The mind is free
Cricket in Nilgiris has this quaint flavor of the British Raj. It is all the more in 1977-8. The teams that come to play here are essentially the district teams and the local teams. The best team is of the factory where my father works. I know of a few uncles who have given up promising careers in Cricket and are working at a reasonable paying job with this government owned factory. Of these uncles, I had seen Biswas uncle at play and overnight he had become my idol. He had these four bats of different makes that were always well kept and well cared for. He also had these gloves, for batting and wicket keeping that were just divine. On our social visits to this very eligible bachelor’s domain I only used to keep touching and ogling at these wonderful possessions of his. Biswas uncle, one day, took me aside and gave me my first tips to batting and wicket keeping. I resolved to only do as he told. As time went by I found that his advice coupled with Baba’s ministrations with the Tennis balls on our long verandah had developed me considerably as an opening bat a la Gavaskar, my ultimate hero. As the verandah was flanked on the on side by the living room wall, I had to make every stroke towards the point or the cover or hit in the straights. Baba was very particular about shots at ground level and used to get angry with my airy fairy shots. So, I had to quickly adapt myself to only cuts and drives, no hooks and pulls in my Cricket learning book. Pretty one dimensional, but that was it. I developed my catch practice through Tennis balls rebounds from the wall of the verandah. Yeah, I worked hard at what I did. The local teams had by then come to know of my efficiency at the wicket and I was invited to be a part of many budding clubs like Young mens(sic) Cricket Club, Nilgiris sports society, Aruvankadu Boys club, etc.
The Saturday has arrived and once again I am the most enthusiastic of all about the afternoon’s class match. Mr. D’Souza comes to the class in the first break and announces the teams. I am the captain of the inferior team in the class. I had expected a better team but this is a selection match and it does not bother me if the team does well, I need to do well and produce the goods at the right time. Murli again grins at me from the back bench and whispers, Da Sujit, you’ll lose da and losing captains do not get to be the captain of the class team da. I am immediately worried. Ms. Rajlakshmi steps in for the Science class and I am very oblivious as to what is being taught in the class. I spend my mental energy in trying to figure out how to better Murli during the match. I have in my team Anantha, who is the best athelete in the class but is weak at Cricket, does’nt do much except waving the bat around at head height. I have Venkat who is good but very temperamental and stubborn. Then there is Sharif, Paul, Satheesh, Dasan, Ali, Srinu and some others who are neither good nor bad. Satheesh and Srinu can bowl. Let me remark here that these were the pre One day days when there was no limits on the overs from one bowler and the team batted till they got all out and that was fast. Murli had a better team with Chandran and Venu decidedly better bowlers than anybody in our team. Murli also turned his arm over effectively. There was also a new boy called Atul who had come from Raipur in Central India. He had already told the class that he was good in all departments of the game. I am very skeptical about the outcome!
Murli wins the toss and as usual decides to bat. I lead the team out. The ground is a grassy one and a long rectangular one. Bowling is only from one end. The batsmen changes ends. Ajay is the opening bat with P C. P C is a good student and a stupid cricketer. He goes to the batting end. Srinu takes the ball to bowl first. I stand as a wickie at a respectable distance. We clap for the first ball which is wide. Kantham from the 9th standard is the umpire. He signals duly. Huge cheer for the first run. P C does not take another run through the over. Next over, I rush to Satheesh who has been given the ball and tell him to keep the ball on the stumps. 1st ball and Ajay hops forward and swings the ball for a six! Murli and Co. freak out near the boundary line. I am doing my ‘buck up’ scene at the back. Satheesh comes in again, the ball is outside the off stump and Ajay cuts it, Venkat falls to the ground, I raise my arms thinking he has got hold of the ball, but no!! It is next found at the boundary line. Four runs.
