The build up
It was Saturday night at around 10:30PM when my mobile beeped. I instantly looked at it to check if the sms had anything interesting for me. It was my captain Anba announcing the playing XI - Tashi, Anba, Adi, Kothand, KK, Bharath, Pradeep, Guna, DD, Karthi and Morarji. Seeing my name at #3, I had a lump in my throat. Was he expecting me to go in at that position? Even before the thought had completed, my mobile beeped again. Anba's message "Adi, can you play one drop?"
I replied, "Sure Anba, I can. Would love to in fact. Thanks for the opportunity"
Anba replied, "Fantastic Adi. You deserve and created your opportunity ;)"
Then came my arrogance, "I have a feeling I will succeed tmrw and will be the key in our win! :) Fingers crossed! :)"
Anba assured me, "I am confident too ;)"
I went to sleep after that conversation. Was making me feel good. I announced to my wife just before hitting the bed, "We will definitely win tomorrow".
Her immediate question, "Why? Is your opposition made up of people collected randomly from the streets?".
"No, we are playing Frost. Our traditional rivals. We have lost to them 4 times out of the last 5 matches"
She had her usual smirk on her face about my overconfidence. It was an expression that conveyed that it was my usual arrogance before doom! :)
Got up as usual at 5:30AM. Got ready and was about to leave home by 6.10AM when my wife got up and discovered that the milkman (milkwoman actually) had forgotten that we existed today. So I had to get milk and that delayed me by about 10 minutes. I left home by 6.20AM. I was scheduled to pick Kothand and Tashi up from the Guindy bus stop at 6.40AM. It wasn't that far away (20 mins was ample time to get there), so I drove happily listening to "Aaromaley" in a loop! :)
Kothand was on time as usual. Tashi had missed one train and would come in a little later. So Kothand and I had some intense discussions on IPL, CSK, and a whole host of things including his immediate shift to Delhi on work which would ensure that he wouldn't be with RnW for the next 3 to 4 months. RnW without Kothand is like a mathematical equation without its cross-checking methodology. Tashi joined us at 7.00AM. And we left for DB Jain Grounds.
Must have reached at around 7.20AM or so. Don't remember checking the time. Was quite disturbed that I couldn't make it at 7.00AM as my captain expects us to though I was fully geared up for it. But decided it was not something to gloss over right now and focussed on warming myself up. Went for a round of joggging around the ground - "quite a big one", I thought while tracing the boundary.
I guessed that others were done with the usual football warm-up routine (I am not a big fan of playing football to warm up before a match as it might result in an injury) as Anba had started catching practice. Its a form of craziness where people assemble in a semi-circle around one guy as the center, and that guy hits the cricket ball towards any of us and we are expected to catch it. It is called catch practice - apparently catches come to fielders in matches in the same way. Pardon my arrogance, I rarely drop a catch in practice and rarely caught one in the matches! But I do practice catching religiously! :) Once this was done, we shifted to ground fielding. One guy hits the ball along the ground and we (the ones who are practicing) stop the ball and throw it back. We are practicing on how to stop the ball from going between our legs. I am sure you can understand the embarrassment I face whenever I let a ball thats travelling at the pace of a cycle rickshaw through my legs and to make matters worse it goes for a boundary. So, you just do this practice and tell yourself that you did your bit before the match - what can be done if your brain didn't work when the ball came to you during the match?! :)
Vignesh Raja accepted very obediently when I asked him, "Can you just throw a few balls at me? I want to get a feel for the ball hitting the bat". And his feedback during the session was very useful. He said,"Adi, you are not moving in the direction of the ball which is why you are missing the deliveries that are full in length and outside the off stump". We were so engrossed in the session that when we thought of approaching the ground we saw RnW assembled in the usual huddle format (without any physical contact, mind you! We are all straight!) ready to take the ground to field! We had missed the toss itself! :) Anyway, how does it matter? I was feeling good that the ball was hitting the middle of my bat. Before I end this part, I want to mention something about Vignesh Raja. He wasn't in the playing XI. Yet he made it to the ground. And without even the slightest display of reluctance agreed to give me 'batting practice'. This kind of humility and team spirit is something that I am yet to see even in established teams! Karthi and Pradeep showed the same spirit in our previous match. It is amazing to see such camaraderie. Let us keep this on forever. Thanks everyone.
The Bowling & Fielding
We bowled like a dream. KK and Tashi - the opening bowlers - bowled so damn well that standing at short midwicket position I was able to overhear the batsmen discuss during over changes, "The ball is bouncing. Wait for the bad ball and be careful. Get a helmet if you want". The batsmen were clearly psyched up. KK's scalp of BK, Frost's most consistently successful batsman, through a brilliant catch running backwards by Bharath was truly motivational. I haven't shouted so loudly in quite a while! :) It was what changed the complexion of the match at a mindgame level. FCC always had BK anchoring one end and the others going after the bowling. This time their anchor was off. And they truly lost direction. BK had to come back on to the pitch in the guise of a substitute runner to pump the guys up to make them stay at the crease and gather runs. Anba's wicketkeeping stood out from our fielding effort. I must also add that his field placements looked good. They were in tandem with the bowler's strategies as they should be. Really loved fielding this innings out. Our bowlers bowled very few wides, so we might not have fielded for too many deliveries over 150 (as we did in our previous matches). That definitely left us a lot more refreshed to come out and bat.
