Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Match I Played!!!

385185_128678033967898_1771696256_nI used to be I-can-play-24X7 kind of person in my childhood but not anymore. Since last few years, I have never favored the idea of playing cricket because it always turns out to be an exercise where I would be standing in the sun for more than an hour or so, and then for someone who just cannot roll his arm over, get a chance to bat for a few balls. No matter how I used to boast about my defenses as a kid and always challenge people – you just cannot get me out, I never last more than a few balls these days. If in my days I could spot the ball right from the bowler’s hands till its destination, I can hardly spot the ball. I have aged. My reflexes have gone.

That’s why I was not so keen on 26th of January when the member of the housing society where I live, decided to play a cricket match in celebration of republic day. It is a trend – cricket matches is where the celebrations of republic day or independence day functions end.

If our national game is hockey, let it be. Who says democracies are free of irony.

However, my reluctance was shot down by the lady of my life – “You claim to be such a big cricket buff and when you are getting a chance to play, you are looking for a place to hide. Go play and make us proud” is what she said. Okay these weren’t her exact words but that’s what she conveyed with her looks. Having been married for six years, I can read her looks. Yes I can.

So I reached the venue – it wasn’t a big ground by any means. I was born and brought up in a so called small town where access to big ground was never an issue for those who wanted to play cricket. We had huge open spaces. This is one of the reasons we see lot of cricketers coming from so called small towns these days. They get access to big grounds whereas in big cities, the word ground itself is a luxury. Grounds in the so called big cities have been taken over by the residential townships and shopping malls and the other monuments of developing India. Distances have increased, roads have become slower. By the time you reach from Borivalli to Churchgate, one innings of a T20 match will get over. Not to forget the fact that you stay in Mumbai or Fatehpur, you still have 24 hours in a day.

The venue was already full with most of the residents of my housing society. It was a diverse population. It had people of my age – grey hair, bald heads, pot bellies and all that. It had young men, the regulars, who played regularly – the way someone holds a bat tells you how good he is with it, leave aside the stance.

There were wives and children. Women took the chairs which were kept in the shade. Kids got something which they don’t usually get – an open ground to play.

The toss was done. As always, my captain lost it. As always, we were asked to field. As always I was worried that my team might not get a chance to bat – lot of times in the childhood, matches ended due to some dispute in the first innings itself or the kid who owned the bat took it back with him once he was done with batting. However, these were gentlemen playing and I needn’t have worried. Normally Indian gentlemen forget about being gentlemen only when they are driving on the road. Otherwise, they are true gentlemen.

I looked at everyone playing. The regulars were completely in present. The oldies, generation of yours truly, were sent back to past – they were all in flashback and visiting the memory lanes. They had all been champion cricketers once upon a time in at least one pair of eyes – their own. They all knew the orgasmic pleasure of hitting the ball with perfect timing, the pleasure in getting a batsman out bowled, taking impossible catches, the run outs and the sweet joy of victory.

Sport is one of the best ways to be completely in present and enjoy it. While playing, you are completely disassociated with horrors of past or hope of future. All you see is the ball, the shuttle cock, the race track, the water in the swimming pool. You are just oblivious to the fact that every moment passes. You don’t even know if there is a moment waiting to arrive.

You just live in the moment which is with you. To hell with what is gone, to hell with what is to come. Present is what matters.

They, the oldies lost in flashback, had all enjoyed their present which had gotten lost somewhere in the past. Playing this game was a way to go back to that past and live the present.

Amidst all this, we all started taking positions on the ground. I listened to my heart and stood in the position which had always been my favorite – deep mid-wicket because that’s where most balls were hit. A friend of mine listened to his mind and stood at square leg because that’s where the shade was.

For next hour or so I was standing in hot sun whereas he was enjoying the shade. It was a lesson well learnt – mind should always take precedence over heart but normally it doesn’t happen. No wonder more people die of heart attacks than brain hemorrhages.

In that 12 overs a side match, I got to field exactly one ball which was still in the game. I got to fetch the ball more than 10 times when it wasn’t in the game – these were the shots which went way above my head. Imagine – standing in hot sun just to field that one ball. Damn.

Cricket, if you leave aside the fan inside you, is actually a very boring game. A test match, the so called real thing, is designed to last five days spread across 35 hours. Thirty freaking five hours. That’s five hours less than a productive week. Cricket’s shortest format, T20, lasts almost twice as long as a soccer game. It is boring. Why we still follow it - because we have grown up following it. You don’t really find faults with the things you have grown up. Although you try finding faults in everything once you are grown up.

The best of the fielders may stand in the sun for entire day and yet not get a chance to touch a ball when it is still in the game. In corporate terms, he would be an unused, unutilized asset with an extremely high asset turnover ratio – an indicator that return on investment would be very low and breakeven point may never be achieved. Yet, that fielder has to be there.

The worst of the fielders may stand in a “safe” position and yet get followed by the ball for the entire day. In corporate terms, he would be a bleeding asset getting always getting you in turmoil. Yet, that fielder has to be there. It is all about managing your best and minimizing the damage caused by your worst and sustaining this balance for a considerable length of time. This, in corporate language, is called efficient management.

