It was a windy March morning. The colors in the air had just settled down. Not far off from Hyderabad City, (to be precise 13 Kms.), at a forted enclosure which sprawls over seventy acres, about three dozen strange people had assembled. Most of them were very much in their liveries and some, perhaps for the first time ever, given their awkward postures. At one corner of their point of assembly, if one would have to fathom a guess, as I am doing right now, some of them were in a state of contortion, in an attempt to stretch (‘try to’ would be more precise) their bodies, much to the disgust of the group of onlookers, which mostly included a few critters and crows. This was neither a political conglomeration nor any religious gathering. Yes. The craziest ball was about to be played here at Gachibowli CMC cricket grounds.
The team captains, the managers, the umpires, the match referee, the mostly overrated press folks (including yours amicably) were all waiting for the chief guest. There were many heads looking at their and their neighbors’ watches rather impatiently.
The formalities waiting to happen in the next 30 minutes, i.e. till 09:40 hours, before the the first ball of the match was to be bowled went like this:
- Introduction of the team members to the chief guest the Chairman of CMCCOM Mr. K, by the respective team managers
- Mr. K’s inaugural speech
- Official commencement of the game by the chief guest and
- “tossing the coin” in the presence of the umpires Messrs. V, Messrs. R, the third umpire Messers. M, and the match referee Mr. A.
Rajaram, who was leading his team SLAZENGERS was seen composed and cool, chatting with his team members, sitting on choir chairs, while his rival team FLABBERGASTERS’ skipper Chandrashekar was not to be left behind as far as the coolness and composure go. He was as much relaxed as his counterpart, but the difference being that he was sitting alone, away from his team members unlike his counterpart. The Slazengers (from hereon referred to as the Sleazy Asses), it seemed obvious, had done quite a lot of homework. After all, their think-tank includes not one but two brains. The incumbent manager Kameshwari, as well as the future taker of the job Bhuvaneshwari, had spent more than a week charting out strategies to tackle Chandroo & co. Despite her deceptive sluggish appearance, Kamesh was out wholesomely throwing out ideas from her early days’ experiences with Enid Blyton to her recent gambling experiences with Jeffrey Archer. In fact, Guzpacho, being one privileged magazine in the circuit and I being the reporter of it, had an easy access to one of the practice sessions of the Sleazy Asses and the Flabs (The Flabbergasters). By getting herself associated with the team so early in her career, Bhuvana has already started looking fit to take over the onus from Kamesh smoothly. You have to accept this truth that this lady has got a different approach totally, as compared to her predecessor. By repeatedly playing the opposite team’s match video clippings, she analyzes critical data. I heard a sudden shriek, “I found it”. She had just spotted an object and it was just the starting point for her to encapsulate things etc., so that coding can be done at a later stage. She carries a laptop computer with her always, anything and everything, she is only too quick to use it. The Woolmer way!
Quite contrasting was the other camp, where things were going on at a drudging pace. But the Flabs’ manager, Umitha was blasting out in her usual style. She was optimistic of doing things “Right” on that day but the only nagging worry to her was that she was not sure whether her members (including herself) would actually make it to the ground on match day.
The three commentators (English – Ambika, Telugu – Sarada and Hindi – Santhi), who were supposed to run the proceedings from the chief guest’s arrival, were yet to be spotted in the ground. It was 09:15 AM (According to the last reports received they were having their breakfast).
The line-up for this exciting clash:
Rajaram (C, WK)
Sateesh (12th man)
Sitaramasamy (12th man)
09:20 AM. The Sleazy Asses Dressing Room.
“Hey! the Chief Guest has come..Wake up Ramgo!”.
A biting of his ears and a gentle punch on his shoulders by Chalps got Ramgo out of his dream world nevertheless.
Mr.K was received by the 3 umpires, match referee and the managers. He quite uncharacteristically apologized for his late arrival and went straight to the Sleazy Asses.
Kamesh, “This is Raja, our captain as well as keeper..”.
“..Entra idhi? only 11 members are there ..!”, a surprised Sudhakar gaped and asked his neighbor.
Just when all the 11 available Sleazy Asses (from hereon referred to as Slazs) got introduced to Mr. K and just when the Slazs started showing some tense nerves on their faces, Gowd joined the team with an, “..Err..Excuse Me. I am Gowd..”.