When we stepped out to chase 142 down, I had no doubts that we would (not could, would) do it. The only point was whether we could do it within 20 overs to get the bonus point. (If you chase down the opposition total within 80% of the stipulated overs i.e. 20 overs, you get a bonus point). Tashi and Anba started in their usual solid style. I was all padded up and ready to get out in the middle. I requested Morarji to throw a few balls at me to get a feel of the ball hitting the bat. Yeah the same torture I inflicted on Vignesh Raja a few hours ago, I decided Morarji was too happy and needed some balance of work. Morarji did it very diligently and sincerely. I totally appreciate his willingness to come out in that hot sun and throw a few balls at a player who hasn't gone beyond a 20 before. Now, that's team spirit again for you! :) I love this team I tell you!
Coming back to the match, we were at 37 off 7 overs when Tashi got out to a ball that kept low but he was going very well at the current rate. It was the ideal start you reqired for a chase of this sort. A steady one with the new ball that has become neither too hard nor too soft. And the main bowlers - atleast their opening ones - have exhausted some part of their quota of five overs without a wicket. The fielders' noise would be a little low because they have been under the 11 o clock sun for half an hour now. Ideal time to enter the wicket for batting.
As I crossed Tashi, I could see him feeling a little sad that he couldn't make as many runs as he could have. I asked him, "Did the ball keep low?". He replied, "yeah". That alerted me to face the bowlers with a slight bend in my knees to take care of the ball that occassionaly likes to rub itself against the mat throughout its journey from the bowler's hand to the stumps. As I took guard Anba whispered something which I couldn't hear. Anba clarified in a louder whisper, "They are making an issue of the time we are taking to take guard and all that. Let's not get into that". I immediately understood that this was Frost's level of mind games and nodded my head in agreement to Anba.
The first delivery I faced I defended it off the front foot on the offside. The second delivery was a short-of-length one slightly outside the offstump asking to be cut. I forgot Gavaskar's principle of no cut shots during the first session of a test match and went fully for it. Only thing was I was a micro-second late in my shot. The ball took the edge and traveled straight to the keeper's gloves. The keeper was from an outsourced agency. He dropped it. Actually I think if he was in the habit of collecting deliveries that came straight to his gloves, he would have held on to that one. But I guess being outsourced, he had a different problem! :) Whatever it was I was thankful for Frost's outsourcing policy had saved me the embarrasment of getting out on zero on my debut at #3 position for RnW!
Then came on a bowler who looked like was on drugs or something. He started bowling beamers at me. Just that these were beamers for those batsmen who stood three steps outside the crease. I am of the Rahul Dravid mould - I stand with the crease parting my legs. So these were juicy full tosses dipping into my thighs waiting to be creamed through midwicket where there were no fielders. He bowled two of those and both disappeared off the middle of my bat to the mid-wicket boundary. He then tried to compensate by bowling one outside the off-stump - good line - but length was the problem. It was pitching at his own feet. I cut it behind point for another boundary. I felt like Virender Sehwag. 13 runs off 5 deliveries :D
Then came Bk. Before the match started I didn't know he bowled also. Someone told me he was an intelligent stump-to-stump bowler. His first ball to me was an uncharacteristic short one on the leg stump which I promptly deposited for 4 runs at the fine leg boundary. But I wasn't sure I had timed it well so I was running very fast (ok, as fast as I can!) between the wickets. I was telling Anba, "Anba, run. I don't think the timing was good". Anba was tired after keeping for 25 overs and then opening the batting is not an easy task at all. He just said, "Adi it might not have been good. But it was good enough!". Then came the best shot of my innings (my pick): a flick off a ball on the offstump towards the fine leg boundary. I had timed it so well, I knew the minute it touched my bat that it was a boundary. For this Anba said, "Ok, so did you time this one well?". I was grinning.
My innings proceeded in this way. I kept dealing in boundaries. Our aim was the bonus point. After Anba got out after a glorious knock, KK walked in. I remember one conversation that I had with KK when we had around 23 runs to go for victory and about 9 overs left. To get the bonus point we had to make those runs in 4 overs. KK said, "Adi, we have 4 overs left and 23 to make for the bonus point. Let us make it in 3 overs". I replied, "KK, never employ me with your company mate". Was referring to his innate ability to compress targets and expect delivery. But if he does what did in the match at his company also, then I am game. He took strike the next over and blasted 4 4 1Wd 4 2 1 . off that over. We only had to make some 4 runs to win next and we comfortably made it home.
To have beaten a team to whom we lost repeatedly in the past with so many overs to spare was a feeling that was undescribable. To have made the first fifty of my cricketing career at the age of 30 is something I am going to value for the rest of my life. A small snippet before I end this long monologue: The bat with which I batted was a Kookaburra bat. It was my birthday present last October (Oct 2009) from my sister-in-law. Her condition while buying the bat was this, "You should make one fifty in the first three matches that you play with this bat". This was the second match I was playing with that bat. Most of RnW thinks that it was the bat that made the 50 while I was just holding it showing it off. I somehow agree to it. The bat is who I dedicate this knock to! :)