So, one day, after a game of cricket (within society (apartment) players), it was decided that it was time to take the entertainment to the next level. An internal cricket tournament would be the next level.
I was happy to be a part. I hardly ever played cricket and the last match I watched on TV was way back in 2011. Actually, I don’t think I can play cricket, but when there’s fun to be had, I’m always in.
Three captains were immediately selected, and three teams were hastily put together. The tournament would commence from the next weekend and the days before that would be reserved for practice.
The organizers told that all IPL rules would be followed, except LBW. And, there would be the 30-yard circle too. The 30-yard circle was a thing of wonder.
That evening, I was handheld and dragged into a flat. “Joshi Sir, we tried calling you, you didn’t answer. I had to come, find you!”
A group of men – all of them my new teammates – had already gathered there.
“This is Joshi Sir. Key player”, I was introduced to the team.
I haven’t ever spoken to most of them in the room before, and the few runs I scored in only two days of playing with society group has earned me the tag of Key Player.
We were asked to come up with a good name for the team. We deliberated on many names and finally chose to call ourselves ‘Spartans’
One player quipped, “If we lose, the opponents may call us ‘Fart-ens’”.
Instead of seeing the funny side, one of the leaders of the team was agitated. He said, “Why are you thinking about losing?”. He continued, “We are playing this tournament to win, and we will win this! Like the Spartans in the movie 300, we will give our all for victory”
Inspired by the rousing speech, some of us inside the room clenched our fists, grit our teeth, and said, “YES!”. We are the Spartans.
The idea was to downplay ourselves as ‘underdogs’ and spring like a tiger in the game.
Three Golden Rules were set.
Rule #1: We should respect and abide by the Umpire decision.
Rule #2: We should never lose our cool.
Rule #3: Never berate our own players in any case.
[All three rules will be broken in the same order]
Then, paper and pen were fetched. Now that the rules were set, it was time for ‘strategy’ planning.
A circle was drawn, and fielding positions were decided. I chose to field in the leg-side of a right-hand batsman (almost all are), parallel to where the wicket-keeper stands. In the two games, I realized that not many balls are hit in that side, except for sixes, and the place also has trees for shade.
In the list of the batting line up, my name was marked with a ‘C’, while for some others, it was ‘H’. I was told that C stood for ‘Class’ and H for ‘Hitter’. That means I was considered a Class player!
I was proud of myself.
As the list progressed, I noticed that even players who couldn’t score one run in many previous games were classified as ‘C’. I realized ‘class’ is somewhat low class, and for a player to say ‘I’m a hitter’ is the real matter of personal pride.
Anyway, this didn’t bother me, because I’m a key player!
“The first game is very important. We need to win at any cost”, it was told. “We cannot lose focus. Focus. Focus, always focus”.
Forty-five minutes past, what first appeared to be just a few games of entertainment was being made to look like the most important games in my life. I have won a truckload of medals and trophies at various levels for football and athletics but never attended a meeting that involved pen and paper, and a circle!.
We were given targets. “We have to score a minimum of 20 runs each”.
I began to pray to the lord almighty to show a way to escape from that room. There’s a saying that when you pray from your heart, it is answered.
God did answer my prayer. He sent two small birds to my rescue.
I received a call, saying that two small, cute birds were found abandoned near the badminton court and if I could take care of them.
Cute? I would take care of crows now! “Coming now”, I said enthusiastically.
I’m considered a Zookeeper. Our balconies are filled with over-grown creepers, plants, and even trees. We have three banana trees. No wonder people think that we even have a cow in the balcony.
(Two days later, the cute birds were visited by their mother or father – who knows – and soon the chicks were missing. Hoping the birds flew away with their parent. The 1500 rupees’ cage is now empty. Hopefully, God has a plan when the next cricket tournament comes around)
In the following days, there were more meetings. Teammates walked and jogged together. The badminton court was used for cricket discussions daily evening. Late into the night, when I finished a couple of drinks and came to the balcony to breathe some fresh air, I saw the shadows of cricket enthusiasts sitting around in the darkness and devising strategies.