A sigh of relief in Kamesh’s face.
Then Umitha took over. “This is Chandroo…..”.
The skippers walked to the center of the pitch with the umpires Messrs. R and Messrs. M. The official inauguration was over.
“Are you sure that the commentators will make it? I have a doubt..”
“No..No..I saw them this morning..”
Actually Head lost and so did Raja in his toss. Chandroo was too quick in making his decision as if he was waiting for it. “You bat!”.
So just like that, the warmth and cordiality of the initial pointless exercises & rituals of the morning had paved way for some fierce competitive loathing and dirty talking, as the fielders started taking their positions. The batsmen too soon had.
Brijesh behind the wickets, Ranga and Ravi the two slips, in that order, Ramesh at the bowler’s end with the glossy red cherry. UmRao was at the striker’s end and Prasad at the non-striker’s. Prasad, known for his Romesh Kaluwitharane kind of approach always prefers not to play the first ball.
“I am not trying to threaten you or something of that kind…But you people should maintain some decorum..You are just out of colleges and you should not behave like ‘gully’ cricketers…This is a different atmosphere…”, Messers. R’s discourse reached all the ears (both covered and uncovered) on the field. It certainly was a word of warning from the umpire.
In came Ramesh.
What a deadly swinger!! The ball was back with Ramesh in no time, as he walked back to his run-up for the next delivery. The first ball had just missed the off-stump by a whisker.
UmRao walked towards Prasad. “What just happened?”, an element of doubt had shaded his face.
“Man..That’s exactly why I’ve been asking you to buy a new pair of specs. Gosh! How are you going to play?”, Prasad was all concerned for his partner.
Prasad slapped on his head with his own hands. Ramesh ran towards the stumps five more times in that over. By the end of that over, UmRao got to know when the balls were delivered but not how they were, till after the fact and mostly through hearsay.
Hareesh shared the new ball from the other end. A wide spread out field. “Ennada, Oralavukku Nalla Potta Podhum Illa?”, Ranga chatting with Ravi , who was nodding his head more than what he usually does as if he had understood what Ranga had said. The dialogue continued. The nodding too. A catch at chest level between between the 2 slip fielders at a leisurely pace was left unattempted. First runs on the board.
“Try not to speak. If you can’t try, then at least speak in a language that I can understand,” Ravi quipped as he was clearly annoyed at having missed a chance to send Prasad packing home.
“Maa ball vochindi..Meeku adichu endha…pochu…vandhu…theesko…grrr…”.
Ranga was now moved to thirdman.
The first ball of over number 3 touched UmRao’s bat on its own, took its edge and flew towards the first slip, where it was picked up rather uncomfortably by Ravi.
In the Slazs Dressing Room. “Pad up, Andrews..”
“I don’t know how to play Hareesh. I haven’t practiced anything. I have not played against Ravi, Ramesh et al., you know..??”.
The manager is pretty authoritative in this dressing room.
“Andy, Are you going in or shall I ask Sudhakar to pad up?”, Kamesh.
Andrews went in at one drop.
Score: 5 overs. 13/1. Prasad – 12*, Andy – 0*, Extras – 1.
Bowling change at the far end. Lakshmi in action. A slow ball. Prasad got it on his pads.
A crack or two were visible in the Stand B gallery walls, after that thunderous vociferous appeal by Lakshmi.
“This is too much..I am gone deaf..O.K. This is warning 1. O.K…Be careful O. K..Don’t appeal into my ears..O.K..”, umpire V.
The next ball was a replica of the previous delivery. So was Lakshmi’s appeal. The Commentators’ box had come thrashing down. It was probable that the commentators were yet to arrive because they had anticipated such a disaster. As soon as they arrived (a few minutes after the commentators box disaster), they were made to sit in the gallery among the crowd. Talking about the crowd, I must confess that the galleries were practically empty, but most of the seats were occupied, There were 15 seats in total. Getting into the stadium was not all that easy on that day due to the security checks, which were stronger than norm. Even if the Id-cards had not been pinned properly, the enthusiastic spectators were sent out. Saivasu who mysteriously absconded from the Flabs’ training camp, could not enter the stadium for this reason. Poor Vasu!
Score: 39/4 Ramgo – 1*, Chalps – 2*, Overs -12.
