Oct 19, 2010

Maiden Over

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“HOWZAT?” a husky voice hollered. A short, curly haired, fair lad raised a finger and declared the batsman bowled. The dark and lanky figure with that husky voice now ran towards the bowler screaming on the top of the lungs. In no time the thin framed, dimple chinned bowler, Rajeev had been lifted up into the air and the team was exulting over their victory.

This was my team, a motley crew of young boys aged between 9-14 years old. And that lanky, dark cricketer with the husky voice was me. With crew-cut hair, a terribly tanned face and scraped knobby knees showing beneath those fatigued shorts, I was easily mistaken as a boy amongst the group of lads. I was a complete tomboy who ate, breathed and lived cricket like any other boy of my age.

The society where I lived consisted of a ring of 10 buildings. The oval foreground of the buildings was divided into two equal halves by a speed-breaker in the centre. Two rival teams existed in the same society, one of the elder teenage boys and the other being ours. Come summer vacations and every other evening after school, our society foreground morphed into our cricket field. The elder teenagers took the eastern half while we occupied the western half. Mind you the age wasn’t a factor for us. We made quite a formidable team.

We dint care for the sun scorching our skin or the rain leaving puddles all over our playground. I dint enjoy any othe rgame as much as I loved a quick 6 overs match of cricket with the boys. We would also work to hone our skills, rigorously. There were hours and hours of catch practice for me and a few boys who were recognized for our tight fielding. The bowlers spent hours figuring out different styles of spinning the ball and mastering the Googly. I confess I was never good at that but I could whack some Sixers alright! Never mind some window panes of the top floor flats sacrificed for that. There were many occasions when the ball had belonged to my opponent team and I had to go fetch the ball myself after that path-breaking,window-shattering stroke.

Galli cricket was at an all time high in Dadar of the 90s, Sachin Tendulkar was our god and Shivaji Park was the runway to my list of ambitions at that time. Innumerable times I had captained my team and locked horns with the cricket teams from neighboring societies, and more than many times we had returned home sweaty, muddy and victorious. There wasn’t any shiny cup to flaunt or any prize money to bring home but I remember coming home with bruised elbows,a bloated head and a proud nose up in the air. Those winning streaks had actually triggered my dreams of becoming a real cricketer some day.

The girls never invited me for their Barbie doll tea parties for they knew I’d never sacrifice my turn at batting for a silly girly get-together. And I frankly was the odd ‘Maiden’ out who turned up with a red-handled season bat in hand, instead of a red- haired Barbie doll.

My mother knew no better incentive to have me do my homework than “I’ll let you play an extra hour of bat-ball if you finish your Math Sums first.” I would fly out the door, all furious, after finishing the homework in a hurry, “Please for God’s sake its cricket, Ma!”

One evening in June, when it had just begun to drizzle and school was about to re-open I was out again with the boys. It was going to be the last year at school and the most crucial one. I’d promised Ma that I’d focus more on my studies than on cricket. So just before the academic year could kick in, I was trying to make a memorable game of cricket that could help me survive through the following year. I couldn’t imagine an entire drab year full of studies and absolutely no cricket!

The final cricket match had commenced and my team was fielding first. I wasn’t the captain this time because I was supposed to train a few youngsters to step into my shoes until I finish my S.S.C. year and get back on the grounds. I was posted this time at the boundary and I could feel the eyes of some onlookers on me, from their respective balconies aka booths. Many neighbors, thankfully took our Galli cricket quite seriously and enjoyed watching our matches every evening. Some had also predicted a glorious future for me in women’s cricket. They could foresee me bringing the Indian women’s cricket team into limelight. We enjoyed our small share of audience and sometimes also relied on their decree when we felt our own umpire was giving a biased decision.

So there I was, poised to quickly dive at a ball whacked by the batsman towards the boundary. I never let a single ball slip through my fingers. “Going for a four, dude? Tough luck!” I challenged the batsman. Nilesh, a sharp-eyed and superb batsman was in the opposite team this time. His was an important wicket and we had to take it at the earliest. Rahul, our best Googly bowler was going in for it again. A slow trot down the pitch and then his hand swung the ball towards Nilesh. With cocked shoulders, tapping the ground between his feet, Nilesh was focusing on the ball hurtling towards him. And whack, he’d hit the ball with a strong and sure stroke of his heavy bat. The ball soared high up in the air and was clearly flying for the boundary. I could see my moment of achievement approaching, fast.

The ball was in the second half of its journey. All my audience was watching with bated breath. Some of my team mates were screaming at me, “Catch it!” I knew I had it in my hands. My judgment had never gone wrong. I ran in the direction of the ball with cupped hands. That was the minute which would define the fate of the following match. There was suddenly a dead silence around me. And renting that silence came one high-pitched shrill voice,“ Munnaaaaa!” My psyche was programmed to react to that voice and I turned in the direction from where it had come. “It’s late. Come home right now!” I saw my mother standing at our ground floor house, doorstep. The next thing I knew, the ball had smacked me in my left ear and I bit the dust at the boundary.

With that I was one ‘maiden’ whose cricketing career was surely ‘over’ for soon after began my tussle with big fat books for the remaining academic years at school and college.

This post has also been written for Monday's Child #17

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