“Get up you lazy”, Bittu was screaming, as I lay half awake in my bed.
“Come on! It is just six thirty. Don’t you have any other work? Give me another five minutes.” I said lazily and yawned.
“You crack! It is such a beautiful day. And, OK! If you do want to miss out your first match, good night then”, said Bittu and went away.
I sat bolt upright in my bed. It was my debut today at the school grounds. And, the coach would be more than glad to have a go at me on day one. I hurriedly made my bed. I had the fastest bath ever recorded by me and surpassed my previous record by five minutes. I had packed everything the night before, thank god, and my mother also, who had helped in making that list of must-haves. In all, I had just the clothes to wear. Off I went to the breakfast table. I hurriedly prayed to the god and thanked him twice than normal. I munched on the apple as I went scurrying down to the shed with my school bag, the kit and the water bottle to take out my cycle. The school bag was for the event if the match would be cancelled, we were to attend the school. And prayed that the worst of my fears were to be false today. Oh! what a relief. The cycle tires had just the perfect air to drive with speed.
“Do not play and exhaust yourself too much. If you will be lagging in homework, no dinner tonight”, yelled my mother as I took out my bicycle, “and win the game for sure. Best of luck.”
“Best of luck Sonu”, yelled my brother Bittu who was still wearing the nightdress and brushing his teeth.
I sped across the streets in the cool morning. It was the month of November and the grass seemed to be wet because of the dewdrops. They shone like tiny pieces of diamonds strewn on the green velvet patch. My school was ten minutes on cycle at about twenty KMPH, the fastest I could drive the bicycle and thirty by walk at five KMPH, the fastest I could ever walk. It had two big grounds, one for parade and the other for football. The parade ground was doubled up as cricket ground as and when required. It was nice that the school had a place where we could stretch our legs and not crammed up like some other schools I had seen in our city. They just were buildings with small stretches of lands mainly used for morning assembly, I thought as I sped towards the grounds.
The time was about seven thirty when I reached the ground and saw some of my team members already warming up. The coach, Mr. Balbeer Singh, was also taking a round. The match was at nine o’clock. I saw more friends arriving as I walked towards the pitch.
“Good morning sir!” I said to Mr. Singh.
“Good morning! So, come and join the drill. Quick” he replied.
He means business, I thought as I jogged towards my other senior members of the team. He was strict and yes, he had to be. The team had never won against the Eastern Board School. They had a champion team for sure. That team did have an advantage though. They had a very experienced and senior former state player as their coach and their own club grounds in their city. Our team had always been a dark horse. We had reached the finals a few years back though and lost to the same school. But then, we had players like John and Sameer, who had later went on to represent the district under-19 team from their college. Now, the story was a bit different. We had not been able to qualify for the last four since three years in a row. But, why was I thinking about all this. ‘The fear causes more harm than the disease itself’ I had read somewhere and it was true.
We had a warm up session and then, a bit of batting practice and some bowling practice. The match was a three day affair with two innings and the team that would take the first innings lead would get three and the other team would get two points. An outright win would fetch five for the winning and none for the loser. The most probable result seemed to be a draw and us left with two points. But, that would be the better position rather than going down at the start of the new season. Oh! Competition at such a stage! I loved it.
The pre match team meeting started at 0830 sharp as we all huddled up near each other to hear the final playing eleven. It was not such a tough call on Mr. Singh’s part, as he had to choose between the bad, the worse and the worst. I was very new and had a little hope of being picked up. But, then, a few days before only, the coach had a good look at me when I had blasted the balls out of the school ground in the inter class tourney. I hoped for the best as I fiddled with the ball in my hand.
The final decision came at 0845 and I was more than glad to be picked up, although my name was announced second last and I couldn’t believe it as I made it to the final eleven. Jeevan, my classmate was the twelfth man.
THE MATCH STARTS
So, the venue was set for the clash with supporters from both the sides slowly filling up the sideline areas. The toss did not matter much as it was a well known fact that the eastern board will take up bowling if they won and we will take batting, both trying to play to their strengths. They won the toss and elected to bat first. It was almost a shock to our captain Sandeep, Sandy in short, and he did not speak for a few seconds. Our opening bowling was a bit weak and I was a part of it. I was an opening bowler, part time wicket keeper and a number ten batsman to start with. And my friend Aashish was the other opening bowler and a number eleven batsman. He was tall and slim and I was a bit short and a bit plump and we two were best friends going by the alias ‘Laurel and Hardy’.
