Tuesday, August 03, 2004

An Afternoon Of Cricket

It was not entirely an afternoon in vain. At least, I did not go out for a duck, and a catch in the slips was sweet. My gauche knee bothered me a bit through the game, but the morning after, I was right as rain and feeling alive as I hadn’t for years.

The last time I played cricket in any form, were a few overs, on a dusty afternoon, in a school maidan in the central suburbs of Bombay with Vasu, Aditya and Tushar. The year was 1988. The last time I padded up to go out to bat was at Don Bosco grounds in 1985… It has been a while.

Not that I hadn’t quite thought of playing, but the opportunities come few and far between. So, when MumBhai called to ask if I wanted to join in on a “friendly”, I could not but be all optimism and buoyancy. MumBhai plays at Prior Cricket Club in Philadelphia – a halfway decent ground, a handsome club house (though it has seen much better days) and a fairly earnest bunch of players who came in all shapes, sizes, ages and hues. Prior was playing a local college team.

In all honesty, I was not enthusiastic about my chances, as I saw fresh-faced kids lining up on the other side. They looked definitely more mobile and motivated than I had been for years. I did not even have my whites, and MumBhai very accommodatingly loaned me his club shirt for the game.

It was very surreal to watch a game from the clubhouse steps after all these years. The opposing team won the toss and elected to field. We started on a slow note, the runs came in ones and two. But, the opposing bowlers were fairly erratic and by the end of the 10th over, we had more in extras than individual scores.

Sitting on the porch, sipping a cold beverage, I was feeling extremely smug. MumBhai had me down to go seven down in the order. I did not think, I’d actually have to bat. And then the powers that be had a change of mind and I was asked to pad up. I padded up quietly calmly, but it was not actually until I started walking up to the pitch that I began to have doubts. Would I be able to see the ball? Would I able to move like I used to?

At the other end was a fellow economist “S,” who despite coming to cricket rather late in life had been knocking the ball all over the place.

I took my guard on the leg stump, said a silent prayer and looked up. The bowler started his run-up -- a short one, left arm around the wicket, I could sight the ball perfectly, as it left his hand and pitched a decent length. I brought my bat into its path probably a little later than I’d have liked to, but no harm done. The ball rolled down the pitch a few feet, its momentum killed.

That was the last bowl of the over and the bowlers changed ends. Having kept my eyes on the ball all through, I did not feel so bad; but my reflexes were clearly rusty from lack of use. S played the first ball of the next over with a straight bat. The next he flicked off the pads, down the leg side. We ran a single. My turn at the crease.

It was a decent ball, good length, just going a shade to the offside, I cut it late and started running down the wicket as I saw the ball go past first slip. I opened my account. But, even as I started I knew, my knee wasn’t quite all there. I ambled down the wicket.

A ball or two later, S drove one down towards mid-wicket. It was a legitimate single, I started out an instant too late and by the time I crossed the crease at the other end, the keeper had the bails off. S was all apologies for having gotten me run-out. But, in all fairness, the fault was mine. I shuffled my way back, not entirely disappointed. At least, I did not go out for a duck.

Having gotten over the fear of facing the ball, the game became more immediate. I began to assess balls and strokes as a player would (though from safety of the club house). There was another run-out, but the bowlers were tiring, as the humidity and heat took its toll.

P had an unlucky stroke and MumBhai after a few decent drives, pulled back at the last moment to give an easy catch. C who came in at the end, together with S, swatted the ball all over the place, giving the scoring, which had picked up from the initial overs, a big boost.

The batsman, no longer cramped by the need to save their wickets, started to swing big. S lofted one into long on… right into the hands of a waiting fielder, who obligingly dropped him, enabling him to get his fifty.

The score at the end of our innings was 171.

We took to the field after a short break. MumBhai let J, the captain, know, I had a gauche knee. Everyone went out of their way to ensure I had a position that did not require a great deal of running. So, I spent most of my time in the field in first slip.

“I” an older gentleman, opened the bowling attack along with MumBhai. In fact, my catch in the slips came off a ball by I, which nicked the edge of the bat as it swung away. The Prior bowlers kept a decent line and length for the most part and were less free with extras than their opponents. The later spells by “P” kept the college batsmen pinned to the crease.

The score had barely tipped into triple digits before the last man snuck his bat under his arm on his way back to the club house. By this time I felt like a raisin left out in the sun.