I am no cricket freak – I’d rather watch endless re-runs of those infuriating telemarketing segments on yet another channel added on the cable than watch the Indian team being plundered by the opposition on Star Sports. But it doesn’t really help when you are living in a cricket crazed nation, when your own parents would wake up at 2 am to watch India play test series on a foreign soil in the Western Hemisphere, your mom was once caught in a lecture theatre with a pocket transistor listening to a cricket commentary, and time and again, your hours of blissful slumber on a Saturday evening are ravaged by a bunch of troublesome would-be Tendulkars and Walshes of tomorrow – my juvenile cousins, who’d drag you to the greens of India gate to play cricket with them, just because they’d require an extra player to complete their teams.
It was yet another Saturday evening and much against my wishes, I found myself out of the bed, getting ready for a game of cricket – that fateful ordeal, that third degree torture. That my cousins were giving me those bemused, triumphant looks, secretly congratulating themselves and thinking they were the cat’s whiskers, was irking me no end. Did I mention to you that, not only do I loathe spending my Saturday evenings dragging my exhausted body and overburdened mind in this game of eleven, but my cricketing abilities could enthuse a five year old with the hopes of making it to the Indian cricket team? What happened in the game today may seem delirious to some, but I have been subject to the age-old torture of seeing myself fail again and again, all these years, each performance worse than the last one.
We reached the grounds and divided ourselves into two teams – ‘India’ and ‘Australia’ (trust your cousins to come up with ideas like that)… I, for reasons best known to my cousins, was chosen to captain the Australian team. India won the toss and decided to bat. An eight-year-old cousin of mine was bowling from our side…the first ball was given a mighty sweep by the batsman and hastily put away for a four. Like a good, over – enthusiastic captain, who wouldn’t think of reprimanding her bowler in the middle of a match, I strode across the field to give a pat to my beaten bowler. Much to my surprise however, the bowler didn’t take it as well as I hoped… he gave me a nasty ‘you-don’t-have-to-tell-me-what-to-do’ glance and I bid a hasty retreat to my fielding position. Don’t ask me which position I was placed – I still have enormous trouble differentiating the on side from the off.
The next delivery was short pitched and the batsman tried to lift it up for a six.. But by grace, it was ill timed !…
“This is going to be a lollypop catch” – bellowed someone in the ‘Geoffrey Boycott’ lingo. But lady luck was not to be on our side… for, the ball was heading straight in my direction – the infamous me – the one who had dropped more catches than Tendulkar had scored runs.
The ball was coming towards me at supersonic pace (“lollipop catch” my foot!), my minus two dioptres of myopia was dropping degrees and crossing the pathological boundary… the ball was rushing closer, mocking me, as if it had a ‘catch-me-if you-can’ logo embossed on it. And just at that moment, my cerebellar (or is it cerebral) functions gave way, as I ‘past-pointed’ this spherical mass of brown leather, landing flat face on the ground.
The catch dropped, the ball’s trajectory broken, not by my hands but by some green patch in the outfield, I managed to get up on bruised knees, as the opposition chortled with glee, and my teammates’ “oh no-not-again!” groans played in the background score. Trying to bear semblance to a cross between medusa and Xena – the warrior princess, I roared at the Indian team to give their over exercised vocal cords some rest and stomped back to my position. “Play on”, I yelled (“The cheeks”, I muttered under my breath).
A few overs past, the Indian team was amassing runs…for reasons aforementioned, my side had sensibly decided not to bank on my talents and relieved me of facing the ignominy of demonstrating my bowling skills (“she’d probably give away all the runs in wides or no-balls,” I heard a smart one chuckle).
Third ball of the fifteenth over, the ball was whisked away by the batsman for a cheeky single – skillfully in my direction, who, from the looks of it, must be musing that I couldn’t throw a paper ball into a dustbin kept below my nose. Seemed, though, to all others, that this was a perfect opportunity for a run out…and so, they communicated to me, shouting at the top of their lungs.
Right, here was a chance for redemption …I ran with all might and managed to stop the ball just in the nick of time. With great effort and as much as my visual acquity allowed me, I threw that demon of a ball to the striker’s end as accurately as possible. Needless to say my ‘accuracy’ fell short of the range… well, too short.
