May 1997, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Even though it was 4.30 in the afternoon, the damp grass still had the smell of last night’s rain emanating from it. Rains in the month of May in Udaipur were a blissful rarity and the fragrant mix of the moist soil and the wet grass helped soothe my frayed nerves at present.
A cricket match was currently in progress in the massive backyard of my naani ghar (maternal home) and I was nervously waiting for my turn to bat. My team was batting first and I sat in a small shed at the extreme end of the field: our makeshift ‘pavilion’. A few other cousins, who had been dismissed, sat behind me egging on the batsmen on strike. Cricket in the afternoon was the most common pastime here and being the avid follower of the game, I looked forward to participating in every match. Things weren’t that easy here, though.
Almost all of the players here – my cousins and their friends, mostly – were very adept at playing the game and as a 12-year-old, I was overawed by their skills. Moreover, all of them were in their late teens and of bulky frames and I, the tall, gangly and shy kid, was clearly the odd one out.
Since I was here for my month-long summer vacation, my cousins would take me in their respective teams more out of pity than for my skills at playing the sport. The matches would usually be 6 players-a-side and I was taken just to fill the numbers of the respective team I was selected in. It was embarrassing to be selected this way, but I would just be excited to get an opportunity to be a part of the games.
The matches were 6-over contests and most of my time in the field was consumed in chasing the balls to the boundary as I was never allowed to bowl. Whatever little chances I got of batting - something I dearly loved - I fared extremely poorly in them. I was no match to the pace, bounce, and guile of these bowlers and my stay at the wicket this season had mostly been shorter than a few minutes.
Nevertheless, being the eternal optimist, I always believed that on one glorious day I would smash these bowlers to all parts of the ground and win matches for my team. In fact, before coming to Udaipur every year, I would envision some rather thrilling situations: that my team is in a precarious position and I lead them to victory with my coruscating batting performance and my cousins then come rushing towards me and carry me on their shoulders, off into the glorious sunset.
A loud cheer from the center of the field brought me out of my reverie. A wicket - the last recognized batsman - had fallen and I was now the last one in. Himanshu, my elder cousin, had been dismissed in the second ball of the last over. The score was 34 in 5.2 overs.
“Only four balls left. Just take a single and give the strike to Mirchu,” said Himanshu to me while handing me the bat. I took the bat from him and sighed deeply. Cousin Mirchu was glaring at me menacingly from the non-striker’s end. He could be extremely snarky if he didn’t get enough balls to bat. This was going to be a tough challenge.
The match was being played with a Croquet ball and the fear of being hit on the legs loomed large in my thoughts, as I walked up gingerly to the wicket. There were no pads to wear and my spindly legs were exposed. We just wore chappals to the game and as I saw my cousin warming up to bowl, I gulped.
My cousin Paritosh, all of 17 years of age, was a sturdy young kid who could bowl really fast. He was easily the best and the fastest bowler of the entire family and not many preferred facing him. He could curl the ball in the air at pace and had a lethal yorker that had destroyed many a stump. I had already been dismissed for naught on several occasions by him this summer apart from being hurt quite a few times in the unmentionable area.
No one in the field expected me to do well. Not even me. But I had no choice and face the inevitable.
“Cover me lagake bhaagna sidha (Hit the ball to the covers and simply run),” shouted cousin Mirchu from the non-striker’s end. I nodded solemnly.
Paritosh ran smoothly, leaped in the air like an eagle and hurled the ball at me. The ball whizzed past my nose much before I could even lift my bat to play a stroke. I must have looked rather silly flailing my bat wildly in the air as the opposition fielders sniggered loudly. I could feel my team members rolling their eyes behind me in the pavilion and then saw Mirchu just shaking his head.
The third ball pitched on the middle and straightened. I attempted to cut the ball but missed and it just went inches over the off-stump. Paritosh left out an anguished cry even as the others of his team smiled, probably at my ineptness.
Flustered with myself, I could feel my palms getting sweaty. I rubbed my hands on my shorts and quietly resolved to at least get bat on ball run to the other end.
The fourth ball was a little slow and a tad outside off. This time, I somehow managed to plant my bat in the line of the ball and played a stroke towards the cover region.
Unfortunately, my stroke did not have much life in it and the ball was easily fielded. I had taken a few steps out of my crease to run but Mirchu wildly gestured me to go back. There was no way either of us would have made it on time.
“Should we declare, you moron?” hollered one of my team members from behind. I chose to ignore his jibe and concentrate on the task ahead, not willing to give up. The bat now felt heavier than usual. I rubbed my palms dry on my shirt and gripped the handle firmly.
The fifth ball was a yorker, aimed right at my toes. I wasn’t prepared for it and was wildly looking to slog. The ball hit my right toe at pace and I muffled my cry as a searing pain shot through my right foot. There was no way I could show anyone that I had been hurt. Nonchalantly, I picked up the ball and lobbed it back to the bowler while gently rubbing my foot without anyone’s notice.
I could now see Paritosh smirking a little. He had me hopping like a cat on a hot tin roof and was mighty pleased with that. Mirchu, meanwhile, had given up and continued shaking his head. I felt irritated and a little helpless. Something had to give.
The last ball from Paritosh was fast. This time, I followed his hand closely as he released the ball, which was short of a good length and landed a few feet away from the off-stump. I danced down the track and following the line of the ball, swatted it straight, with all the strength I had, before it could rise up.
The bat made a resounding ‘craaack’ as it met the ball right in the middle, the sound reverberating across the field. There was a stunned silence in the arena as everyone’s eyes rose in the air, watching the ball rise high in the orange sky. The little round thing soared and kept going high, crossing the field and the street beyond the field, before finally landing on top of the terrace of a building opposite it. It was a ginormous six, as big as anyone had hit here.
I stood rooted in my position. My bat still held firmly over my shoulders. My eyes still searching for the ball that had now disappeared. My chest heaving up and down.
There was loud whooping from behind me and I saw my teammates rushing towards me. They patted my back and ruffled my hair. Even the opposition team had smiles on their faces. My eyes, though, were fixed on Paritosh. He was the only one who looked too stunned and deflated to react. Befuddled, he was still watching the building beyond the terrace; refusing to believe that he had been hit for such a massive six by a 12-year-old. The air had clearly been winded out of him.
The ball was lost and could not be retrieved. But nobody cared. It was my moment to savour now. It was the first ‘proper’ six of my life.
I held my bat aloft in the air and proudly strutted around with it to the pavilion. It was my highest score of the season here. Just six runs. But at that time, those runs meant the world to me.
The remainder of the match went by in a whizz – we won by 5 runs. But only the sixer kept playing in my mind over and over. Everything else was just a daze.
Dinner that night was memorable. We used to have dinner in a large central hall of the house. Around 15-20 of us would gather around in a circle and share our stories at the end of the day. Today, I was the only one who was speaking and was clearly the star of the house. The high of smashing that six had enveloped me completely.
I animatedly recounted my heroics with the bat to everyone who would care to listen. My naana, my maasis, and maamas had to bear the brunt of my pompous retellings of the six I hit.
“I just came out of the crease and ‘Bam’,” I re-enacted the shot from my sitting position to my family members who listened to me keenly. Food had never tasted so good to me during the entire vacation.
The only person conspicuous by his absence was Paritosh. A bruised ego, after all, takes some time to heal.