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Man of the match

By Slone
June 6 2004

The boarding school I studied in was witness to many a game of Improvised cricket wherein a mere 45 minutes was enough to squeeze a game through and declare a winner. The rules were simple. Since the game was played in the right corner of the quadrangle no leg-side shots were allowed. And shots behind square didn't count. In other words the scoring area consisted of the arc from the point fence to the long-on boundary. If the ball was hit outside this area the batsman was deemed out. The equipment consisted of a battered and bruised bat for the striker, an even more battered and bruised bat for the non-striker, 3 sticks of assorted shapes that roughly made up the stumps while the wicket on the bowler's side consisted of a collection of chappals and a shiny new tennis ball (thank heavens - the only brand New equipment in the inventory).

Before play commenced all those who were willing to play were divided into two teams based on the whims and fancies of two people selected as Captains. One unfortunate soul was designated the umpire (he didn't get to play). The losing team had to treat the winners the same evening to a snack comprising of endless bottles of Pepsi, tapioca chips and Cadburyís five-star chocolate bars. Trust me, losing a game seriously set you back by quite a few hundreds of rupees.

One such game began on a Sunday evening when there was an unusual sight of the sun peeking through the clouds. With my captain having lost the Toss, we were asked to take the field. With the time available taken into account it was decided to keep the match to a 7-over a side affair. And with each side having 8 players, there were exactly 7 wickets in hand. On first thoughts it might look like it was loaded in favor of batsmen, but I can assure you it was not.

To begin with, the bowlers specialized in bowling on your legs so that it became doubly difficult to keep the ball to the offside. Of course if the ball was slightly wide of the legs a wide was given. Also the tennis ball generated steep bounce often coming on at chest height. You might be sorely tempted to play these deliveries behind square or hook/pull them, but then again it got you out according to the rules. All in all it was a pretty even contest between bat and ball.

Anyway, the opposition began their innings with a bang. A couple of boundaries and huge sixes dominated the first 2 overs. It looked like my team was in for a rough ride. But the start of the 3rd over brought a double breakthrough. One of the openers fell into the hook shot trap and the other one fell to a run-out. In case of a run-out it was easiest to achieve it in the non-stikers end, because all the bowler had to do was keep his foot on the mass of chappals that constituted the wicket and get the ball in one of his hands. By means of "connection" it was acknowledged to be as good as a direct hit.

But this twin breakthrough failed to halt the relentless march of the opposition since it brought 2 reputed big hitters to the crease who kept piling it on. Twice we had to replace the balls as they disappeared into the skies after soaring out of the quadrangle. I was quietly biting my nails watching the carnage from my fielding position at sweeper cover. When the last ball of the 5th over was bowled, the batsman played an uppish cover drive. Coming out of my reverie I realized the ball was headed straight to me.

It should have been for all intents and purposes a straight forward catch if I had stood my ground. But I had instinctively walked a couple of paces forward and to my horror I realized I had overshot my position. Dropping a sitter was never a pleasant experience since it invariably led to tongue lashing by all the team members. Since it was too late to back-pedal to my initial position I tried to make the best effort possible. Standing on my toes, I leapt slightly (the quadrangle was floored in concrete btw) and stuck out my right hand as high as possible, hoping for the best. And wonders of wonders.......the ball STUCK!!

That was enough to send my teammates into a tizzy. There were hugs and
pats all around. I had helped dismiss the other side's best hitter.
Everybody including the spectators who numbered about a 100 odd were amazed by the catch. Only I knew that I had succeeded in converting an easy catch into a remarkably tough one. As a result of the 'stupendous' catch I was awarded the very next over.

Knowing that the concrete was conducive to spin I decided to indulge in
my leggies. The first delivery was as expected...a wide. The next one was on target and the batsman was deceived by the turn. It turned out to be a rare dot ball. But the batsman adjusted quickly and the second legal delivery was driven ferociously along the ground. Luckily the short cover fieldsman succeeded in stopping the drive and it turned out to be 2 dot balls on the trot. The next 2 deliveries I bowled a tad short and the batsmen were able to nudge it around for 2 singles. 3 runs in 4 balls was great going indeed and I began to feel smug.

But then again I was counting my chickens before they had hatched. To
the 5th ball, the striker danced down the pitch and heaved it out of the square, straight into the heavens. Finally the last ball was straight driven and before I could move to my left and cut it off it went screaming to the fence (or the parapet in this case). 13 runs in a single over was not looking good at all.

