The Six and Glory
I am waiting for my turn to bat in a corner of the tent that functions as our dressing room. It has a score of chairs lying about in no discernible order and meant for both people to sit as well as for stuff to be kept. One wicket is falling after the other. While watching Indian cricket on TV, I had often delivered the choicest cuss words at such performances and used the popular North Indian refrain — “Sabki chai thandi ho rahi hai!”. In English, it means they are all in a hurry to get out because the tea in the dressing room is not going to wait before it gets cold.
He’s a Tall and Strappy Lad (TSL) with an action to die for — high arm, side on, follow through as graceful as a ballerina. In his run up, he’s like a gazelle who knows how to pace himself and in whom has entered the spirit of Bob Willis. Parabolas from the Class 11 math chapter on conic sections came to mind. His jump to approach the crease is like that of a cheetah who has run in quite a few yards and is about to complete the final act of preying very beautifully. Yes, I couldn’t help but admire him from a distance sitting in the visiting team’s dressing room while waiting for my turn to bat. Couldn’t be a worse time to become a fan!
We were as short of funds as a newly launched Delhi based political party with only hope and honesty to offer. But we couldn’t crowdsource the money as effectively as the party could. So we had three kit bags for the fourteen of us — two for right handers and one for the southpaws. It meant that the incoming batsman (incoming from the point of view of the dressing room) couldn’t sit in a corner and sulk before he had let go of all the kit items he had gone in armed with just a few minutes earlier. First he had to spread those kit items out on the ground just ahead of where the tent ended so that they could get dry in the sun. But the frequency at which the wickets were falling wasn’t helping matters at all.
With spinners, I have always believed that their effectiveness becomes 5x if they pick up a wicket in their first couple of overs. Well, you can say that about fast bowlers too actually. But probably, a spinner needs that psychological edge much more. I have never felt it to be truer for anyone else but Harbhajan Singh. The TSL from the opposite side was a phenomenon of sorts in this regard, I thought. He seemed to have the mindset of a spinner. Typically, fast bowlers are trained to pitch it on a 50 cent coin (not the one with the rapper’s face on it; 50 p coin if you are not anti national) all day and let the air, pitch, wrist position, seam position do the rest. Yes, there are yorkers and bouncers but they are clearly exceptions rather than the rule. Also, at that time, the scourge of 5 slower balls in an over by a fast bowler hadn’t become the norm. Now, about the TSL having the mindset of a spinner — he really mixed it up too much for a fast bowler. Sample one of the overs he bowls in this match. There is the good length ball targeting the outside half of the bail which sat precariously on the off and middle stumps. There is the wide half volley swinging in the air and seaming off the pitch like a beautiful cricketesque specimen of the Venus Flytrap. There is the yorker droning into the base of the off stump. There is the genuine toecrusher delivered with a sudden change to a rounder arm action which started off on the side pitch which wasn’t being used and ended up hitting the big toe on the inside leg before the batsman could decipher the trajectory and solve the accompanying physics problem using the Large Hadron Collider for experiments. That he idolized Andy Roberts becomes clear when the bouncer and the faster bouncer made their appearances on the greenish carpet. Instead of being accompanied by the paparazzi, they are accompanied by the cold long stare learned and perfected at the Curtly Ambrose Institute of Wristbands and Fast Bowling. And to complete the act is the Dennis Lillee headband which would be deemed unworthy of adorning the forehead if not garnished with the one-finger-sweat-wiper act. This guy could play India, I thought.
When you’re a young, under confident Associate nation, all you can realistically hope for is getting lucky on the day of the Sorting Hat so that you get a slightly easier match first up. Well, our share of luck had run out when the portly old gentleman at the cricket equipment store had given us a generous discount on the kit bags so that we could buy three instead of two. Contrary to what the precious few women at our college would have us believe, the sad puppy eyes of us boys could help us out immensely even as we were making the transition from boys who were refusing to give up on their cricket dreams to men who’d go on to have boring careers. We had just got our target audience wrong, we thought. Nonetheless, the two left handers in the team were happy about their parents’ decision to not convert them forcibly to right handers had proven to be right. We learnt much earlier than the rest of the nation would that Gharwapsi isn’t always fruitful.
The TSL’s tail is clearly up and flying after he scuttles out both our openers in the first over itself. The right hander gives it away after negotiating the first ball bouncer and the second ball faster bouncer by swaying out of the line and ducking for dear life respectively. The submarine bat staying up on the second ball even as the ball thudded into the ‘keeper’s gloves with hands completely stretched above the head seemed ominous, not without reason. The third ball may have cured Sir Geoffrey Boycott’s cancer as it was the perfect good length ball in the corridor of uncertainty. The right hander was still playing the first two balls in his head when not for the first time, it was exhibited how temperament is key to sport. The two bouncers had roasted him just fine and he was ready to be cooked off the third ball as his feet moved nowhere and his bat was hanging far beyond where his front leg was. The ball, seaming away ever so tantalizingly, kissed the outside off the bat and went into the waiting buckets of the first slipper. Our one down was named Rahul and that was the only reason he batted where he did, thought everyone except him. He got a single off a rare loose delivery. The left handed opener’s misery was ended before it began, off the fifth ball — the toecrusher missed its aim but swung out late to send the leg stump for a little jigwheel and plonked down the one in the middle.
What happens when it is finally my turn to bat against the TSL? Part 2 comes out soon…