Peter Chismon's Ranji adventures have taken him to all but eight venues of the 28-team tournament. © Wisden India

Peter Chismon’s Ranji adventures have taken him to all but eight venues of the 28-team tournament. © Wisden India

For quite a few of us sitting idly at Feroze Shah Kotla on Saturday (November 5), it was a first-of-its-kind experience: A viciously thick, unpleasant settlement of smog over New Delhi, and no play in the Ranji Trophy 2016-17 Group A clash between Bengal and Gujarat.

As we sat wondering what to make of all this, a polite voice said: “This is almost as bad as when West Indies came here a few years ago (in 2011). We couldn’t see one end from the other. They still played through it eventually, though.”

We turned to spot the source, and to those of us who have been around the Ranji circuit in the last few years, it was a familiar face. Peter Chismon’s travels to cricket destinations across the world have already garnered some attention. It’s now been a full five years since he started his Ranji adventure, and his travels have taken him to all but eight venues of the 28-team event.

Unfortunately, the decision of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to adopt the neutral-venue system this season has affected Chismon’s plans drastically. “They messed it up for me this year,” he tells Wisden India. “I had seven grounds to do out of 27. Eight now, because there’s a new team (Chhattisgarh) this time around. I had seven to do, and they were all in the lower division. I wanted to do the rest this year, but they’ve blown it for me.”

Perhaps there’s a deeper reason for Chismon feeling so strongly about it. He is currently battling the guilt of leaving his ailing wife at a nursing home back in Ipswich in England. “My wife, she’s got dementia” he says, his voice softer, and a bit weaker. “I’ve gone away for four weeks, and my underlings are looking … well, they have to come visit her. I had no problem getting away, but it’s the guilt sometimes. Once you’re away, you’re alright.

Chismon’s been doing the cricket-trotting for a while now. His first visit to India was when Pakistan visited in 2005. Before that, he had travelled to Pakistan, when India toured their neighbours in 2004. At the time, his day job restricted him to watching just the international matches. Since retirement, however, he has extended his travels for first-class cricket as well. “It’s the grounds. Something about the grounds, I’m drawn by them,” he explains.

“I’ll be back there for Christmas. I won’t travel abroad again till England go to New Zealand – I have not seen them playing in New Zealand. So …” he adds, in what seems an attempt to stifle the guilt.

Chismon’s been doing the cricket-trotting for a while now. His first visit to India was when Pakistan visited in 2005. Before that, he had travelled to Pakistan, when India toured their neighbours in 2004. At the time, his day job restricted him to watching just the international matches. Since retirement, however, he has extended his travels for first-class cricket as well. “It’s the grounds. Something about the grounds, I’m drawn by them,” he explains.

He has also learnt a few tricks to get by. “You’ve got to stay put at a Test match, but when it’s Ranji, I head straight for the media box – free lunch, instead of gallivanting in the streets eating rubbish.”

He says he has visited over 200 first-class venues across the world, including in all the Test nations. At 74, though, he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep at it. Over the years, he has jumped from busses and trains to flights across India in pursuit of the sport. But age is slowly catching up, and he admits he’s recently been “chickening out” of some of the more arduous journeys.

That may be so, but he is quick and nimble when he spots Parthiv Patel walking around, and rushes to him for an autograph – he is collecting them for a friend, who wants the imprints of as many Test cricketers as possible.

Chismon’s been doing the cricket-trotting for a while now; his first visit to India was when Pakistan visited in 2005. © Wisden India

Chismon’s been doing the cricket-trotting for a while now; his first visit to India was when Pakistan visited in 2005. © Wisden India

Chismon has his own unique collection. At the farewell dinner for Ray Julian, the former England cricketer and umpire, Chismon bought his umpire’s jacket at a silent auction. “There was a silent auction and the table was just where I was sitting. So about five minutes before the end, I put a pound on his umpire’s jacket. And I won it,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do with it, but I had a brainwave when I started travelling to watch Test matches. I thought I’d get all the ICC neutral umpires to sign this coat. So far, I’ve got about 60-odd umpires’ signatures, including some who are now dead, like David Shepherd.

“Taking it all around the world … aargh, it’s baggage as it were. But I’m an MCC member now, it took me 19 years to become one. So when these umpires visit Lord’s, I get them to sign it. It’s a good way of doing it, instead of lugging this all over the world.”

Chismon himself never played cricket at any serious level. During his 23 years with the army from the 1960s to the 80s, he used to have a bowl at times – “I was usually the No. 13!” – but his association with cricket didn’t wane even when he moved on and joined Purdeys – a Gun and Rifle maker – where Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was his customer, although the veracity of this cannot be ascertained. That said, Pataudi did court trouble for shooting an endangered animal once.

“I worked for a big, high-class gun-maker and the Nawab of Pataudi was my customer,’ says Chismon. “There’s a laugh on his face all the time. He’s a man of comedy. He used to come over to England every summer because his daughter was in the university. He was a scream.”

Chismon is amiable. He always has an story on the ready, and he loves narrating them. He is old-fashioned, and does all his jotting down on a small, yellow notepad, when a smartphone would probably prove more useful. And his takeaway from the many years he’s followed cricket the world over reflects an old-world value. Patience. “I’ve learnt a lesson. Don’t be in a rush, get frustrated and break your sweat,” he says. “It’ll happen. It does happen, especially in a big country like India. There are a lot of people here, and yes, sometimes you have hiccups. But you know, patience. That’s the key.”

Chismon’s next stop is the first Test between India and England in Rajkot. If you bump into him, just give him a nudge, and he’ll happily indulge you with a few anecdotes.