Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Great Cricket Match - Part III

This is a continuation of the saga that has its beginnings two posts ago. Please read the first two parts before you peruse this

I felt rather like Parthiv Patel – almost completely helpless in the face of the onrushing yellow projectile. But then occurred the one incident in my life that put me off atheism forever. The ball decided to do me a kindness and hit my forearm which was awkwardly in front of my chest. Nature and Newton’s laws – god bless the good man - did the rest, as the ball rolled down onto the stumps.

Pradeep, whose attention span is shorter than the average American couch-potato’s, was rather happy to see the end of it all. He did not relish the prospect of watching Sanjay Anand’s monotonous renditions of the forward defensive stroke for another half an hour, and walked off with a rather cavalier swagger flinging the bat onto the ground.

Our team erupted into a veritable orgy of celebration. I joined in - fancying myself rather a hero – awaiting the praise and apologies I so richly deserved. But then, Surendra Babu suddenly tilted his face upward and thanked god for my forearm. I slunk away as Surendra Babu turned around to thank me – honeyed words which somehow felt like they were laced with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

The next two batsmen did not last long as both of them believed strongly that our outfielders had smeared copious quantities of butter on their palms. As they departed in quick succession, Sanjay Anand ranted at length to me about how great players like him and Dravid never received the right kind of support at the other end.

Between overs, he told me of the pains he had taken to ‘get set to play the sheet anchor role’ and how all the others were crude idiots. I smiled at him and informed him that I understood the tribulations cricketing genii had to face.

‘ NO! YOU won’t understand. But well, maybe, you could try…’, he said, in a tone that seemed to indicate that I was more to be pitied than censured for my ineptitude.

The next batsman who walked in was the formidable Jalandhar Singh. Known variously as the ape-man, the chimp who walks and the incredible hulk, there was nobody who could dispute his greatness as a cricketer (though Sanjay Anand regularly tried to).

Jalandhar shared the belief of his predecessors at the crease that nothing short of a miracle could get him dismissed. Unfortunately for us, though, Jalandhar had the talent to justify this confidence. Brought up on parathas dripping with the purest kind of ghee, he was the quintessential Sardar (read big as a house, strong as an ox and about as intelligent as one) who could dispatch the best of deliveries to any corner of the ground that caught his fancy.

Coaching manuals would have scoffed at his technique. Bradman would probably have turned in his grave. Gavaskar would have shaken his head in silent disapproval. Jalandhar wouldn’t know a forward defensive stroke even if he were served one on a plate with watercress around it. But that didn’t hinder him one bit as he set about taking our bowling apart with consummate ease.

Throughout the history of cricket, when things go wrong and a batsman sets about torching the field ablaze, everybody in the team sets about blaming a scapegoat for the sordid mess. Sadly, the scapegoat in most teams I was a member of was usually me – entirely unjustified and puzzling, but true nonetheless.

Some half-wit who thought himself rather a wit made a comparison between the distance separating Pamela Anderson’s legs when in bed and mine (when behind the wickets, you pervert!), when a ball that kept low happened to slip through between my legs. Somehow, the rest of the boors seemed to find it extremely hilarious. I tried saying something about how the same thing had happened to Alan Knott in 1976, but then I realized discretion was the better part of valour when first slip threw a sizeable stone at me.

The long and short of it was that we were plumbing the depths of cricketing hell. We were feeling rather like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did when they sauntered into Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. (Remind me to look it up in the Old Testament sometime)

Thanks to Jalandhar’s heroics and in spite of Sanjay Anand’s best efforts to stay at the striker’s end, the score at the end of fourteen overs stood at a formidable 110/3.

In the 15th over, Surendra Babu decided to stem the flow of runs by taking the ball himself. I winced and moved further away from the stumps. Sanjay Anand inspected the pitch, tapped the rough (in spite of the fact that the whole pitch was one big rough) and took guard. He waited patiently; bat resting on his belly, for the two minutes that it took Surendra Babu to reach the popping crease. His delivery was fast, and surprisingly, had a perfect outside-the-offstump line. Sanjay Anand played another one of the tentative prods that he called a forward defensive stroke. However this time, it took the outside edge. But Sanjay Anand on that day had the same luck that keeps the vilest politicians alive to the age of ninety. The ball ran down to the boundary though one of the fatter members of our team made a comical attempt to save the boundary.

To our surprise, Sanjay Anand lifted his bat up to acknowledge the non-existent crowd to celebrate his quarter-century. He then turned to me and asked me,

‘Did you see how perfectly timed that late cut was? Just like Sobers!’

Surendra Babu seemed possessed. He ran in and bowled the ball right at Yorker length. Sanjay Anand’s defensive prod missed it altogether. The stumps flew up, as did all the close-in fielders. That something was amiss struck us only after we had celebrated for a few seconds and I had accidentally prodded the bloke at first slip in the eye with my glove.

It was then we noticed that Sanjay Anand was desperately trying to tell the umpire that he had signaled he was not ready, the building behind the bowler’s arm had moved, the sun was on his eyes, I was singing lewd couplets behind the wickets, one of the fielders was sitting down and there were more than the stipulated number of fielders on the leg side.

But the umpire was not impressed. Sanjay Anand did not budge until he saw a beaming Jalandhar calling the next batsman in with an almost unholy enthusiasm which did not speak highly of Jalandhar's team spirit. When the next batsman ignored Sanjay Anand's protestations and took guard, he realized the futility of his endeavour. It was an overwrought Sanjay Anand who walked away, muttering loudly about traitors, match fixing, unfairness and professional jealousy that burnt green in the hearts of those less gifted.

We soon realized that Surendra Babu had done something akin to biting the hand that fed one by dismissing Sanjay Anand. The other batsman was rather happy pushing the ball for a quick single, leaving Jalandhar Singh with the lion’s share of the strike. And Jalandhar did what he did best – massacre the bowling.

I dropped an edge from Jalandhar in the seventeenth over, and I was roundly castigated for the error of my ways. But the Gods were once again on my side as a top edge from the great man in the next over skied up in the air and plopped into my waiting gloves.

However, 9th B was already comfortably placed at 138/5, and the rest of the team seemed all set to close their eyes and heave at every delivery with gay abandon – a strategy that seemed to work admirably as they raced to 155 for the loss of another two wickets at the end of the twenty overs.

It was an almost impossible task. As we tried to decide upon the batting order (though all I did was hang around the peripheries, making suggestions which everybody ignored), Mahendran crept up to us with a sheepish smile. He told Surendra Babu that he had something important to say. Surendra Babu curtly informed him that this was neither the time nor the place for it. But Mahendran persisted. Ignoring the stream of expletives that Surendra Babu let loose at him, Mahendran dropped a bombshell that made Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like boy’s toys,

‘Imsorryguysitslippedmymind to tell you before…But I think you should know that this is a bet match… I mean, if we lose, we’ve gotta pay ‘em 500 bucks, so bat well guys everything depends on you’ and tried to stealthily stalk away.

To be continued...

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