Jalandhar decided to quit glaring, lest he get eyestrain – something the average marauding bowler is forever afraid of. Besides, he had business to attend to. With a fifty in the first innings and three wickets already in this spell of his, Jalandhar seemed all set to become the toast of the class. Besides, Jalandhar probably thought to himself, ‘I shall become the captain instead of the captain’, judging from the wide smile that lit his face up as he started his run-up.
Manikandan, a hard hitting pioneer who had never heard of the wisdom of hitting the ball along the ground, was on strike. At the non-striker’s end stood Murugan - another person of the Sanjay Anand mould - who was incapable of thinking (or hitting) beyond ones and twos.
But Murugan differed from Sanjay Anand in two important aspects. Firstly, he was only about half as wide as the heir to Dravid. And secondly, Murugan, unlike Sanjay Anand, was a good runner and kept rotating the strike.
The policy of taking the singles and ‘rotating the strike’ (as the pundits seem to call it for some reason) seemed to work as Manikandan got the strike often enough to hit as many balls to the fence as possible. I wondered how people who had never heard of Wisden or cricketing manuals managed to play so effectively, while on the other hand those such as me – a treat to watch at the nets, if I may say so myself – failed so dismally.
However, Manikandan – in spite of his unstinted efforts at hitting the opposition out of the game as unscientifically as possible – was unable to improve the situation greatly. Soon, there were 47 runs needed off the last 30 balls.
I was getting worried. Amit did not seem to be keeping up his part of his deal. Maybe he considered beer too passé (or worse still, he’d been offered copious quantities of the same by Sanjay Anand).
Jalandhar rushed in at the start of the next over. Jalandhar Singh’s deliveries had the appearance of being lollipops merely waiting to be smacked to the fence. But appearances were deceptive and shots off his bowling generally worked out to the batsman’s disadvantage.
Murugan, usually as steady as they come, fell prey to the same feeling that I had earlier in the day and tried to hit Jalandhar over the top of his head.. The ball took the outside edge. The wicket-keeper caught it after fumbling three-and-a-half times. As he threw the ball up in the air, he realized he was making a bigger fool of himself than Captain Russell had in Lagaan. Amit was, equally Lagaan-like, signaling a no-ball – minus the British accent, of course.
Jalandhar glared at him and strode purposefully to his delivery marker, muttering oaths which Guru Gobind Singh used when Aurangazeb launched an attack on his rearguard without informing him a priori.
The next ball was a beautiful ball which had no pretensions of being a lollipop. But Amit called it a no ball too. We started hooting from the side of the ground. A few brave souls, taking advantage of the mountain man’s discomfiture, began making disparaging remarks about his head-gear (and were systematically torn apart by Jalandhar at the end of the match).
Jalandhar was distressed and began to bowl badly. Murugan started playing him all over the ground and quickly scoring runs.
Murugan had the unnerving habit of running around the stumps screaming ‘double double’ or ‘triple triple’ even when he realized there was no possibility of running another one. It is extremely unnerving for the sensitive bowlers and fielders to watch batsmen run around the stumps, and their irritation often resulted in stray throws which ultimately contributed to the previously non-existent second or third run.
And Amit continued to shamelessly call every other ball a no-ball. I felt he was pushing his luck and was expecting the cunning Sanjay Anand to request a change in the umpires at any moment. But Sanjay Anand, already irritated with Jalandhar for overshadowing his own sterling performance with the bat, saw his erratic bowling as an excuse for chastising him in public.
He walked over to him - all three chins quivering in anger and distaste and asked him tersely in chaste Madrasi Tamil,
‘Daiii wa**a om****a te*****a Pa***a, do you know what a crease is?’ and then walked off to his fielding position muttering something about how nobody but him knew how to play cricket.
God continued to be on our side, as Sanjay Anand decided to bring himself on. Though Sanjay Anand considered Sanjay Anand to be a bowler in the mould of Jacques Kallis, Sanjay Anand was in reality a bowler whom even the minnows of inter-class cricket could dispatch to the fence with consummate ease.
We did not need Amit’s help as Sanjay Anand was belted all over the place by Manikandan. We needed just 6 runs in the last two overs.
It was then that 9B revolted en masse against Sanjay Anand. The ball was snatched from him as he grabbed it for another shot at using ‘swing and variation in pace to effect a breakthrough’.
Amidst scenes that reminded one of the storming of the Bastille (Sanjay Anand was definitely wide enough to be mistaken for the Bastille), Jalandhar was given the ball.
This time though, Amit was the square leg umpire and was powerless to call anything but a bouncer a no-ball. And as far as the white washer was concerned, he was as incorruptible as Dickie Bird (presumably) was.
Jalandhar’s first delivery would have received plaudits from none less than Mc Grath, pitched outside the off stump and cutting away. Murugan’s desperate slash missed it completely. The next four deliveries were equally unplayable, and Murugan began to turn slightly desperate.
Jalandhar’s last delivery was a Yorker that sent Murugan’s stumps flying to strike the wicketkeeper’s shins. We were tense as our spinner N.Ra walked toward the crease. The utter sobriety of the atmosphere was ruined by the unmitigated laughter of some at the extreme discomfort the wicket-keeper was facing.
Next: The exciting conclusion of the match! Will N.Ra and Manikandan manage to mop the six runs necessary in the last over? And less importantly, will 9th B’s wicketkeeper be maimed for life?