This year, six new entrants were there in our school cricket team, all from my class, the class Ninth-C. Our class was not the brightest at studies but arguably the best cricket team in the school. We had proved it by remaining undefeated in the inter class tourney last year. So, it was almost like fielding the class IX-C team for the school and whole of our class were there as spectators.
Aashish started the bowling. He had a good pace and a nice action. He troubled the batsmen with his bouncers and short balls. I bowled much slower but my line and length was accurate, thank god again, and I too could create some doubt in the minds of the eastern board openers. Our trick was to catch them by surprise as we lacked the killer pace or guile spin attack. It was working pretty well till the lunch and we could reduce their scoring rates to very low levels. They had just made a hundred and one for the loss of two at lunch. The session belonged to both the teams.
We all had all kinds of bruises and battering while fielding. My other friend, Nilesh, who fielded at point went down rolling three times as he tried to catch a ball and tripped over his own feet. We all were laughing for at least half an hour for that. He also was laughing.
If this was at point, the incident at covers drove the crowd to their knees as they doubled up and howled in laughter. I was standing at covers and making funny figures on the grass when Ramesh, our off spinner suddenly after bowling, cried to me “Sonu, catch it” and I almost ran in two three directions before finally seeing the ball very high in the air coming towards me. I lunged for it and as I was running, I saw a small cow dung cake in front of me. Before I could stop myself, I had stepped into it, fallen headlong on the grass, skidded for about two to three meters and then, miraculously got up and caught the ball with both my hands stretched. And I threw the ball in the air in rejoice. Then I heard the wicket keeper yelling “ hey! Throw it, it is a NO-Ball”. I again looked for the suspended ball and before I could locate it, it dropped on my head. I picked the ball and sheepishly threw it to the bowler as the keeper was rolling on the ground laughing and so were the batsmen. They had run four runs till then.
So, with lots of fun, and lot of serious cricket, we finally had managed to keep the scoring under control. Now, only thing we had to do is not to loose focus and get them under two-fifty. After the lunch, we started and the plan seemed to work until tea break. We had got five top batsmen back to pavilion and they were only two hundred and six at six down.
Then came the disastrous period between the tea break and the end of play where we had dropped all the seven catches and lost about half a dozen run out chances. They had now reached three hundred for eight and did not seem to give up. We had fixed our two points for sure, I thought. But, at the end of the day’s play a dramatic over turned the tables in our favor. The wicket keeper, Amit, asked for an over and as we all bowlers were tired, I took the gloves and Amit took to bowling.
First ball, a wide was bowled way offside the leg stump and I jumped almost four feet to gather that. My ribs hurt like anything. I decided instantly to shed at least five kilos by next six months other wise I would kill myself like this some day. The neat ball went for a two. The third ball came back in sharply and the batsman got his middle stump flying. I was howling in pain as it hit me in the elbow. I cursed Amit a few times as I congratulated him for finally getting out the ninth wicket. The very next ball went for a six and Amit could only shrug. I went to him and said “Hey! Why don’t you ball a very slow ball and I will see if we can get a stumping. And no more clean bolds. I am wearing helmet and still feel threatened.” He did exactly as I suggested and the tail ender got out by hoisting it high in the air as Amit and I went for it. Finally Amit got it and rolled over and crashed into me. We had got them all out for three hundred and seventeen.
The day was called off and we had to bat the next day. I could not even walk straight and was thinking that what I would do tomorrow. We all were sitting in the changing room admiring each other’s scratches and guffawing at the comedy we did with our catching. We had dropped tem catches in all with seven catches of one batsman who went on to score a century. What more it could have happened? All of us had all kinds of bandages on almost all parts of our bodies and we looked like clay toys with multi colored paper work for decoration. I went to home and my mother was shocked to see my condition.
“You said you were playing cricket. It seems you played rugby. And, it seems the opponents were double your weight and height and squashed you like flies!” she was saying as she took a closer look at my knee bruise.
