Many years ago, behind my building in Deira in Dubai, lay a large patch of sand. We played cricket there, and were horrified when, some years later, bulldozers and sandlifters parked themselves there for construction work. Yet we found a sandy bank to play in, or if there weren't any, we'd flatten a long patch and begin playing. Then, when the parking lot was made, we adapted to this new pitch and its bounce. As bowlers, with a deadly taped ball in our grasp, we were Akram, Younis and Donald. As batsmen however, we were unbeatable. We were Sunil Gavaskar, because all we had were SG bats. We thought that's what SG stood for. Still, a new SG bat created a wave of excitement. Boys from the adjoining playgrounds would come by to see it and knock on it with knuckles, nodding appreciatively. Then some guy would visit India for his vacations and come back with a better one. Such is life.
Some time last month I visited Sanspareils Greenlands (SG) in Meerut to write a story on balls. There I met Paras Anand, who runs the place. We spent the afternoon walking about, him talking, me questioning. There was one utterly enchanting spot in the factory, where unlabelled bats leaned by walls along a long corridor. They weren't shiny yet but, man oh man, they looked gorgeous. One had a heavy butt (curve?) and a label around its neck naming an Australian player. I stopped to stare while Paras went on talking and walking. "Do these cost less in Meerut, since they're made here?" I asked.
Sure, I expected him to say, it costs about 200 to make it. I would have snapped up two, or maybe five. "If you want one, you can have it from the factory," Paras said. "Free."
Free scares me. Free is light on the wallet but heavier on something else. I grinned, nodded no, and we got back to talking about balls.