The ball was given to Ravi. A classical spinner he is, he was setting his field meticulously.
“Murthy, How much did Chalps score against Club Sahara in the 1995 final?”.
“C’mon Ravi! This is not the time to ask such questions…. I think 30.”, Murthy replied politely.
Score: 49/4 Ramgo – 1*, Chalps – 2*, Overs -16.
Murthy at long-on, was getting bored. He had plucked enough grasses and had torn enough papers that were found near the fence. The only thing he could still do was collect those plastic water bottles and throw them into a recycle container.
Sitaramsamy and Sateesh were seen coming with the drinks trolley, which actually resembled a discarded 486 machine on wheels. Sateesh had been left out of the team for some strange reasons. It seems he can bat or bowl or field like anyone else. He is so adept in imitating others’ styles that he does not have his own style of game. So under different circumstances, someone has to keep giving cues to him.
“Play this ball like Viv Richards”
“Bowl this ball like Kapil..”
“Field this ball like Hitesh..”, etc.
Now this becomes a bit of a nuisance, since he needs a perpetual cuist assigned to him and one who can be with him on the field. The CMCCOM rules don’t allow such cuists being on the field and there was his bad luck. The non-inclusion of Sirasa was to include Brijesh , who was was doing the keeper’s job because of the regular keeper Murthy’s inability to keep that day.
Score: 76/7 Sudhakar – 1*, Gowd – 0*, Overs – 26.
The fielding team captain brought back Ramesh into the attack. And the ball was a full toss. Played all along the ground to short thirdman. Ranga physically forced himself towards the ball and of course all he wanted to do was to just stop it. He skidded and rolled over the ball. An utter chaos ensued.
“Where is the ball yaar?”.
“Are you OK Ranga?”.
Giridhar was as alert as ever. He spotted the ball immediately. About 2 inches away from where Ranga’s nose was buried, there was this spot where Ranga’s outreaching right arm and his belly had intersected as Ranga skidded and rolled over. Giri was able to spot the ball right about there and the ball was about 80% submerged into the ground.
Now, Sudhakar and Gowd are two of the the best runners between wickets the game has ever seen. But the biggest drawback the batting team has when both of them are together in the middle is that, they both try to help each other, no matter what.
The ball was played hard by Gowd. Seeing Sudhakar coming out of his crease and seeing the ball being fielded clearly, Gowd in order to push Sudhakar back into his crease, started running towards the other side. Seeing Gowd coming out and noticing that the fielder having picked the ball up, Sudhakar started moving further towards Gowd’s crease, this time to push Gowd safe into his crease. In the end, both of them as one would expect, crammed into each other, in the process strained their legs and even got bruised.
Mrs. V and Mr. R, the two umpires, felt like they had all the problems in the cricketing world to be solved at that moment, because there was no way to judge one of them out. Both batsmen were reluctant to walk out. In the end, Chandroo had to make Gowd go out.
Enter Ghanshyam, the charismatic Physio around. He raced towards he pitch with his first-aid kit and started nursing Sudhakar in a flash.
“Arey yaar! Kya Kara Thu? Thu aisa math karana yaar..!”.
If you thought he was a physio just for his looks (read it as physical appearance), then you are wrong. He is the best person around in the field. Ask Sudhakar.
End of 40 overs.
Score – 136/9 Naweed – 38*, Rajaram – 0*.
What the Flabs’ think-tank got to do now was to chalk out the batting order which was not done till then.
Meanwhile, in the commentary box..
“I have a question. How can the umpire rule a batsman out just because the rival captain asked to do so?”, Ambika was restless.
Santhi was busy tallying her accounts for the used Travelers’ checks and the unused ones. While Sarada’s immersion in her thoughts was so deep that she did not even listen to Ambika’s question.
Ramana’s white flannels had already become red. It was Ramana with the new ball. Ramgo at the first slip. Chandroo and Murthy are the openers.
In the Flabs’ dressing room.
“I’m going only 9 down..Right?”..
“Right” and so Prakash was back with his wolf (a video game) and was not to be seen till the bails were off later on that evening.
Over number one from Ramana had a lot of variations like pop-ups and pull-downs. He, being a very experienced bowler knows the kernel of the ball very well. He swings the ball both ways perfection that only those batsmen who can adjust to Ramana’s shell can play him with ease.
