The bouncers, yorker and three sixes

Battered, bruised and flattened egos – at a teenage age, these are small pointers that make person overcome challenges. And this is one such story.

Those school days, our summer vacations used to be spent playing cricket in the hot and scorching summers of Sharjah, at Rolla or the Safat Square Grounds. I had written quite a few words on my cricketing experience at UAE as a student, but this is an untold story. Of fear, of challenging the fear, of winning over it, and at last, relishing the challenge!

Almost all of my cricket was played with my school friends, an assorted bunch of Indian boys, who was most content with bowling medium pace and spin (of course, we wanted to bowl fast, either we couldn’t, or even if we try that, our stamina don’t survive to bowl a second over), and scoring runs through singles and fours. Yes, we used to hit those sixes, but it was the tennis ball days. After we graduated to playing with the regular cricket ball, we were all kind of Dravids’ and nobody even tried to be a Sehwag. Bowl spin, hit fours, score 80 runs in 10 overs and be content with all that. After all, we were not bad at it – at least, that’s what we thought.

Things went on well, till one vacation, where our counterparts from the nearby Pakistani school politely asked us for a match with them. For years, both of us had played side by side, never interfering in each other’s games. But since the offer came, we decided to give it a go. After all, we were seeing our team lose at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium lost every match to them, every other tournament, every other Friday, so we thought this was our chance for some sweet and smart revenge. Sure, the teenage blood running in our veins were boiling with a little overdose of patriotism, and maybe a victory or two against our neighbours might cool it down a bit.

Offer accepted, and we were all ready to play our own India vs. Pakistan from the next day onwards. We were all ready for the fun, confidence running high and the same showing on the grin that decorated our faces. We usually play 10 over a side games, and looking at our spin power in bowling and Dravid power in batting, we were looking to beat them well.

We lost the toss; they put us in to bat. We were looking for an 80 plus score in our 10 overs, and put them out for less than 70. Getting a victory margin of 15 – 20 runs was our game plan. My team and buddies expected them to be more or less equals, but we had the pride in ourselves being the more technically perfect team, as the quality of coaching we receive at school was higher by miles.

I was the regular one down batsman whenever I play, strong on the leg side, and used to score good runs in singles and the odd four. But this time, someone threw the bat at me to open the innings. With the level of confidence I was in, nothing could go wrong.

We walked to the crease and I took guard to face the first ball. I could see the guy who was about to bowl walking a long way back to his run-up, almost half the distance to the boundary line behind the bowler.

“Show off!” I told in my mind. “This guy wants to bowl only one ball or what? Why waste his entire energy on his run-up!”

Then…. he started running in. It was like an express train, or like an arrow let off from the bow. We had seen one such guy running in like that before…. it was Shoaib Akhtar. Within split seconds, he had run till the stumps, released the ball which came in like a streaming rocket, bouncing high, and zipping past my nose! It was a perfect bouncer, and I could almost smell the leather when the ball went past my nose. It was a wake alarm for me. The fastest ball I had ever faced! Just a bit down on my confidence, but not distressed, I took guard again.

The next ball too was an exact copy of the first one. And this time I had got that split second extra to duck under the ball. And this ended almost all the confidence that I had! Never had I faced two searing bouncers before on the trot. Far end, I could see my opening partner looking down, lucky guy was not facing this Concorde. I could see the guy waiting to come one-down praying, most probably that I should not get out, lest he should come in and face the next ball.

My legs trembling, I took guard to face the third ball. I did not really know what shot I would play. I was expected to duck, and save my head, that was what my brain and heart was telling me. “Save yourself Son! These fast bowlers are deadly. Maybe you should switch to volleyball or tennis” – was what my inner voice was telling me.

He started his run-up. Just like an F1 car in a race, he reached maximum speed in split second. Within seconds, the ball was off his grip. I stood there, ready to duck the bouncer. But alas, this time, the trajectory was different. I could see the ball heading right for my toes. There was nothing much I could do; my feet were frozen, like stuck in dried concrete. Within split seconds, I could feel the pain rising from my toes. The missile had hit its destination. The yorker was a toe crusher, and another moment later, the sound of woodwork disturbed and bails flying. After my leg, the second victim of the flying ball was the stumps behind me. I was clean bowled.

Well, there was nothing much I could react, except a combination of shock, shame and disbelief. Two bouncers, and when I was expecting a third, a yorker to castle me out- perfect strategy. We lost the match. In fact, it was a totally one sided match. We scored 30 runs before we became all out, most of us clean bowled and they hit those runs in less than 15 balls. It was a total shame and loss of face.

The story repeated the next day. We were marginally better, with a score of 40 runs. But the loss and disgrace associated with it made me lose sleep. Badly needed to do something to redeem the pride the next day, and if this was not done, we would be made the laughing stock at school for a long time to come. Losing to your traditional rivals, be it at the international level or at street cricket has its own ignominy. I could not catch some sleep thinking what needed to be done to get some pride back, if not win a match.

For a change, in the third match, we won the toss. At least, we won something.

We decided to put them into bat. And they were all in the regular Shahid Afridi mode as usual – hit half a dozen sixes and be out. End of their innings, they managed around 120 plus runs in 10 overs, and were looking all set for another victory and beat us the third day on the trot.

Our innings was about to begin, and we walked out to the crease. I knew they would come at us and was ready for whatever it was – a bouncer or a yorker. Already having lost my pride along with my wickets in the previous matches, there was nothing much left out.

The first ball was ready. Same bowler, same speed.

He hurled it the usual way, and it was a bouncer. I closed my eyes the moment he released the ball. In a split second, I swung the bat. I could feel the sound of leather hitting wood, and within seconds, I could hear a loud clap all around. “Shit! Gone” – I thought it was a catch. I opened my eyes to see that the clap was for a shot that cleared the midwicket boundary by a long way!

It was a Six!

I had hit a Six! Whole life I had toiled in fours and running between the wickets and at last, I had relished the challenge by hitting a Six when it mattered the most.

Suddenly there was confidence and positive energy all around. Yes! We were here to give it a fight. The bowler was back to his starting point. I was back to my guard. He came running in. There was more speed, anger and rage in his face and I was sure the same would reflect in the ball that was to come. He repeated the bouncer again. And I could feel the speed was more than the previous one. But, this time, I did not close my eyes. The ball rose high on the off side. I lifted my bat, and with perfect timing, the ball clipped the top edge. The next moment, what I could see was the ball depositing itself long over the Third Man boundary. I had hit a second six, off consecutive balls!

Now, it was a different story altogether. Two sixes in two balls, and I had conquered my demons. I had caught the devil by the collar and hit it out. I became a different batsman – someone who has now bulldozed his burden and relished the challenge in the process.

The bowler looked upset. Now I knew the next one would be a toe-crushing yorker. “Bring em’ on” – I thought. He threw it in with all his might. What did I do? As expected, before the yorker came in, I moved forward. I converted it into a half volley, pulled a Douglas Marriler Shot and next moment, the ball was flying high over the wicket keeper.

Six! A third six! One on the leg side, then on the off side, and last one straight behind the keeper!

The challenge that I had set for myself was demolished, so was the opposition teams confidence. Though I did not manage to score much after that, these three hits were enough to restore the self-belief of the other batsmen in my team, and we managed to score comfortably and win the match with a safe margin.

Yes, and with that, restored all those lost pride and the patriotism was back in the veins!

Winning or losing was not a matter. But restoring the lost confidence in ourselves was the real winning shot. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger quoted sometime ago – “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength”

—————————————

This post is written for Godrej Cinthol’s Relish the Challenge blogging campaign for Alive is Awesome.

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