With 4 wickets in hand for the last over, all the fielders were pushed
to the boundary. The first ball was a miscued skier which went straight up where the cover fielder would have been. Since there was no cover I had to run from sweeper-cover to take the catch. Now taking skiers is a real b!tch. First of all owing to it being a very windy hill station, the ball swirls the whole time it is up in the air. And even if you succeed in making an accurate judgment you have to contend with the fact that the tennis ball is very light and as a result it bounces out of your fingers very easily. Itís like catching a bar of soap.

With a prayer on my lips and a 100 odd eyes on my back, I shuffled back
and forth in an effort to get underneath the ball. Again to my horror I
succeeded in misjudging the path of the ball. At the last moment I
realized that the ball was falling behind me. This time I stuck both my hands out behind my head and somehow managed to latch onto the ball.
Unbelievable....lightning had struck twice for me!! Once again I was the toast of everybody on the ground. Indeed things were too good to be
true.

The very next ball, the new batsman was cleaned up and the last ball
resulted in a run out. So at the end of 7 overs the opposition had scored a mammoth 86 runs for the loss of 6 wickets. A tough ask for us indeed.

By then it was getting close to 6 PM and the entire sky had turned into
a fiery red. It was almost like playing in Mars....a surreal experience. The batting order was decided and I was slated to come in at no.7. Our innings began with a disaster when we lost 2 wickets in the first over, one of them being the captain. He was the first to go, caught out in the deep and the other opener was castled 2 deliveries later. At the end of the first over we had managed to score just 7 runs.

The next two batsmen took the attack to the opposition feasting on the full tosses and half-volleys that were liberally served up. Those two
put on 45 runs in about 3 overs and just when it looked like it was good going, disaster struck again. One of them was run-out attempting a
non-existent single and the new batsman got out to a soft dismissal immediately.

With just 3 wickets in hand we required 35 runs to win in about 3
overs. In the next 2 overs there was a slew of wades and a couple of misfields which resulted in some lucky boundaries. Both the batsmen at the crease were running like crazy, taking cheeky singles whenever they could. In the last ball of the penultimate over one of them was out caught in the deep. This brought yours truly to the crease.

Since the batsmen hadn't crossed, I was the non-striker when the last
over began. At that point my team required just 4 runs with 2 wickets in hand. It was a relatively easy ask given the position we were in at the start. But the very first ball heralded another twist in the tale. The striker nudged the ball straight to point and wanted a single. Initially I responded to the call but suddenly I developed cold feet and when he was halfway through I sent him back. But alas, the point fielder had a remarkably accurate throw, catching the batsman miles short of the crease.

I was greeted with a cold stare when he walked back. I knew I had hell
to pay if we contrived to lose the match from that point. With that the
last man in, sauntered to the crease. 4 runs in 5 balls...still very much doable but the sore point was the number of wickets in hand...just 1. We had a mid-pitch chat where we decided to look out for singles but also eschew any suicidal ones.

The next ball, the striker hit it to the mid-off region where an
erratic throw helped us scamper through for a single. The position was 3 runs required in 4 balls with myself at the striker's end for the first time. I could hear my own heartbeat and sweat was streaming through my pores which was an achievement considering the climate. The bowler was an accurate medium pacer who gave nothing away. The first delivery I faced was a fastish one pitched on a good length just a shade outside off. I tried to nudge it past point but failed to connect. 3 runs in 3 balls.

By then all the ad-hoc spectators who had just a passing glance at the
game till then became suddenly engrossed. I could sense all eyes were on me. The 4th delivery was a copy of the previous one, but even closer to the off-stump. This time I tried to heave away to glory, but again there was no dividend to my efforts. The ball narrowly missed the off-stick. The crowd let out a collective groan. My teammates were yelling "watch the ball","loft it straight", "drive it hard". I was oblivious to it all. My partner came down the track and we decided to run for the next delivery regardless of where the ball went.


The equation was 3 runs in 2 balls. The bowler took a longer run-up than usual and this time he dug it in slightly short. I opened up my stance at the last moment and flat-batted the ball straight over the bowler's head, almost like a tennis forehand stroke. The bowler jumped up, but he didnít have the kind of luck I had earlier. The ball brushed his outstretched fingers and went past him. But he had managed to take the pace off by quite a bit.

Both my partner and I took off immediately. We were hell bent on
getting at least two. The long-off fielder was a bit slow to take off, so two didnít seem to be a problem. But just as he reached the ball to cut it off, he got an awkward bounce and the ball slipped past him over
the parapet for a consequent boundary!

Hurray! We had won by 1 wicket with 1 ball to spare! I was ceremoniously carried off the quadrangle by my teammates for a raucous celebration. And while leaving I managed to wave my cap to the audience who gave me a resounding ovation. Later I was declared the "man of the match" for my 2 marvelous catches and the match winning boundary. And in the evening we had a ball! Pepsi and Five-star never tasted as good as it did then.

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