“Oh! Nothing that special but we tried to become supermen and flew to take catches while catching five and dropping ten.” I replied and she had a good laugh.
“These Americans! They invent superheroes and our children land into trouble. See Ashutosh, your son just came from the cricket match with more scratches than perhaps a soldier in the battlefield. What sport is becoming these days”, I heard her mumble as she went inside.
I just had a refreshing bath and applied all possible ointments and balms on to my cuts and bruises. My body was pleading not to move for at least a few hours. I then sat to complete my homework remembering ‘no home work, no dinner’. Mom was tough. I hated her for that. But, then, I would not do the homework then. And she was a great cook. I loved her for that. I finished my homework within the stipulated dinner deadline though. I was feeling so tired that I slept as soon as I had completed my work in the same clothes. I did not know how much I slept but I could not help. And I had a wonderful dream of myself playing in the ground and winning the match.
“Wake up Sonu. It is nine” My mother was shaking me up.
“What! I slept till nine! Oh! Sir would kill me. And you did not wake me up. And neither did Bittu. What should I do now”? I said and I started to run to the bathroom. But, then I saw that mom and Bittu were laughing and then I realized that I was wrong somewhere. I looked outside the window and smiled. It was nine in the night. Oh! What a relief.
“Come down now to have your food” said my mom “but wait a minute! Did you complete your homework?”
“Well, I think I have done it”, I said and searched on the table for my notebook. I found it. “See, I have done it. Now, What is for tonight?” I said.
“Chapatti, Dal, Rice and Dudhi” mom said as she went down stairs “And be quick. Papa is waiting since fifteen minutes now”.
Bittu ran downstairs as I dressed in the pajamas and hurried to the dining room. We had a great laugh as I told the day’s highlights. I slept and hoped that I would wake up at seven tomorrow.
We did not have great batsmen but they were all not bad. Openers Shivam and Raja Shekhar went on to the pitch and we all cheered for them. It was a good start and we were quickly to fifty without loss in about ten overs. Then, something strange happened. The opponents changed their bowling and introduced a new bowler, an off spinner, and our wickets started to fall in quick succession. The bowler was good and he had taken four wickets in just seven overs. It was a disaster for us. We had bitten off our nails to their minimum sizes and our sir had pulled off several of his hair from whatever was left on his pate. We were going down, I thought.
We were reduced to a hundred and two for six down. The opponents were turning aggressive and a barrage of fast and short-pitched balls were troubling our middle order batsmen. My number was tenth and I wished that it would never come for there was no guarantee that I would last for more than half an hour.
But, as fate would have it, I had to bat very shortly after tea. We were one hundred and seventy seven for the loss of eight wickets. Sir caught me as I was going to the pitch “Bhaskar, if you save the match today, you will be the opener next match for sure. Good luck son and bat as if you will never bat again,” he said and the words were ringing in my ears till the crowd started to cheer aloud.
My battle with the bowlers started. The first ball whizzed past my nose. The opposition jeered. All of them smelled blood. The bowler was a fast one. I decided to show him some respect. The next ball, I showed the full face of my bat and the ball stopped dead in its track. We stole a single. The other batsman, Manish came to me and said “Have you played at this level before?” there was a sense of amusement in his voice.
“No! He might be the fastest bowler I have ever faced.” I answered.
“Well! Your defense looks so solid. If you play like that, I would wonder if sir would have a better look at you. I have not seen such stuff at number ten.” He said and felt flattered.
“Please Manish! Thanks! But just wish I don’t blow up my nose or crack my skull and I will feel much better.” I said and we smiled at each other.
“Well! Keep it up. But, I would suggest you take an attacking stance and go after them. I am sure they can’t get you in defense and I would really like to see the ball out of the grounds” he said and we punched our fists and I took my place at the non-striker end. Manish was two years senior to me and was a good batsman himself. I felt a little happy though. The next over I defended each and every ball in the best of my skills and Manish was just gaping and probably hoping that I don’t get out.
I defended for more than ten overs and the opponents were getting restless. They tried different strategies to get Manish or me. Manish was a tougher nut to crack as they found out when he had amassed fifty runs. They shifted their focus on me. They tried bouncers, Yorkers and all sorts of stuff. But, I just did not budge from my crease.
