Rahul walked in at 2 down, the opener walking past him hardly keeping his opinion on the umpire’s LBW decision to himself. He walked in knowing his team was out of the running if they lost and that the only way to shut his opener up was to win this game. He punched gloves with the non-striker who repeated what he (and every other division B cricketer in the US) had heard a million times – “the bowling is shit, call loudly.”
The bowler ran in and he met the ball with the middle of his bat. It rolled towards the cover fielder who congratulated the bowler on a “fantastic” ball. He muted the noise around him and adjusted his helmet. He had middled his first ball - game on.
Three wickets had fallen for 15 runs in 4 overs. He was still timing the ball well though and after picking the cover fielder on the first two balls of the 12th over, he unfurled two cut shots that both rammed the ball into the batting cage that stood right behind the boundary line. He cut the ball in the air but he knew he was going to be ok today. His technical fallibility would be offset by the point fielder’s fear of the moving ball.
He saw the throw coming in from the long-off fielder and he dove to make his ground. The umpire had a startled look on his face when he saw Rahul pick himself up – he didn’t get why this kid got so intense about a sport played on a field built for soccer, baseball and cricket (in that order) in a country that couldn’t seem to get past the novelty of people dressed in white.
Rahul patted the dirt off of his forearms and asked the umpire, “Balls to go, please?'”.
The run rate had crept to 9 an over, there were 13 overs left and Rahul headed over to the new batsman walking in. “Ravi, the bowling is shit, call loudly.”
“You got it captain,” he replied.
Rahul had always been an offside player, sometimes at the cost of ignoring the vast patch of grass greeting him on the leg side. The cover drive was his go-to shot and he cut before he defended. The opposition knew this and Rahul saw a 7-2 field, taunting him to use his weakness to pick up the pace. They needed 96 runs in the last 10 overs and the bowler delivered a short ball, slow on pace but rising towards his helmet. He swiveled and hooked - for the first time he understood what cricket commentators meant when they said, “You know it’s a 6 when you hit it.”
“He hit the ball like a tracer bullet” still failed to make sense to him though.
He could hear the shouts from the ‘pavilion’ – “bat up! bat up!”. It was only his second 50 but at that moment it hardly registered in his mind. He played the inside out cover drive and sprinted for 2. He got set for the next ball and played another lofted drive to extra cover and picked up another 2.
“All day, boys, all day”, he muttered under his breath.
He sat down next to the stumps, tired and cramping. They were 8 runs and 6 balls away from the end. One of the fielders stopped by, “Get up. You’re almost there” and gave him his hand.
Rahul spoke to the non-striker, “8 runs, 6 balls”.
“2 fours or a six and a two? I would rather you hit a 6,” he replied.
Rahul took his guard again. The bowler delivered a quick off cutter that he missed completely. He walked away from the crease.
“8 off 5, boys, pressure’s on them” the keeper shouted. Rahul couldn’t mute them anymore.
Another off cutter, another swing and a miss.
8 off 4.
In the process of trying to win, he had dismissed any other possibility. But now, 8 runs and 4 balls away, all he could see was him missing the next ball.
He looked around and watched the fielders clapping their hands, egging the bowler on. He noticed, almost as an afterthought, no fielder standing at deep square leg or deep mid wicket.
As soon as the ball was released, he walked across to his off stump and flicked the ball way over the mid wicket boundary. He slammed his gloves against his partner’s who said, “Really? I was just joking earlier.”
He whipped the next ball, a full toss on middle, over square leg and it was game over.
“Good game”, he said shaking hands with the opposing captain who just stared blankly as 10 grown men came running towards Rahul.
People walking their dogs around the boundary line saw 11 men in whites hugging each other.
The umpire, though, had finally seen a game of cricket.