Monday, February 27, 2006

Beads of sweat and a bruised pride

It was too tempting to resist. Something so unique that only a fool would let it pass him by. And I am no fool…so I took it.

A little history lesson first. It has been more than a decade since I have played regular cricket. By regular I mean more than three people (including both teams), a leather ball (not the tennis one), a proper ground (not the driveway of my house in Bangalore) and decent bowling (not my brother yelling an “Out! He is gone!” when a flower pot in our garden ‘catches’ a ball. We had an agreement that due to lack of fielders we would let our pots do the needful. So what if they cannot move? They can still catch, right? Of course, the scolding we got from our mother later for ruining her garden is another story). When I moved to Latin America all hopes I had of meeting Indians took a hit. When I managed to salvage that dream by meeting some desis here and there, my other fancy called ‘cricket’ took a major nosedive as well. The American continent is all about baseball. A close second is basketball. There is no such thing as cricket here. The only thing they know (or would like to know) about the game is that it goes on for five long days and there is a chance no one might win. As much as I go red in the face many times explaining to these “interested folk” that my favorite … no…my religion is the One-Day Internationals and not the test matches, I also realize that I am wasting my time with them since they do not care. Fair enough. Their game is big for them and ours is Herculean to us.

I missed many glorious catches and matches in this six year (and still on going) exile of mine. I missed India hammer good old rivals Pakistan to pulp. I missed India’s “wake up call” entry into the World Cup 2003 finals against Australia. I missed Lakshmipathy Balaji’s smile-and-kill strategy to break batsmen’s spines. I missed Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s heroic ways of getting India her much deserved success. All I really got to do was the always appealing “refresh page” option on nameless web pages that promised to tell me minute by minute scores. That the team had already won or lost a half an hour before the scores got updated is again another story.

Now that you have understood where I stand with regards to my love and passion for this game, let us get back to my story.

A bunch of well-dressed Indians in this India-deprived country decided to play cricket at a place near my apartment. They usually use the city’s sports club but apparently there was too much red-tape to cross and curious on-lookers to please so they decided to choose a more quieter and less populated (read no one around) field. I got a whiff of this news through a common American colleague so I invited myself to the game by showing up on time and greeting everyone with a smile. The players arrived. I had always wondered how they would play the game on Astroturf (a special kind of artificial grass matte) since I did not know if leather balls worked on it. Surprise! Surprise! It did. Not only did it bounce more than expected but also spun on occasion. The two vital points of a good bowling attack.

I was not sure how well these people played but I was in for a delightful treat nonetheless. Before I could realize what was going on, we were two teams with about 5 players on each side and I was captaining one of them. The batsman padded up (abdomen guard included) and got ready to whack the red around. I had always wanted to play in an almost-real game like this one so I was really looking forward to this event. One of the players on my team asked me “Can you bowl?” to which I said to myself “Hmm…I wonder that myself...” before telling him “Yes. I manage…”

We played two matches each spanning ten and eight overs respectively.

Little did I know that managing a six-ball over would require more than just wonderment and mental technique. I got the second over to bowl and it somehow translated into a 10-ball over. Oh…I did not mention the fact that I gifted the opposite team three continuous and spectacular wide balls. I could almost see the other players rolling their eyes at each other at my rather amusing display of what I called 'bowling attack'. Somehow I managed to finish what seemed like a never ending chain of bad events and needless to say, I never got to bowl after that. While I went back to my fielding position short of breathe and a missing wing of pride, I could not help but reflect on what I had imagined and what had actually just taken place.

Ok. Phase one of my interesting little adventure seemed to be over. When the players did not so much as look at me for a second spell, I realized my bowling days were pretty much done with. I will have to look forward to a better day to pick up the same.

Phase two began. I was placed between silly point and point to the right handed batsmen. For the most part I had nothing much to do except ‘react’ when the ball was nowhere near me. But one neat thing I always managed was when the ball did occasionally roll past me I held on to it and even managed a run-out of sorts. So if not anything, those strangers will hopefully acknowledge my fielding ability.

The last and only phase of this game – batting began. Growing up I was not the best of batsman but I always managed to keep a good track record. I made an excellent wicket keeper in school and college since I had a knack of not letting anything pass me by. This made me the obvious choice for the keeper’s role and I must admit, I had some excellent games. I remember being carried away from the field as I ran out the last batsman in a crucial final against our rival college. As a batsman, however, I was in the second half of the line up. Considering it has been more than a decade since I faced real bowling…I am sure you will not be surprised when I was caught at silly point the very first ball I faced in this match. I could not believe this for a moment! Without any practice whatsoever and without any other choice, I requested the players to consider that a ‘trial ball’. The other players in that team, not aware of my history with the game, very reluctantly obliged as if they had just given way to a major scam! At this point I realized, judging by their reactions, that some of them took such simple and friendly matches too seriously. Once one of them started cursing very eloquently in Hindi, I knew what I was playing with. A couple of balls later I got out again as I tried to hook it on the on-side but found a fielder instead.

The one good thing I did figure out was that I connected every ball I faced. A very bad batsman would have either got out stumped or worse – considering I only had the left pad on and no abdomen guard.

We lost the first match by a rather wide margin. The second one was better, considering I did not bowl and fielded when required. I even managed to score a run before being caught again. That is progress as far as I am concerned – no runs scored the first game and scored one in the next one.

As I walked to sip a drink of water one of the regulars to the team said “So you haven’t been playing much, huh?” I was a little disturbed with his tone but smiled and said “No. It has been more years than I can remember.” I also added a “Besides these flower pots move!” before walking away from a weird reaction on his face.

Of course, looking past the sympathetic eyes and “we have to let him bat since he is the only one left” body language, I managed to have a pretty good day actually. I got my much needed exercise and was part of something so different from the routine I am used to. I shook hands with almost every one with a “Good game, guys” and a smile as I walked off the ground since it was time to go.

I came back to my apartment to a nice hot shower and some crisp coffee. I called up home and told my folks about it with no major enthusiasm in their responses. Specially my mother considering she still has not-so-found memories of her beloved plants getting injured while fielding for me and my brother.

I woke up today to a sour shoulder and aches in places I had forgotten existed.

Beads of sweat and a slightly bruised pride – this was my first cricket outing after what seems like a million years.

I look forward to meeting them all again next Sunday and hoping to score two or maybe even three (keeping fingers crossed!) runs this time. After all, progress is life is it not?


4 reflections:

Carlos Manuel said...

I knew I had forgotten to do something! S**T!

Well dude, I'm really glad you could experience back what you always did when you were in India and it EXTREMELY difficult to see in this part of the globe -like you said, we're all about baseball (and basketball and well, soccer)

shakri said...

Haha...gracias mi pana. Yes. It was definitely a refreshing 'out of the ordinary' event. Looking forward to seeing you knock the red around the park this Sunday, mate!

Deepa said...

Well, you sure take your game seriously! Like I keep telling people, there are three religions in India- cricket, politics and Bollywood!
all the best for your games!

shakri said...

Well there is only so much one can live for. One of those things for me is Cricket. I might not be the best but I am always looking to improve. :)

illi baMdu nanna aaTadabagge Odidakke d'vaadagaLu deepa.