Tuesday, August 09, 2005
SEASONS IN THE SUN
Twas a happy hour that saw Suresh Raina’s doddering grandfather, tending his farm in Modinagar in the outskirts of Ghaziabad, learn that the apple of his eye had got the coveted selector’s nod to don India colours. Mohan Raina’s favourite grandson had at last fulfilled a promise that the lad’s own parents had never shared, less articulated.
Sanu, his dear boy, now an international star….Mohan’s eyes clouded over…
And in another corner of Delhi, the brat in question was endeavouring to drown himself in spirits of his own choosing.
Stardom at last !
After restive nights, sweaty pillows, grimy gloves, D-Day dawned bright and clear in Damn-bulla. Kaif fell in the 19th over and our man walked in at four drop to join Dravid—India’s top order delivering as always. Dravid was nonplussed to find Raina walking in ahead of Venu Rao as he had decreed. Aah, that Sehwag guy was so used to doing things by himself in the dressing room—must watch my own place before that upstart unseated him too ! Quietly and quickly Dravid chanted the 14, 216 tenets of batsmanship that had made him The Wall—Raina, a willing if nervous listener.
Dravid needlessly took a single off the second ball of The Smiling Assassin’s over. As TSA grinned in greed, Raina broke into a cold sweat. Don’t worry, don’t worry –sab theek ho jayega- Dravid’s scamper down the wicket to cool him down only got on his already frazzled nerves. Still, there are things that one must do alone.
How he missed his mother !
Scratch, scratch,scrape, hit away, his bat tried to smoothen the pitch !He’d never known the wicket would be so grainy. One leg, said the umpire. Better than to bat outside leg.
Mallas gaana entere, hollered the ‘keeper, in Sinhala behind him—Let’s get him !
Murali began his run-up—that sinuous angular gambol to the wicket that he had watched a million times on the telly. His hair stood on end.
Murali reached the wicket—over the wicket. Thank God for small mercies—the ball had only to pitch somewhere near leg stump and he had the entire off side to tap for a single. And he would be off the mark. Hurray !
Ball pitched. Short. Raina, years of assiduous practice, was into position in a trice. Surely a brace off this ball and he would cock a snook at those roosters above him in the pecking order. Began to slant the bat away to give himself room. Behind him he felt Sangakkara moving to his right too—a sure sign of turn. If the ball spun, it would finish up a foot outside his off stmp—an easy cut and no danger of hitting the ball in the air, although Jayasuriya at point and Jayawardene in the covers waited like vultures.
A couple of milliseconds later. Surprise, surprise , what was this ? The ball kept coming. Maybe the old fox was losing it. They said, the hand is the first to go, isn’t it ? And Heaven knew that those gaunt fingers had coaxed many kilometers of spin before him. He could surely get this behind point and be done with it. He waited…
Another couple of milliseconds. Surely something’s afoot. The ball had not turned at all. Whatever’s the matter with Murali ? Maybe all those experiments in Australia. Never mind, I think I must reconcile to blocking this now. Three more left in the over , any road. He started to get back into his batting stance.
Strangely, the ball picked up speed. Hadn’t expected that, now. OK, I will be forced to block my first ball in ODI’s. Fine, might yet eke a four of him after this. Let me just defend.
Not to be. The ball went on, unstinting in its devotion, unswerving in its direction. Raina, now definitely cramped for room, gave up all semblance of elegant left-handedness and desperately tried to keep the cherry out. Too slow, Howzzat, and the umpire’s finger was up before the Lankans had even found their voice. And perhaps, a twinkle in his eye too.
He had failed. He knew that. His team, his childhood friends, his neighbours, his coaches, more importantly, his grandfather , his mother—Oh, if only the ground could swallow him up ! His cheeks burned crimson, he blinked back a hot tear as he walked away.
Woh Doosra tha, called Dravid as he walked past his skipper.
Raina remembered thinking what a twit of a captain we had who couldn’t even count. Why, even he in his anxiety knew that was the third ball of the over .
Doosra, indeed !
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