by Anirban Nanda
Rahul has the chance to prove his worth today. He’s been waiting for a long time for this opportunity. Ujjal has got out too early today and the opponent has scored 84 in six overs. This is it. It’s now or never. Two overs to go and 24 runs is required for victory. Rahul stands up beside the makeshift boundary formed by tentative connection points between pairs of shoes and broken bricks. Ujjal comes back trotting and swinging his bat with frustration. He shouldn’t have played that square cut too early, which has caused the cambis ball to get height and loft over the boundary. A six in short-cricket is as good as a wicket. He hands over the butter-scotch colored bat to Rahul; their most preferred bat in the whole team. Actually, they do not have many choices─ only Ujjal and Bublu have bats. Rahul marches through the 20 feet diameter ground with pride, looking around to get a glimpse of field distribution and also give his fellow teammates some hope. Rahul is always the last person during the team selection because he never has scored more than 10 runs and taking a wicket is too far-fetched for him. Once, a confident captain gave him an over despite everyone’s disapproval, and he was rewarded with 25 runs; the highest run taken in an over with six fours in all the six balls and one wide. Rahul stands straight in front of the wicket and taps the bat multiple times to smooth any probable uneven surface. It’s just for show. Everyone knows he cannot survive more than 3 balls.
He positions himself to face the first ball; legs apart and bat in between and forefinger of his right hand over the joint of handle. The Britannia sign has worn off like a crescent moon. He looks up at the bowler; the green ball is zooming towards him, twirling and spinning. He transfers his weight to his front foot and swings his bat in a circular curl. The ball bounces off the tow of the bat and sprints through the boundary. He stands there for a second, with his left leg floating in air. The ground remains silent for few seconds. And then everyone sitting cross-legged at the boundary jumps in shouts and cheers. The happiest moment for Rahul. He comes back to the crease, feeling more confident. The bowler, who has now disgraced his team by getting hit by someone like Rahul, throws the next ball with ample velocity. No sooner has the ball dropped a foot away from his leg than Rahul finds the ball in wicket-keeper’s hand. He takes a single in the next ball.
Thus, staying at non-striker end, he survives one over and three balls. That is kind of a record for him. Never has he stayed this long in crease. Ten runs to get in just three balls. He has to hit now, he has given too much hope to his team. Now he cannot back out. This time, the bowler flings the ball targeting the gap in between his leg and bat; the yorker. Rahul somehow manages to move his bat an inch causing the ball to kiss the edge of the bat and roll behind the stumps. Another boundary. Everyone whooped and danced with excitement. The next ball is a dot. Six is needed in one ball, which is impossible in short cricket. Everyone has sat down with hopeless faces. The last ball. Rahul has to hit, for the sake of honor. The ball is thrown so fast that it whizzes past his ear whispering something. The match is lost. Face down, he leaves the bat and walks out to join the team waiting with condemning eyes.
NO BALL! The umpire has declared. It’s an over-bounce. Rahul brightens. Five runs to win and four to draw. He still has a chance. At least he can give them an honorary tie, if not a victory. He runs to the crease, and lifts the bat in excitement. The bowler, worried to see the match slipping out of his hands, holds the ball tightly. It will be a yorker. He taps his bat and concentrates on the green ball. His entire world now is concentrated on that ball. He can’t hear anything, the shouting of the team mates or the swearing of the wicket keeper. The ball is released. It is becoming bigger and bigger with every second, swirling slowly. He blinks and then closes his eyes while swinging his bat with full vigor. The ball hits the sweet spot and runs towards long-off, jouncing and ricocheting on the uneven ground. He sighs in relief. He has become the center of attention as everyone comes down to congratulate him by patting his back. He doesn’t care then if the match has been won.