An edge from Chandroo had gone over the 2nd slip. Ramgo, the little master was a bit too slow to dive to his right. Realizing that the ball was beyond his reach, he was cursing himself as the ball was the about to fall on the ground. He saw a hand moving across his face to grab the ball. Ramgo is yet to get back to normal.
Rajaram, the Walsh look-alike keeper, is rather uncharacteristic to fit into a wicket keeper’s job (based on his physical appearance). This has been the tabloid view. I am sure that all those who shared this view would regret having done so. Chandroo walked back to the pavilion. No one had padded up.
It was Giridhar who was supposed to bat at Number 3.
“C’mon Giri! Go!”.
“No. Let Ramesh come..!”.
“Don’t be stupid. Only one batsman has got out. So, as per rules, only one new batsman has to go in..”
“No. No. Let Ramesh come..”
No budging. A specially arranged messenger came running to the field.
Saig it was.
“Raja! I mean there is a problem…”.
So finally, Saig padded up and by the time he went in, the umpire had already ruled him out. Saig had taken 12 minutes to come in after the fall of the last wicket. That was the reason.
Yet another dramatic incident in the match. This is becoming sullen and somber. Zero balls faced and out (timed out they say). As one STPite would expect, Saig was as cool as ‘Tharbooz and he took that heavy beating rather coolly in his strides, full of smiles and he got back to his dressing room, plugged on his earphones and went to the dream world which was “seal”ed.
The Flabs manager had all sorts of hindrances on that day. Convincing Giridhar to go to bat without Ramesh, changing the batting order, searching for Prakash (who incidentally had entered the 6th level of the 9th group in wolf..or the other way around, I never know. Pardon me wolf-buffs!), keeping Lakshmi’s decibel level down, (which rather drastically had reached a level at some point that Mr. A, the match referee had to warn Umitha that another incident of that nature would make the authorities debar the team from the tourney) and many more.
The cause of worries did not end there.
Overs – 26
Score 66/9 Ramesh – 12*, Hareesh – 2*.
Lord Indira, who in this part of this world is often believed to be the man who turns the shower on from the skies, mistaken identity if you ask me, is not a light-hearted fellow. On this occasion though, he was on the Flabs’ side. Showers, downpour and a streak of million watt flashings – All these staged a drama in the sky for 10 minutes. The ground, at the end of the rains, looked like a pool ideal for water buffalos to play water polo.
Rajaram was seen arguing with Messrs. R.
“You see the run rate, you take the wickets lost, you consider the number of injuries, anything…You consider anything at all – We win the match hands down…”
Messrs. R was non-committal as ever.
“You got to grant the match to us..”
“See, I have nothing to say in this matter. Things have gone past my hands. All the way up to the CMCCOM to decide the result of this match…”.
The chairman of CMCCOM, Mr.K came out with the announcement.
“Friends, we declare both Slazengers, and Flabbergasters as joint winners..!”.
There were not many to applaud the winners in that soggy field, where the prizes were getting distributed.
“I invite the winning teams’ captains to come over to the center to receive the checks…”.
The captains received the checks and turned back towards the dressing room (which surprisingly is one of CMC’s pantries, which had been converted temporarily). They saw a huge crowd making a rush towards the place.
Perplexity in everyone’s eyes. “Why is there a mad rush to watch the final proceedings…”!
Even I wondered.
“It’s evening snacks time in the office”, someone whispered at the back of my ears.
I looked at my watch. It was 17:25 hours.
Though the match never was an exciting or an enthralling one on that day (To be reasonably honest, it never even resembled a cricket match except for the willows, the red leather and those six stumps), there never was a dull moment throughout the day’s proceedings. I had my time’s worth watching the hilarious show enacted by our own amateurs.
“The Man of the Match is….”
Before I could make note of who the man was, the name got dissolved in the heavy hubbub generated by the clinging of tea cups, porcelain wares, spoons, snack munching mouths and many garrulous tongues.
A Neville Cardus or a Peter Roebock would have refused reporting this match even for a top rated sports journal. I did not.
My day it was. Wasn’t it?
**The above is a fictional story I wrote for a company newsletter. Originally published on March 8, 1996. Has been reproduced/retyped here, almost word by word, barring ‘Americanization’ of a few words**