The wicket keeper finally asked “Hey! What is your name? And why don’t you get out. We have never seen a number ten and a bowler to be so strong at defense.” I felt a sense of pride. But, it was in my nature only and how could I explain that even if I try to hit the ball, it won’t reach the boundary as fast so as to beat the fielder. Up till now, in my whatsoever career, which was of three inter class matches only, I never had hit a six. I had hit a lot of fours though. Perhaps our coach saw that part of the innings only. He did not see the part when the off spinners troubled me. And here I was facing a class bowler who had already taken four of our best batsmen.
I stuck to my task and blocked everything. I did not have anything in my mind other than that. The crowd was getting so bored by that stuff, I must confess and so were the opponents. The wicket keeper kept telling me “Are yaar! Kabhi to mar!” It meant ‘At least hit the ball once’. My coach was also looking furious. We were still one hundred runs behind and I was fooling around with the defense. Finally, his patience ran out and he came darting towards the pitch with a stump in his hand during the final drinks break of the day. I hid myself behind Manish.
“What have you eaten today at lunch?” he demanded “and come out from your hideout and talk to me.”
“Sir! Two chapattis and vegetables and dal”, I answered quickly. Every body laughed and I did not know what I did wrong. Perhaps it was the tone in which I answered.
“Well! OK! You are batting nicely and do not be afraid, boy!” my coach said. I just was wondering if you could block those balls with this stump in your hand. You have played almost ninety balls and got ten runs in all. It is ever boring but it is suited for extreme tests only. Go and hit them boy and do not worry about the result of this match. We will ensure that we won’t loose. Good game you two.” And he patted on our shoulders.
I took his advice seriously and almost changed my gears to fifth. I was moving that bat like a sword and felt if I was a gladiator or what. I watched too many movies on TV. I had quickly scored forty runs and reached my fifty in the next five overs only.
This time the wicket keeper said “Are you mad? You could have done this hours before and I am standing here hearing that boring defensive bat noises. You are sure fun.”
I hit my first sixer of my career in the next over itself. The only problem was it landed exactly where our cheerleaders were sitting. The next sixer also landed there and they had to scamper away. I got a bit worried.
“Can you kill me now? If you don’t, the girls will or our coach and my class mates will for finding me guilty of killing some beauties on the earth” I asked Manish.
“Why? You are currently doing two great jobs. One is increasing our score and impressing ladies back there” he smiled mischievously.
“Get them helmets boy”, screamed the wicket keeper and the opponents howled in laughter.
I batted with more determination and hit two more sixes, which as fate would have it ended up in the exact area of the cheerleaders. I was amazed at my precision this time. Even the lightning does not strike at one spot twice and this was now four times in a row.
“Let us get them helmets for real. Otherwise teachers and parents are going to give me tough time.” I said to Manish the next ball and he again sniggered and took my support for holding his stomach for some time.
“Ha! Ha! Laugh at me but do not blame me if some body gets an egg on the head.” I said, as he was almost delirious with laughter.
“Boy! You are much more than I ever thought. I think it is not your fault. It is the girls and the opponents who have made a plot so that they will bowl accordingly to make you hit there” and he guffawed as he took his stance at the crease. The opponents wee smiling too. I was feeling a bit funny.
We both did not get out that day and we even surpassed their score to take a first innings lead. The audience gave both of us a standing ovation and the coach came running to greet us.
“Great work boys. You have set a record partnership for the ninth wicket. Two hundred and six runs till now and not over yet! The eastern board have a new challenge on their hands,” said Amit in an excited tone. The whole team had gathered around us.
“I did not know you liked Nidhi so much. Four sixes and three fours in her respect! Wow!” said Suresh, our captain and the whole group erupted in laughter. Nidhi was a tall and beautiful girl in our class and one of the cheerleaders. I used to talk to her often regarding homework as she did everything most of the time. I had topped the class in the first trimester and she was ranked third. The other classmates often taunted at this even though I was only four months old in the school.
I did not talk but I was fuming red and he saw it and said “ Oh! Joking dear. Good work though. You deserve a higher order next time we bat.”
