Thursday, January 9, 2014

The final ball

Cross-posted at CricketCountry.

***

It had all come down to the last ball: India needed nothing short of a hit that would clear the ropes at the New Wanderers to win the match; AN Jha, their new replacement, had been roped in at the last moment: he could neither bat nor bowl nor field, but it had been rumoured that he had the ability to cause miracles with his blessings.

He had not bowled, and MS Dhoni had to place a fielder behind him when he strolled at mid-off; surprisingly, however, the sheer captivating aura of the man had prevented the South Africans from scoring quick runs. He took the ground barefoot and never chased a ball: he simply prayed.

The genius of young Quinton de Kock, the perseverance of Hashim Amla, the destructive ruthlessness of AB de Villiers or the adaptive improvisations of Faf du Plessis did not come handy; only Jacques Kallis, with his immense display of respect for the oldest cricketer on the ground, had managed a sedate 93 not out as the hosts had managed to reach 221 for six.

At 56-and-a-half Jha was easily the oldest international cricketer the world has seen across formats: he had not expected a call-up even an hour before the match; Dhoni, however, got to know that Jha was in town, and had specifically asked him to turn up for the match despite Duncan Fletcher’s vehement arguments. Emergency arrangements were to get a new jersey made, and it was well after toss that Jha had got ready to play.

It had, however, come down to the last ball. After a frugal vegetarian meal during the innings break Jha had meditated for almost the entirety of the Indian innings, only to be woken up by a surprisingly sombre Virat Kohli at the fall of the seventh wicket. His teammates helped him with his gear just in time as Mohammad Shami, the ninth man out, had started his long walk back to the pavilion.

Jha had his gloves and pads strapped on, but had once again refused to put the boots on. His teammates insisted, and even Fletcher’s expressionless face had a concerned expression. Jha had given in, and just as he walked out to bat, a cohort of young couples from the crowd rushed at him and touched his feet.

“After the match,” said Jha.

“It’s almost time, jee; we do not have more than ten minutes,” uttered a helpless voice from the couples.

“Do not worry,” said Jha in a tone that oozed of such reassurance that the couples smiled and waited outside the ground in eager anticipation.

Jha had one look at the pavilion, and then, with the wisest of smiles, took his shoes off just outside the ropes as he strode inside. Nobody, not even Dhoni, could hide their surprise at this little event. “The man considers the ground as holy as a temple,” echoed Rahul Dravid’s awestruck voice on air, interrupting Ravi Shastri’s “the match has gone down to the wire now.”

Jha approached the crease at a speed inversely proportional to that of a tracer bullet: a confused de Villiers had tried to appeal for timed out, but kept quiet when he saw the umpires approach Jha and ask for his blessings. The aura was so encompassing that the entire South African team – even Dale Steyn, who was on a hat-trick – followed suit. Even The Reverend David Sheppard had not been able to invoke such respect from his opposition.

Jha looked at the fielders. “How can I defeat these men? They are all my children. We’re one big family.”

Richard Illingworth walked up to Jha. “Sir, I know what you are thinking; however, the match must go on for the sake of the thousands that have come to the field today.” Adrian Holdstock, who had just joined the conversation from square-leg, nodded in acknowledgement.

“Then so bit,” thought Jha. “The couples are also waiting.”

And so Steyn bowled. “A slow, very slow, juicy full-toss, waiting to be hit,” screamed Shastri; and the batsman hit it. The ball soared over the spectators – straight into the Johannesburg Melrose Shree Siva Subramaniar Temple, rung the bell hard, and flew back smeared in turmeric and sandalwood-paste.

The spectators waited in bated breath as the ball flew back to the couples waiting eagerly. The crowd cheered in unison as the ball brushed the hair of each of the girls gently before returning to the turf. Both teams and umpires joined in the applause: Alok Nath Jha had managed to win the match and do the kanyadaan (albeit in an unprecedented non-trivial fashion) in one stroke.

On his way back to the pavilion Alok Nath blessed the newly married couples with the aashirvaad they were eagerly waiting for. Overwhelmed by the moment, an uncharacteristically subdued Shastri admitted: “I remember when he had performed the kanyadaan at my wedding years back.” “Mine too,” nodded Dravid.

***

After the awards ceremony was over Dhoni found the other unbeaten batsman taking his pads off.

“What was it like?” asked the Indian captain.

“Oh, a lifetime experience.”

“I have a question, though. I have never seen this brawny side of Babuji. He usually showers everyone with his blessings; I thought he would do something that would make the South Africans happy as well. Maybe run a five or something to tie the match. Why did he go for the six? And even if he did, how did he hit it so brutally?”

Taking off his second pad, Ravindra Jadeja winked back.

16 comments:

  1. Ghyam :). Just to clarify the last line - was it related to the earlier twitter phenemenon, in that when he bats, even the opposite batsman can hit Dale Steyn for six?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. No, it's not that; it's just that anything is possible.

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  2. Bhalo hoyechhe... ar Alok Nath er surname Jha... eta ekta bhalo info. :)

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  3. :) Too good! AN Sir will be proud of you :).

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  4. It just keeps getting better. My resolve to not read your blog in the morning - laughing at 9AM is not conducive to office discipline - gets broken and i have to pay for it.

    Excellent piece.... did not know about Alok Nath being a Jha.... the ending ..... Touché!!

    I have moved to Vietnam from KL - if you remember - could not find Mc Vitties in KL. hope i have better luck in HCMC.

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    Replies
    1. I just hope it's a good thing - your breaking office discipline. But thanks anyway!

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