They scored 76. Our captain, only man who could boast of a good physique, went for 40 in his two overs. Our best bowler, someone with a big belly big, gave away two runs in his first over and took two wickets. Form is temporary, class is permanent is what they say. Unfortunately his shoulders gave up after just one over. Shoulders are temporary, belly is permanent is what I thought.   

Scoring 76 in twelve over was a big challenge especially considering the fact that we didn’t have many regulars in the side.

Now for a person like me who was standing in the sun for more than an hour, I expected to get a chance to bat in opening position. I was denied. I decided to make amends.

As soon as our opener hit the ball in the air and a fielder was settling down to take the catch, I picked up a bat and ran towards the batting crease- the moment catch is taken, I will settle in my stance is what I thought.

The fielder dropped a sitter.

Everyone burst into laughter whereas I had to run back with double speed.

Lightning struck again. I ran back to the batting crease, once again. This time the catch was taken.

I was settling down in my stance. The bowler, a fast one and I mean it, was waiting at the top of his run-up.

I saw him bowl. Next thing I saw was the ball at my face. I tried to hook. I missed the ball and the ball missed my face.

“You will not get more than two runs if you hit it back or at leg side. Hit it straight or on the other side” is what the crowd shouted.

My mind went back several years. Once I was facing a fast bowler who had placed most of the fielders on leg side. I saw a gap on the off side. I moved towards the leg and square drove the ball. The ball was resting at the boundary line even before the point fielder could turn back to see where it had gone.

I will give them all a glimpse of my past, I thought.

The bowler bowled again. I moved towards the leg side. I saw the ball somewhere after pitching.

Cherishing happy memories is good only if you don’t lose sense of your present.

I lost my middle stump. I was out duck on second ball.

My wife was furious. She couldn’t fathom the fact that her husband, the one who was busy discussing Rohit Sharma’s selection with a friend at 1 last night, was out without scoring. That too bowled.

“How can you get out on zero? That too bowled, how?”

“Chill, that’s what Sachin did in his ODI debut. He scored a two ball zero”

“Oh yeah, you and your memory about the cricket scores”

I somehow managed to placate her. I asked a friend to take some pictures of mine while I posed for the cover drives, straight drives, pull shot. I almost fell down while posing for the pull shot.

We kept scoring. We kept losing wicket.

Then a fight erupted.

The dispute was about the score and we all started fighting. We were just fighting – doesn’t matter who we were fighting with. I even saw two people belonging the same side fighting with each other. Basically it was one more exercise of living those days – don’t tell me you have never had a fight over the scores. Those expletives, those threats and I have even seen the blood being shed.

However, this fight was much gentler. In this fight, everyone was happy fighting. This was like a ritual without which the entire event would have been incomplete – like a Sachin’s innings without a straight drive, like MSD’s interview without his cliché “Well off course”, like an Indian victory without Ravi Shastri’s booming voice describing it “There is a buzz among the crowd and atmosphere is electric”.

Finally it settled down.

We needed 13 of 12. Penultimate over resulted in only 3.

“Don’t worry, we will get rest of the runs in 2 balls – a six and a four” I said to everyone.

Then I looked at the bowler – he was a skinny kid in his teens, son of one of my neighbors, just coming back from his school. Beard and moustache were just finding their way out of his skin. The moment I saw him, I knew we were going to lose.

During my playing days, big bulky bowlers never worried me. They were always more interested in hitting you than the timber behind you. I could handle them. What worried me more was the skinny kind. These bowlers always bowled to clatter the sticks behind you. And they always bowled fast, real fast. In Ravi Shastri’s language, they meant business.

Somehow we managed to score a few runs.

Two were needed of the last ball. “Just touch the ball and run” was the plan. Only if it was an international match, Ravi Shastri would have described it “The plan will be touch and go”. He would have been happier with the result being tied as it would have given him a chance to use another of his numerous clichés “In the end, cricket was the real winner”.

The kid bowled. The batsman swung it hard. And he missed it.

The kid had bowled a perfect Yorker – the one you think would be a full toss but ends up near your toes. In this case, it hit the stumps.

“Wow, what a ball” was what everyone said in unison. Only if Ishant could learn to bowl this length. May be he needs to go back to school, is what I thought.

We had lost by one run. But it didn’t matter. Everyone shook hands and was happy.

If the winning side was asking that kid, “What took you so long”, the losing side was asking “Why did you come at all”.

We all wrapped up and started going home.

Voices of “Let’s play every weekend” or “If not every weekend, at least twice a month we can surely play” were met with the replies of “Yes, surely”.

I just smiled. If we are lucky, we may play again on Independence Day is what I was thinking. I knew the rut of life was going to take precedence.

After much needed sleep in the afternoon, I was trying to find my way into a shopping mall to buy potatoes. Not only that, I had to keep my kids away from the toys section.

The rut of life had restarted.