The celebration were over and as we were going home, Aashish caught up with me “You are just nine runs short of a debut hundred” he said, “ And I have heard that the chapter number twelve is over and Diwan sir has given twenty problems to be done tomorrow”
“I also heard so! Boy! So much to work for! I wish I would be dead before I reach home as Bittu might have told the ‘story of the sixes’ to mom and she would be waiting for my answer. I dread her more than Diwan sir,” I said and he let out a small snort.
“Good luck dear,” he said as he turned for his home street.
MY MOM AND ME
Mom was waiting at the door. I was half an hour late than usual.
“Welcome home Mr. Warrior,” she said as she located a large mud patch on my originally white and now brown t-shirt. “So, you made a wave in the rugby-cricket? Ninety-one not out! Good boy. Go and quickly wash up. Surprise for tonight” and I got back my breath a bit.
We had chocolate ice cream for dinner and other things were the usual stuff. I ate two cupfuls of my favorite ice cream. It was another day of cricket left and then the routine studies will resume. It felt as if the world seemed boring again. The next match would be only after three weeks. I was trying to sleep when mom came in with the new bed sheets. We laid those neatly and I suspected she had not come for that.
“I need to know something Sonu”, she said in a low soft voice, which was so much different than her usual self. She seemed very lovely in that smile and that loving voice. I knew what she wanted to know.
“Mom! If you do ask me as a friend, I would like to tell that.” And she took my hand and nodded.
“Yes. She is pretty. Her full name is Nidhi Gupte and I like her as much as any other person in our class. She is intelligent and good-natured too. I don’t say that I particularly like her, but it is a general conception among my classmates as I talk to her more than other boys or girls.” I said in one breath. Mom heard intensely still holding my hand.
“She shares her notes with me and so do I. And I am as friendly with the other girls as I am with her you do not have to worry about her. She is just like anybody else to me,” I added. I went on as mom listened “ and to tell you of today’s match the bowler bowled a leg stump line constantly and I had no other choice than to hit it over the mid wicket region and that is where she was sitting. It was by chance and nothing I meant. I am very clear about this and I want you to trust me on this.” I spoke in a low and calm tone. She listened carefully and caressed my cheeks.
“I trust you more than ever boy. But, I just wanted to know if you are troubled or OK. I think you are just fine. My boy has finally grown up.” And a tear rolled down her cheek. I felt very sad and wiped her tear. “And promise me if you like to talk, come to me anytime. I will always try to help. I act a bit strict only because I have seen good children going haywire in lack of discipline. I love you my boy and I am sorry that I have always kept you under my nose for getting the best out of you. Today, you have faced the real life and the way you played as told to me by Bittu and the way you answered my question, I am impressed!” she said with an amusement in her tone. I smiled weakly and she knew the answer. “OK! Good night. And keep it up at studies. And d not hurt yourself like you do in cricket. Your next exams will be there soon.” and she tidied my hair and went away. I was speechless for a moment and my eyes filled with water. I wiped away those tears and crept between the sheets. I had got what I always wanted, the trust of my own people, more than anybody else my mother. It mattered to me more than anything else in my small world. I slept smiling and forgot all my bruises and cuts. Perhaps, it was the happiest night I ever had. I thanked god for such a great day.
THE STORY AHEAD
The next day, Manish and myself completed hundred and fifty each and we declared our innings eighty-eight runs ahead of them. We could not have won that match as they also had very good batsmen and they made a hundred for three at the third day’s end of play. That match gave me more than I could have ever imagined, confidence and the trust. I would cherish this memory forever. I played many matches for our school and was the wicket keeping-bowling- batsman, now batting at number seven, as we won the state cricket under-17 shield two years straight. But, still I cherish my debut. My friends and Nidhi herself did not let me off the hook till I left the school after twelfth grade for those eventful four sixes and three fours. She was ranked third and I was ranked second in our school in the higher secondary exams. My friend Nilesh came first by just five marks. She gave me a cricket ball as a gift when we left the school with a note “To the best player I ever studied with. But I will never watch your match on TV.”
I gave her a short story collection by Oscar Wilde with a note “BEWARE: Any part of this publication shall not be copied or reproduced by any means. Do not take notes on this book. Some things are just to be remembered and cherished.”
I joined an engineering college and never got a chance to play cricket again and I missed my school days so much thereafter.