I watched in horrific wonder, as the ball sped past a few metres (or ‘miles’, as I was informed later), away from the keeper’s gloves, towards the boundary. What was to be a run out, turned out to be bonus four runs for the opposition. Each member of my side looked in my direction, breathing fire…
“ Bull’s eye!” the opposition cackled.
“ Ok, so what?” I spoke up in self-defence. “ I am no Arjuna (that Arjuna was an archer and not a cricketer is besides the point) and this is no game of archery or dartboards that I have to hit the target right on! It isn’t my fault if the goddamned ball chose to take a different angle. And spare me the sarcasm, will you?”
And so the game started again… As more overs raced by, India’s team put up a mammoth total. Australia was put to bat and the chase began. Our Waughs and Gilchrists fought all the way and brought our score close to India’s target. Last over, penultimate ball, two runs needed and our batsman got out… I, the last in the order, came out on to the field to a deafening, jeering ‘welcome.’
Could I save the day?… I could already see the Indian fielders leaping in joy, and congratulating themselves, as if the game was already over. “Fools,” I thought, “ the last ball is still left – it could change the look of the scoreboard. Just wait and watch the master play !”
I walked onto the pitch towards the striker’s end, brimming with confidence, and wheeled around three-sixty degrees, trying to picture which direction to loft my ball in. Taking the guard, I prepared myself to face the ball. As the opposition’s pace bowler came charging in my direction, I imagined myself winning the match and basking in the glory that lay ahead.. When the ‘Indian express’ flung his missile ball at me, I raised my bat trying to intercept the ball with my bat, my eyes roving around in their sockets. Suddenly a flash of lightning zapped past my eyes…I was blinded as the ball zoomed past me hitting the stumps. And then, as if the world had come to a standstill, (to watch this spectacle, no doubt) I saw the stumps uprooted from the ground by the ball, doing cartwheels in front of my eyes, as my arms remained frozen in mid air.
“ BOWLED!” I could hear it like a thunderbolt from the sky – as the Indian team members ran towards each other in ecstasy, sealing their victory.
The match was over…I who was to be the match saviour, who was to receive endless praises and congratulatory notes from everyone, now had to make do with the endless moans and the painful groans and the hissing tones of my teammates, muttering some incomprehensible polyphonic syllables under their breath.
I am not a bad sport, oh no – you win some, you lose some, but this was ignonimous- a twenty one year old bowled out by a cousin more than ten years her junior! As I walked back home, my cousins competing amongst themselves on who could enumerate all the blunders I committed during the match, I could see the last specks of self respect being leached away. Never, never will I venture into a game of cricket, I told myself. Not for the wealth of King of Brunei, not even with toddlers playing with plastic bat and ball over a few feet of ground (my confidence levels have hit rock bottom). I couldn’t lift a bat or hit a ball to save my life… and never, never, I vow, shall I try to prove it otherwise, even if the world’s future depended on it.
Having heard explicit reviews on my forays into the game, ad nauseum, I have wisely decided to take a premature retirement from cricket, as any self-respecting individual would. No longer will my Saturday evenings be so worthlessly spent in the midst of such unrelenting critics. Three weeks gone, I take pride in the fact that I have successfully dodged all efforts and desperate endeavours by my cousins, including every form of incentive or emotional blackmail to take back my decision.
“Why don’t you play with us anymore?” my cousin said to me one evening. “ We miss you on the field.”
“ Yeah I’m sure it’s a great loss of talent for the world of cricket.” I snapped back, “And I’m sure you miss the comedy element in your matches.”
Snorting under his breath, he tried to keep as straight a face as possible. Eventually however, the balloon had to burst. The poor kid couldn’t take it any longer and exploded with mirth, running out of the room, writhing in pain with peals of laughter.
You didn’t have to be a brainwave to get the point. Adding insult to injury, this exchange of words, only strengthened my decision further. Having finally bid adieu to the game, I find solace these days in front of my computer. Not that the road to transition has been without its share of bumps. Dealing with a troubled mind, poked afresh periodically by my thoughtful cousins with memories of my royal defeat to avoid any possible retrograde amnesia and handling a battered ego and a bruised heart is no mean task, I assure you.