Hip, hip hooray for sport’s mainstay the humble bolay! | Daily News

Hip, hip hooray for sport’s mainstay the humble bolay!

In many sports the ball’s the thing! Nothing could be achieved without it. As a spectator you’ve got to keep your eye on it all the time. And as a player you’ve got to be on the ball if you intend making an impact on the play.

In team sports in particular if a player fumbles or drops it could mean a ‘ball’s up’ for the entire squad. Meaning it could change the whole complexion of the game and could be the difference between a win or a defeat.

But paradoxically the spherical object used in many such sports, which is the cynosure of all eyes, is the most underrated entity on the field. The ball is the core and quintessential element of so many games that makes you realise how inadequate is the honour that history has paid to it.

The unsung, un-honoured, innocent orb, simply, makes sport’s whole world go round. The wheel is considered to be man’s greatest invention. With the wheel came movement. I will argue however that the humble ball is actually man’s greatest invention.

The ball is one of the world’s most emotionally satisfying objects and the most sustainable. Only balls with holes in them, unable to be inflated ever again, are tossed into landfills. Ever wonder why we love the ball so much? The ball is our childhood friend. And many of us learn to cherish it even in adulthood. That is why you see so many grown men kicking, chasing or clobbering a spherical object as if their lives depended on it.

As children we learn to discover the world using our instincts and impulses. The ball is round and round is a signal that something is touchable, safe, not dangerous. The ball is non-threatening. The ball is safe to hold and its behaviour is predictable. If you throw it, bounce it or kick it, a perfectly round ball will move in its intended direction — up, down, in a direct line.

The curved roundness of a ball signalled comfort to us when we were children, an insight based on maternal familiarity and a preference that is also seen in our childhood love for round characters such as Barney or the Teletubbies who are bound to fuel an obesity epidemic.

Without the ball, I propose that the wheel could not have been invented. Not because I think the roundness of the ball inspired the wheel, but because without the ball what would man have bounced against the wall while he was thinking about the wheel? The ball surely predated the wheel because man’s most important need, outside of food of course, is for play. Without adventuresome play, new lands would not have been conquered. And without play, the human race would have surely died out.

Yes the ball is everywhere. Even our little universe is said to be an orbiting ball. Take the Sinhala alphabet for instance whose letters are curlicues or whorls, round shapes all curved without sharp angles and shaped like balls which in local parlance is ‘bola.’ Or to put it in plain English, it’s simply balls all the way!

Over the years pundits have coined more sophisticated terms for it, such as ‘pandu.’ Now pandu, is a common expression used mostly by Sinhala cricket commentators to describe the bright red cherry that is used in the game.

It is also used as a fairly innovative idiomatic expression by Sri Lankans who often refer to someone playing the merry devil or messing around as ‘playing pandu.’

Again another Sri Lankan colloquialism that goes, ‘bola bassanava’ refers to someone trying to pull the wool over one’s eyes. Still in everyday conversational usage the word ‘bola’ is used extensively. You hardly hear a fielder asking a passerby to fetch the ‘panduwa’ when it has been hit for a six and is lying on the grass verge outside the playground.

The word bolay in the Sinhala lexicon must have been derived from the Portuguese word bola which happens to be the same in Spanish. Of course you must have heard of the South American throwing weapon ‘bolas’ made of circular weights on the ends of interconnected cords designed to capture cattle or game by entangling their legs.

There is no game in which players lose their balls more than in golf. Statistics reveal that roughly 28 million golfers lose roughly 300 million balls – that’s just under a dozen (or a box) of balls per golfer per year. That is why some wag quipped that golf balls are like eggs. They're white, they are sold by the dozen, and a week later you have to buy more.

Yet for sheer variety, colour and spectacle nothing can beat a set of snooker balls which come in a variety of hues. The hard spherical ‘objects’ come in a kaleidoscope of colours and a white cue ball. Point values for object balls: red-1, yellow-2, green-3, brown-4, blue-5, pink-6, black-7.

Ok we have balls in all colours and sizes for various sports. And dearie me, I almost forgot the most humble game of all which belonged to a bygone era of innocence, gentility and safety with the smallest balls of them all. Ahhh, marbles or ‘attabola’ as they are called in local jargon, how we loved them.

We were mesmerised by them when we were little ‘uns. There was something very comforting about rolling those cool, smooth, colourful glass orbs between your fingers. Even the tiniest lisping marbles buffs described it all too aptly when they simply stated: “Marbellous.”

The ball, of course, is fundamental to manifold aspects of cricket: seam, shine, inswing, outswing, reverse swing, new ball, old ball, out-of-shape ball, no-ball and lost ball. Cricket balls in recent times were coloured red until the cowboy versions of the game came up with a white orb for better clarity during day-night games. Now many are seeing red over the emergence of the pink ball while others seem tickled pink over the whole controversial issue.

But really, when is a ball not a ball? I guess that the oddball that stands out is the one they play rugby with as opposed to the round soccer ball. Some say soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by thugs and rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen. Whatever the merits or demerits of either game one must concede that rugby is a sport played by men with odd shaped balls.

Soccer aficionados teasingly say that rugby is a game for the mentally deficient. That is why, they conclude, it was invented by the ‘Pommies’. Who else but a Brit could invent an oval ball?

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