It continues like this for another 20 minutes. I am miserable and constantly swearing at my fielders. Murli, in the meanwhile has come in to bat in place of PC who got bowled out to Satheesh. But the score has reached 69/1 in 11 overs itself. I give Ali the ball. He is not a good bowler but I had not anticipated Satheesh and Srinu to go for so many and did not have any back up plan at all. Ali bowls, Ajay smacks him for four. I groan. At the end of the over another 13 runs to the already huge looking score. I give Venkat the ball. He is not wanting to bowl, the bugger wants to safely get into the class team. I shout at him, he glowers at me, I have switched to swearing in Tamil, which from me is quite funny. Venkat bowls, Ajay continues the mayhem. Last ball, Ajay manages to snick the ball and I dive, eyes closed, ten open the eyes to see that I have clutched the ball somehow. Rejoice!!!
They finally end at 138. All of this in just over an hour. In between Mahalingam lands up hitting another 26 runs full of edges, half catches that are nicely dropped and frantic heaves through the midwicket. Murli scores a sedate and captainly 33. Oh! Ajay scored 61. Somewhere, in between all this, D’Souza sir had landed up and watching everything with keen eyes. He must have heard my Tamil too. I, the very propah guy, grew tense with this thought again.
We are to bat next. I pad up. I am not speaking. I have heard that Gavaskar also does not speak before stepping out. I need to build myself up similarly. I step out with Dasan. I take strike. Chandran is bowling. We call him Chandra after the great Chandrashekhar. First ball is out of the stumps, I let it go with a flourish. All style. Some claps from the boundary. Next ball on the stumps, this is actually a long hop but a la Gavaskar, I shall not try anything silly till I have set myself thoroughly. I am on forward defence. I even say ‘good ball’. Ultimately, I take only 1 run on very average bowling from Chandran. Next is Venu whom the fielding team claps for. He is actually their best bowler. I grind through the over and on the 5th ball take a run. My team is already impatient after seeing such hitting from Ajay, I hear cries of ‘Hit, da’ from the boundary. I am steadfast on creating a settled impression and so I plod through the first six overs with only seven runs to my credit. Dasan also does not lose his wicket, amazingly!
Ajay is brought in for the seventh over and Dasan is to bat. First ball whizzes past Dasan’s ear. Dasan is horrified at the speed, he comes down the wicket and whispers to me, ‘Shit man, I don’t want to die, da.’ I tell him to keep his eyes on the ball and see nothing else. Everything will be fine. Next ball on the stumps, near yorker and Dasan conveniently moves away, watches his stumps shatter, puts his bat under his arm and walks away towards the boundary. I am speechless. Murli is already telling Ajay to give a loose ball to the next guy coming in , allow a run and then attack me straight away. Venkat walks in. I travel down the wicket and give the same advise about seeing the ball, Venkat gives a grim look and tells me that I should have taken more runs when I could. Now, we may suffer with Ajay’s bowling. I glower at him but I know he is saying the right thing. Venkat pushes the first ball to him confidently enough. In answer Ajay places a Forward short leg and a Silly point. Venkat gets through the next ball too. He manages to get through the over without further chaos. I play the next over from Murli now. I take single on the first ball. Venkat looks at me and then proceeds to quietly play out the over from Murli. I am left to face Ajay.
Ajay tells me something in Hindi which I cannot understand. My understanding of Hindi is very bookish and this was definitely out of the books. He comes in with the first ball, I drive, it reaches the boundary, a four! The boundary lines erupt in cheers. I am strutting around in the crease like a peacock. Next ball, I shape for a cut, the ball whizzes past my shoulder. I am beaten. Murli is giggling from the slips. I concentrate again. Next ball, I drive, my eyes close momentarily, I hear the clunk of fallen wood behind me. I don’t have to look. I am out for only 12 runs.
I have no interest in the rest of the match. I sit by the boundary, forlorn and lost. At the end I see Mr. D’Souza dusting his behind, getting up from where he is perched and open his diary. We all get up and crowd around him. I stay by the edge of the crowd. I think I know what is coming. The team is announced. I am a part of the team as a wicket keeper. Ajay is made the Vice-Captain to Murli’s captaincy. I do not perform when it matters and to my horror, D’Souza Sir walks across and tells me to be more sporting and get my team to go along with me rather than command them nonsensically.
I am spared from further humiliation. That evening Baba comes home to announce that we have been transferred to another factory near Nagpur, Maharashtra.