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The lure of that one ball in cricket.

by Gaurav Sethi

Watching The Disciple, I was taken in by the protagonist, Sharad Nerulkar’s sudden impulse to gatecrash a game in a Mumbai maidan. Till then, he was a largely immovable object. The only form of exercise had been splashing a glass of nimbu pani on an objectionable man’s face across the table. 

Sharad did get that one ball to play. 

What happens when I walk within playing distance of a game? I crave to play. Yet I do not want to intrude. The need to play far outweighs not wanting to intrude. But there is a balance, often that goes with who’s playing. If it’s kids down the road, I measure their intensity and openness to hand me the bat or ball. Often it’s a casual measure, and I enter into a quick Hi, followed by a “Can I bat one ball?”. Usually the bat is handed to me. 

What happens when you give into the game? When you play again? From watchers, that so many of us have lapsed into, we damn right come alive again. It’s fleeting as life these days, but it’s that gasp of overpowering life one feels when you hit the surface again – you breathe again. What it does to your SPO2 levels is another thing. 

You connect to a happy space of childhood. When bat and ball held sway, when every evening brought playtime. 

I haven’t gone looking for that one ball in cricket, it’s often happened to me. Four houses down, the kids obstructing the road were a common come hither. The urchins at the bend with a plastic bat, how could the bully in me spare them. 

The left turn, onwards to the temple park where I played so much tennis ball cricket with my mates. But that somehow seemed more adrift, unwelcoming, and I don’t recall gatecrashing too many games there. 

If I took a right at the crossroads instead, our childhood park had become a rich old man’s botanical garden. The erstwhile pitch is a walking track. 

If I walk straight on, towards Vasu’s, my cricket accomplice through his growing years, there is a game down the steps too. 

But it was usually when cricket appeared out of nowhere on holiday that I could not resist. 

Walking down Juhu beach, a game waved at me. I asked for a bowl. Got it. Often my fellow traveler, Vandu would be asked to capture the moment. This moment, with the slaty Arabian sea alongside, mid-on hunched forward, it’s been frozen as my twitter cover photo forever. 

That was my one ball in Bombay. 

Before that on the same trip, walking through Koregoan park’s sleepy tree covered roads, a game woke the devil out of me. It was a proper game, one that you’d be advised to not gatecrash. With the brashness of someone on vacation, I took my chance in between overs. Perhaps they couldn’t refuse an older, eccentric man. 

That was my one ball in Pune. 

Walking through a large yawn of a square, I stumbled on to these Pakistani teenagers in Barcelona. I just had to. How could I not. I talked up our India-Pak match. I bowled a few, was blasted on the second. Batted too. (Me in flight before being clobbered has been my whatsapp DP for ages now) 

That was more than my one ball in Barcelona. 

After a birthday bash, at Rajat’s office in Okhla Industrial Area, the road outside presented a game under streetlights. The prospect of cricket after many beers, why not. The intensity of both request and duel are upped. So I bowled, batted, till my friends lost patience with my indulgence. 

That was my one ball in Okhla. 

Walking out of Koti Resort, little pink cheeked Himachali kids hurling themselves between the rhododendrons. Even their small bat couldn’t deter me. 

That was my one ball in Koti. 

On the Delhi metro, a solemn kid with his oversized sunmica bat. There was no ball but I did have my camera phone. So I lured him into a straight drive. 

That was my one ball on the Metro. 

The last thing I expected to see on the Banaras ghats were people alive with cricket. But I did. I stayed on the periphery of the game, viewing it from the Ganga alongside; closed in from leg slip and started clicking it like a trigger happy Playboy photographer. Captured the heave, the miss and the clean bowled. And that was innings closed. Surely it was my time. It was. Bat was handed to me. I heaved. Edged. It ricocheted into the cracks of some huge step of stone. I pretended to look, but before long, I waved my goodbyes and was off. 

That was my one ball in Banaras. 

And much like Sharad’s gatecrash at the Mumbai maidan, I was never the same after that one ball. It didn’t matter what I did with that one ball. My plea had been answered. These stray cricket gods had given me my one ball. 

The ball was my ladoo. I gleefully accepted. It was holding that ladoo in my hand is when it clicked. Whether the ladoo delivered did not matter. 

What mattered is, I asked. And they answered. There was no lapse between ask and answer. It was prompt. 

When the playgrounds open again, when the kids down the road resurface, when Vasu returns from his internship, when I walk down that road again, it will be with the knowledge not to take that one ball for granted.


TARUN said...

Really nice piece. Very readable. .

Gaurav Sethi said...

Cheers Tarun

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It could be a song " One Ball is all I want" !

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Yeah. And another bilingual one - Ek ache!

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