I felt as if a thousand angels were dancing around me. It was a strange sense of joy that I was experiencing for the first time in my life ! It was a feeling of blood rush and adrenalin that had never happened to me before. It was a feeling that I am unaware as to how to express. It was all about a moment when, 16 years after my birth, for the first time ever, I was holding a cricket bat in my hand !
Like every average Indian, I was born with a mad, blind love for this game called Cricket. Unfortunately, my health conditions & disability, apart from the excessive affection and tender care my parents had for me ensured that i never got to play it till then.
That summer though, I had just finished my 10th board exams. There were two months of holidays ahead. And after one complete week of persuasion and emotional protests, I finally earned what I had been so desperately longing all my life. I had earned for one day - the permission to play cricket in the open grounds with all my friends !
Every second of that evening is still fresh in my memory. It was around 4 30 in the evening that day. I had dreamt of that evening all through the previous night. I had imagined all the possible shots that I would play for a given ball and the number of different ways I could get a batsman out. Much to my excitement, I also found out that I was a left hand batsman and a right arm bowler. “A rare gem I am”, I excitedly thought to myself. :)
I couldn’t sleep all night. I even visualized friends calling me up and saying that they would want me in their team throughout the summer after my performance in the coming evening. I thought with that one innings, I could change everyone’s life and attitude towards my playing cricket and spent all night imagining it.
The evening had arrived. Desperate to run away to the play ground, I was now gulping through the boiling horlicks that my Mom gave me. She looked more nervous today than I had ever seen before. Infact, the boiling horlicks was a deliberate tactic by her to delay my entry into the playground ! And as she ensured that every inch of my body was well protected & cared for, she was passing on millions of instructions to me on how I shouldn’t stress myself much and on how I should stay and play only in the shadows. She also suggested dad that he stay at the ground after dropping me there. I vociferously protested this suggestion of hers and won that protest too. It was a day when I was destined to win everything, I thought.
There were 15 players in all at the ground. Only a couple of them were known to me. Both of them were my classmates at school. Dad left after dropping me there and re-repeating mom’s instruction set. Much against my wishes though, he had also spoken to my classmates before he left and asked them to take care of me. He wished me all the very very best.
Although, it was just another evening of play, fun and frolic for 14 of those players it wasn’t the same for me. It was the biggest evening of my life. It was an evening that I had only imagined till then. It was dream stuff for me. And looking back at it today after all these years, dream stuff it certainly turned to be !
“Sai, you will be a joker”, said a tall lean guy. I hadn’t known him before and I didn’t understand what “joker” meant. But then, the authority with which he said I would be a joker and more importantly the very term “joker” made me feel as if I wanted to hit every ball of his over for a six right then !
I looked towards my classmate to explain what he meant.
“Sai, since there are odd number of people, one guy gets to play for both the teams. That guy is called a joker”, replied my classamate.
“Woww ! So, I play for both teams ! That’s so damn great ! The tall guy wasn’t bad after all. Guess I am the first guy ever in the history of the game to play a debut game in the same match for both the teams ! You really are a rare gem Sai”, I thought to myself.
“The condition though Sai is that a joker can only bat. He can neither bowl nor field. Additionally, he will be the last to bat for both the teams.”, added my classmate.
I felt as if someone had slapped me hard ! I cannot bowl ! And I cannot field too ! And worst of all, I bat last !! I wondered if Mom had prayed for this in the morning and wanted to talk to her about it immediately ! My heart wanted to scream a big NO to that condition mentioned by my classmate. But then I was scared of loosing even the little opportunity I had. I nodded to indicate my agreement.
As I played for both teams, it would be illogical to say that my team won the toss. Anyways, one team of 7 won the toss and decided to bat first. It was 10 over a side match. I was sitting behind the wicketkeeper and fervently praying that the top 6 get out in the first over itself ! That would give me 9 overs to play. “2 overs to settle down, 3 to consolidate and 4 to slog” – I planned mentally.
Much to my horror again, not even a single person got out in the first 8 overs. Inside, i was fuming like all those volcanoes whose names I had byhearted throughout the month of april. The score was a daunting 76/0. 5 more batsmen to come before I get to bat for this team. 2 overs left. Yet, I was hopeful.