All chitchats inside the campus were about cricket. The evening before the tournament, my captain called me to check if he should knock on my door to wake me up in the morning. The game was set to start at 6:30 in the morning. For me 6:30 am is the middle of the night. I usually sleep at 3 a.m.
I assured him that I will set up an alarm on the mobile. Another player messaged to remind me that I should not drink that night, “sleep early and keep your focus on”, he said.
Man, what have I got myself into, I thought.
There was enormous pressure to perform. 20 runs minimum! I wanted to run away to somewhere else. That night I couldn’t sleep. In the little time I slept, I dreamt of being walked to a police station holding a trophy over my head.
The next morning, incessant phone calls woke me up. My alarm didn’t ring. I noticed that I had kept alarm for 5:30 pm instead of am.
“Joshi Sir, where are you? We are about to start. You are in the starting 11”
I quickly got ready and rushed to the ground and made it just in time. Apparently, players were on the ground from 5:00 a.m.
There, in the soft glow of the morning sunlight, the near-perfect 30-yard circle in white chalk powder!
Our team had chosen to bat first. The first wicket fell shortly without fulfilling the promise of 20 runs, and I was sent inside with the instruction, “Stand and play” meaning that I should not throw away my wicket.
I stood like a pillar.
Ten balls into my innings, I still haven’t moved to one run. I could hear the Captain exclaiming from outside, “Joshi Sir, what are you doing!”
Joshi Sir will not get out, I told myself. 20 runs minimum.
After a few more balls, my batting partner in the crease came to me and said, “Sir, you start hitting. You have already given 10 dot balls, na”
“I will wait for one more Over and see”, I replied.
I swung the bat at all balls that came towards me. Some went past me like a bullet and some in slow motion, completely evading the bat. Maybe it was the four pegs I had the previous night, despite the warning not to drink.
“You should consider going ‘retired hurt’”, my partner politely suggested.
I wasted a few more balls and scored two runs. Then I walked to the umpire and showed my pain-killer cream smeared hand and walked out of the pitch. It was better to go out before somebody threw stones at me.
‘Joshi Sir – 14 balls – 2 runs – retd hurt’ said the mobile app scoreboard. My stock as a Key Player had dropped dramatically.
The team scored 150 runs in 20 overs.
The opponent team added runs very fast on the scoreboard. When they looked all set for an easy victory, a few wickets fell in quick succession and that swung the momentum in our favor.
One man bravely tried a swimming pool jump to catch a ball that was going too far away and bruised himself all over his body. Spirits were up. Every no-ball decision by the umpire was hotly contested. Arguments broke in every over.
In the last over, the bowler was put under extreme pressure by our own teammates. He had bowled so well until that point and poor guy, he started giving wide after wide balls. He was called a ‘Ghanta’ bowler.
In the very last ball, three runs were required to win for the opponent. I was asked to come in from my fielding position under the tree, to a couple of feet from the batsman, to stop him from running.
The ball was bowled, and it faintly touched the bat and rolled towards me. I quickly collected the ball. One run was already made. There was so much frenzy that fielders started calling from both ends. I threw the ball towards the keeper. The ball hits the bat of the runner and goes away from the stump. Two runs were made. Match Tie.
“Joshi Sir, what did you do!” said my captain in utter disbelief and disappointment.
Then a huge brawl broke out. Our team shouted that my throw towards the keeper was deliberately stopped by the runner. The umpires were called ‘stupid’ and ‘unfit’ for the job. The captain staged a walkout. He quit the WhatsApp group. Quitting Whatsapp is like official resignation. But he was immediately added back.
Somebody had taken a video of the last over. The video was checked and found to be taken from too far away and the video evidence was rejected citing unclear footage.
“My team is not going to play in the tournament anymore”, my captain announced. I’m glad. I needed to save myself before others find out that I cannot play cricket.
However, a compromise was reached, and my captain agreed to play the Super Over.
In the Super Over, our team won emphatically. Now it was our opponent’s turn to walk out. They found foul play in calling no-balls by the umpire. I saw their captain fetching his bat and leaving for home.
Both teams accused each other and even fought within themselves. The tournament was declared, canceled.
Later, I came to know that yet again a compromise was reached, and the tournament would continue.
Tomorrow is my second match. I drink 4 pegs and set up alarm – 5:30 pm.