Take a few old socks. Roll the first one into a ball. Take another and wrap it onto it carefully so that the shape is maintained. When it reaches the correct size, stitch the final socks neatly so that you are left with a very strong and sturdy ball…
But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Why would you want to convert old socks into a ball anyway? Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. There was no shortage of necessities and no shortage of inventions at Sainik School Satara, for the hundreds of boys away from home. One was the necessity to play cricket. Footballs, football grounds and football sessions were abundant. After football, basketball and hockey ruled. Swimming and horse riding were regular affairs too. The only problem was cricket. There were simply not enough balls, not enough bats and definitely not enough sessions in our packed hostel routine.
But we wanted to play cricket. So one genius had a brainwave. What was the one thing that every hosteller had? A hockey stick! What was there no shortage of? Old socks! And what could we find in every study room? Chairs. So the game of hockret (hockey+cricket) was invented (most people pronounced it as hockrate, but I think I’ll stick to hockret). (I think the game could also be called sockret. In that case, the inventor would be Sockretis)
The game is played thus: The back of a chair serves as a wicket. The freely available hockey stick replaces the rare cricket bat. And our good old hockret ball (as mentioned in the introduction to this article) replaces the cricket ball. All the other rules are more or less the same. Now there are many advantages of the hockret ball. What happens when it hits a window? Voila! It magically bounces off! What happens when it hits someone? It pains for maybe not more than 30 seconds. What happens when the ball gets lost? No need to buy a new one. You just pool in your stock of old socks and sit together and stitch up a new one. Luckily, enough of us could handle a needle and a thread to make sure that hockret balls were never in short supply. They were better, cheaper and safer than even tennis balls. So we could set up a game of hockret anywhere: On the road, in a small alley, in a ground or even on the boxing ring.
Hockret also came with its own set of innovations. One of them was to counter the contentious LBW rule. Nobody ever wanted to be an umpire and if anyone ever became one, he was just short of having his head knocked off by a dissenting hockeystickman. What were we to do? Even TV replays and Hawkeye together have eluded consensus among commentators, so what hope was there for us always fighting mere boys? Someone came out with the bright idea of the Rule of Three. “Let the ball hit the leg two times and all is forgiven. The third time it will be out.” It doesn’t matter if the ball would have hit the stumps or not. Three chances is all a batsman got. Not only was this proposal accepted, it was a roaring success. It also gave you the freedom to kick the ball out of harm’s way if the hockret ball was heading towards the stumps.
Hockret allowed you the freedom to chuck. That way, it was more like baseball, since the hockey stick is also pretty thin, like a baseball bat. It let someone like me, who was a failure at playing the “propah” game of cricket, a chance to finally get a few wickets and hit a few boundaries. I still can feel the grip of a hockey stick and the pleasure of clobbering a soft ball.
Over time, we found that NCC stockings also led to tougher and heavier balls and the dynamics were also different. (Just like Kookaburra versus Dukes balls!) If the ball fell in water, it became all the more unpredictable. Not only was it heavier, it would hit really hard if it came on to you and splash water all around. So hockret’s only disadvantage was that we couldn’t play it when it rained. Mud made it totally unplayable and that’s something that couldn’t be simply wiped off like a leather ball. Football still ruled the monsoon season.
What really made things addictive, was indoor hockret. We had dormitories with 13 beds on each side, so they had pretty long corridors. People started playing in the dorms and that could be done at any time of the day and night (Of course one had to be evading authorities all the time). At times they lasted all day. I think one batsman even claimed to have made a thousand runs in a day! Brian Lara, eat your heart out. Some of us would even play this during our study holidays before the exams. I think it did lead to some of us getting fewer marks than we ought to have.
The hockret we played showed no resemblance to Test cricket or even the one-day variety. The bowler would try to get a wicket with every ball or at least stop the ball from being clobbered. The batsman would try to hit every ball for a 4 of a 6. In fact I think the current T20 is the game closest to our good ole hockret. That’s T20 cricket + baseball + hockey. No wonder it was so irresistible!
I wonder if they still play hockret at our old school or has it become extinct by now.
© Sunil Rajguru