In the 9th over, two wickets had fallen. And the score read 80/2. “4 balls 4 wickets and I get to play 2 balls”, I thought. I was hopelessly hopeful. I also wondered if my dad, during his talk with my friends, had fixed this match to prevent me from batting ! He was certainly capable of doing such things.
As I was thinking all such, the first innings was now done. Half of my dream was broken. The next team was set a target of 92 to win in 10 overs.
Since I neither got to bat, bowl or field in the first innings, I now thought the chasing team was my actual team. Infact, I mentally labeled the chasing team as India and the other team as Pakistan. I was now preparing to thrash the pakistani bowling attack when I get the chance. The question now though was would I get the chance ?
The chase of 92 runs began. And the chasing team had a start that I wanted them to have – They lost 3 wickets in first two overs with almost nothing on the board.
The match moved on.
32/5 in 6 overs. The score line read for my Indian team. 24 balls left. 60 runs to win. Two batsman left. And one of them was Sai – “ Now that is what you call a match,” I then thought ! Infact I wished one more wicket to fall, so that the match would really begin with my entry.
The wish had come true too. It really really was my day ! At the end of the 7th over, the 6th wicket had fallen. The dream moment of mine had now finally arrived.
It must have been about 6:30 in the evening ! The sun, as if to answer Mom’s prayers, was casting long shadows on me and the ground. 16 years after my birth and 17 overs into my debut cricket match, I was holding a cricket bat in my hand ! The entire team was dependent on me for victory. 3 overs. 54 runs. Sai at the wicket. I wished dad was there to see me play !
I was now gearing up to face the first ball ever in my life. Would it be a bouncer ? Would it be a Yorker ? What if I charge down the wicket ? Could I pull the ball on the front foot ?
And as trillions of thoughts were passing through my mind, I saw the bowler. I could not stop chuckling to myself on seeing him. He was the tall, lean guy who made me the “joker”. “God exists and he listens to my prayers too !” I thought on seeing him.
Let us see who is the joker now. 36 runs in this over no matter what, I told myself ! One of my classmates was my batting partner and the other classmate was my by-runner.
“Who the hell needs a by-runner anyways ? If at all something is needed, it is 9 new balls, because each of them is going to disappear out of the ground !”
I was waiting for the bowler to roll his arm over. “If its short – pull, If its a bouncer – hook, If its a Yorker – come down and hit it, If its length – just time it”, my mind was instructing me at a rate it had never done before in life.
And as I took one the most awkward stances ever taken in the history of the game, the moment of my life had finally arrived. But it was a moment that had left me shattered !
It was a moment which even after so many years I can never overcome. A moment that broke all my dreams. A moment that I watched with horror and helplessness. A moment which went onto change my very attitude, philosophy and outlook towards life. A moment which made Mom give me the golden mantra for my life later that evening !
In that life changing moment, as I was waiting for a short ball or a Yorker or length ball and was dreaming to thrash it out of Hyderabad, the tall lean guy had strangely and with a very casual smirk on his face did something I had never expected. Instead of bowling the ball properly, he just rolled the ball along the ground towards me ! He rolled it all along the ground, very slowly and in my direction so that I could hit it easily. And immediately after rolling it, he began speaking to my classmate at the other end as if he did not care what happened to the ball.
I was shocked ! I had lost all my strength in that single moment. Why would he not bowl a proper ball to me ? Is there no umpire here ? Why had he pre determined that I am incapable of hitting anything ? And why was only a ball that rolled along the ground considered fit for me ? ! To all these questions, I never got the answer. All of a sudden, my throat was now choking with pain and anger. The bowler had bowled underarm and rolled the ball along the ground like they do for 2 year old kids. It was the first time in life when so much hope, dream, ambition and passion for something all crashed in a matter of microseconds. The first time in my life, when someone had made a judgement and pointed out my lack of abilities.
And as if to make matters worse, I didn’t hit even that ball and was clean bowled ! I guess life is not only bad when its bad, its cruelly cruel ! My insides were all now imploding and I wished that I no longer existed or was visible to anyone in the ground at that moment.
I put the bat down and walked towards my house with tears in my eyes and questions in my heart.