This is a continuation of the saga that has its beginnings in the previous post. Please read that before you peruse this
The toss went the way of 9th B. They chose to bat, without concern for the moisture in the pitch (thanks to my water bottle) and the early swing of the tennis ball. I was to be the wicket-keeper. The umpires walked on to the field.
The leg umpire was a no-gooder named Amit. Amit was at one time a student of my esteemed institution. But Amit had this inexplicable habit of spending the morning session in our school and the afternoon session in the school opposite ours – where he was persona non grata, so to speak. It was a kind of disease which I presume grew over him. All went well until a teacher in the other school began to notice his presence only in the afternoons. It was soon all over for Amit and he was expelled (from both schools).
The other umpire was my classmate in primary school, till he dropped out of school to join the ranks of whitewashers.
I enjoyed being the wicket-keeper. It gave me a chance to wear my wicket-keeping gloves and pads. I usually ignored the hoots that accompanied my keeping to tennis balls with gloves and pads on. I had chosen to be the wicket-keeper for it was something everybody hated to do. This ensured my place in the team, though there were always cynics who doubted the utility of a wicket-keeper in the first place.
I walked in with all my paraphernalia, unmindful of the comments made by the batting team and some traitors on my own team. Surendra Babu picked the ball up, and walked towards the boundary line. Surendra Babu was one of those fiery fast bowlers who unfortunately lack accuracy. If his delivery went straight, usually either the stumps flew or the ball flew all the way to the fence. But his deliveries did not go straight on to the stumps as often as a wicket-keeper with doubtful skills like myself would desire. That kept me busy.
Keeping this in mind, I requested for a third slip and a leg-slip. I was shouted down.
Sanjay Anand, being the captain, walked in first as was his wont. Surendra Babu rushed in from the goal post which marked the boundary line. I began to edge backwards. I kept inching away until the fielder at third man informed Surendra Babu that he was closer to the bowler than me and Surendra Babu imperiously waved me forward. The long run began again, and I watched with growing trepidation from behind the stumps.
Sanjay Anand was according to Sanjay Anand the most technically correct player since Gundappa Vishwanath. The first ball strayed a full two metres down the legside, and I made a valiant dive to my left. The ball went on past my gloves to the boundary.
I was screamed at for my failings. I screamed back citing the disadvantages a wicket-keeper faced until I realized everybody else was of the unanimous opinion that I was a ghastly bounder.
For the rest of the over, Sanjay Anand displayed his technical correctness by defending the ball and allowing the wides to pass through with a movement which he told me was akin to Manjrekar’s. He ‘glanced’ the last delivery for a single. Sanjay Anand liked to hog the strike and play at a snail’s pace (to quote the great man himself, ‘My great innings are all masterpieces of graft. Haven’t you read of Boycott?’). However, Surendra Babu’s inaccuracy – and according to my teammates, my wicket-keeping – ensured the run rate was a healthy 9 at the end of the first over.
At the end of five of the stipulated twenty overs, 9th B was at 45. What was more depressing was that only 18 had come off the bat. In the sixth over, the other batsman, Pradeep, who had no pretensions of being anything but a expert on ‘chapatti’ shots got an opportunity to face his third delivery of the day, after more than two overs of watching Sanjay Anand’s sickening ‘technically perfect’ batting. I was relieved too, for I had listened to Sanjay Anand’s instructive discourses between deliveries until my ears were ready to burst. His discourses were primarily on the subject of his skill and how lesser mortals like myself could attempt to learn the fine art of batting from one as talented as himself
Surendra Babu, with his regal authority, decided to remove the other bowler who was much slower (and hence, easier to keep to) but much more accurate than the captain. But Surendra Babu was a law unto himself. It did not occur to him at any time that he could have removed himself from the attack. I was of the firmly held opinion that it would bring the run rate down (with a little help from Sanjay Anand). But my opinion was not usually solicited. So I kept it to myself and merely told this to the stumps and the batsman.
Surendra Babu brought on a spinner following Martin Crowe’s illustrious foot steps. But Surendra Babu was not Martin Crowe. And neither was our spinner Dipak Patel. The long suffering batsman vented his frustrations at not receiving the strike by executing some of the most ugly shots I had ever had the good fortune to witness.
But they were undeniably effective. N.Ra watched as his long hops, his full tosses and his good length balls reached the boundary. Pradeep had by then become over-confident. He began to walk down the pitch to knock the next one right out of the ground. The ball slipped out of N.Ra’s hand and went down the legside. I saw an opportunity to establish myself and smiled to myself in a knowing way. I could see everybody on the team falling all over themselves, apologizing profusely for all the abuse that had been hurled at me. I could see, in my mind’s eye, Surendra Babu approaching me with tears in his eyes begging to be forgiven for his lack of judgement. I decided that I would speak harshly at them, but forgive them nonetheless. I was patting myself on the back for my magnanimity when I saw the ball was almost indecently close to me, rushing in at a velocity that would have put any self respecting tsunami to shame…
Will our intrepid wicketkeeper fight all odds and stump his way to cricketing glory? All this and more, tomorrow...