Monday, May 15, 2017

Two men on a field, for the last time

Ten men crowd around the stumps. In white. Green caps askew on their heads. The ground quiet and silent. Just a ball and another over to go. The rain has come on. Washes the perspiration from the ten faces. But no one, absolutely no one in the field has his mind on the rain or the floodlights that have come on. Two old men. At the brink of history. Of retirement. Of moving into the annals of history. As the greatest Pakistan Cricketers of all time. Younis and Misbah. Ex-Captain and Captain. Men who had marshalled the dawn of the golden age of Pakistani Cricket.

Then, there are the two batsmen from the islands. West Indians, they call themselves. A pale shadow of the team that had muscled other national teams thirty years back. A batting that was being shepherded by a batsman who till the other day was known more for his bowling. Another, who was literally the number 11 in the team batting order. Whose idea of batting is a prod at any ball. Roston Chase and Shannon Gabriel. Cricketers who are barely known around the islands. No showmen, as the showmen were all away playing for gold and town houses in a league that has quixotic team names for cities. Chase and Gabriel. They could have been a bank, the way they have defended their citadel for the last ten minutes.

The premier Pakistan bowler, a leg spinner, crouches at his bowling mark. He has been beyond super through this test match. Bowling from wide of the stumps, lobbing the ball at the batsman from a height and angle where it causes much discomfort. In failing light, misty rain and inadequate floodlights, he is always going to be a handful. One last ball is left. One last ball to get to five wickets. One last ball to leave his superlative impact on a test that has swung like a yo yo between the two teams. Yasir Shah, a man who looks more like a footballer than the ace cricketer he is.

The hush descends as he comes in to bowl.

Gabriel is the batsman. He has been coached by Chase at the wicket. Defend, for your life depends on it. But he has ten world weary men crouching around him. Ten men from a country that has nothing going for it other than this game. Ten men who cannot play in flashy cricket leagues around the world. Or don't. Two among the ten are so old and weary that crouching for a catch is also task. But yet they are there, for the nation. For themselves, for history.

Yasir bowls. It is a wrong one. Gabriel has a brain seizure. He decides that the best way to defend would be a hoick over the in field. Get it over their heads. A milli second later he hears the sickening sound of the ball hitting his stumps. Inside edge. His face crumples. What's he done? Chase is shell shocked. One ball and he could have defended the final over. One ball and he could have carried the team into a memorable draw. But what's the young man done?

The Pakistanis are everywhere. Younis plucks the stumps. The substitutes arrive with the flag. Yasir is jumping around in footballer glee. Misbah is engulfed. He is looking towards his family. They are in the stands. He is 42 years old. The oldest captain in the last thirty years of modern Cricket. He knows what he has achieved. He runs towards his family. The inscrutable captain at last shows some emotion. Younis has a smile as wide as the Indus.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the most bittersweet hour for Cricket.

Two honorable gentlemen leaving the field for the last time, draped in their country flags, as winners.

Just know, their impact on the game has been much more than Dravid, Tendulkar, Miandad, Inzamam and Sangakkara. The other South Asian greats.

Old men. Victors. More than ever.

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