujhe mere tyaaon bulaate hain.’ If it is sad that Kambli lost focus as a cricketer, it is sadder in some ways that he did not try honing his skills as an entertainer. His talent as a comedian is of the highest order.

One of the expressions Kambli would use on the pitch was ‘baithak’. It takes on slightly different meanings depending on the context and person using it, but broadly it means going down on a knee and playing what are now called agricultural shots against spinners. Muzumdar recalls, “If I was batting and an offspinner came to bowl, [Kambli] would say, ‘Yaala de baithak’” (Give him the baithak treatment).

Muzumdar recently wrote a first person account of the classic Mumbai- Haryana Ranji Trophy final of 1991 at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai for Haryana won the game by two runs and Dilip Vengsarkar’s valiant century for Mumbai went in vain. The Mumbai team was inconsolable. Muzumdar writes that during the match, anxious Mumbai supporters were saying ‘Tendlya laagla pahije’ (Tendlya should stick). The line resonated with a Mumbai flavour. The same could be said of Tendulkar’s words to Kambli after he hit Abdul Qadir for four sixes on his debut tour of Pakistan. “Kamblya, mi Abdul Qadirla tadi dili” (Kamblya, I smacked Abdul Qadir). Recently, Pravin Amre, speaking of how he was replaced as India ‘A’ coach for backing bowler Dhawal Kulkarni, told a newspaper, “Maine uske liye bullet khaaya” (I bit the bullet for him). This too is a typical Mumbai cricketer’s line, spontaneous and vivid.

The late Dilip Sardesai is said to have played a big role in bringing life to the language of the Mumbai maidan. An expressive man, quick to laugh or get angry (and quick to forgive), Sardesai’s personality, one assumes, added to the impact of his words. He may not have invented phrases, but he certainly popularised them. In Mumbai cricket, Sardesai is famous for calling weak bowling attacks ‘Popatwadi’ and a player of middling ability a ‘komti’ player.” A batsman who was continuously playing and missing was ‘Gyanba Tukaram’. ‘Gyanba Tukaram’ is a conflation of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram. Every year, their followers march to Pandharpur or Pune, chanting ‘Gyanba Tukaram’. Many of them carry a lezim (a string of cymbals attached to a baton) and dance to its rhythmic jingle. The one-step forward, one-step back lezim jig resembles a batsman going forward, getting beaten and drawing back. While on the subject of outside the off- stump, a common instruction from a coach to his player is, “Ball la choch maaru nako” (Don’t peck at the ball).

Kenkre says the dialect the players speak also depends on what part of Bombay they came from. “South Bombay players speak a certain way, while those from Shivaji Park have a different glossary.” For example, ‘baithak’ is supposedly of central Mumbai provenance, and likely to be commonly heard in Shivaji Park and Matunga. (The other term for agricultural shots is ‘zhaade kaapne’, which literally means chopping trees).

There are several other gems. Former Mumbai and India player Jatin Paranjpe informs us that an ‘ardha mama’ is a bouncer and ‘bunda mama’ a yorker. A turner, he says, is often called ‘bhingree’ (pinwheel). Others tell us that plucking an overhead catch with one outstretched arm is ‘bulb nikaalna’ (pulling out a light bulb). Skying the ball is ‘patang udavne’ (kite flying). ‘Kalaakar’ is a stylish player, and someone who knows the game and its rules inside out is, hold your breath, a ‘Maidan Gandu’.

There are many Mumbai players who have played for different state teams. Sulakshan Kulkarni, the current Mumbai coach, also played for Assam, Vidarbha, Madhya Pradesh and Railways. Muzumdar played for Assam last season. Yet, the Mumbai dressing room remains unique. Says Muzumdar, “There were all kinds of characters. Sometimes the leg- pulling could cause some friction, but the next morning everyone would be okay. The Mumbai dressing room was perhaps one of the few places Sachin could let his hair down. And there was [an air of] confidence about players, even newcomers. That seems to be missing in other teams.” Without confidence, there will only be kaaranjas, no kaakdi shots.