I wrote this short-story after being inspired by A.G Macdonald’s account of Village cricket in England, as detailed in his book ‘England, their England’. If MacDonald could write about Village cricket in England, someone had to write about the hilarious village cricket matches in my hometown of Kerala, India, between 2 competing panchayat wards. If you dont get certain words or situations, consult a Keralite.
The young man from 2nd ward, sporting a blue Nike cap, had nonchalantly tried to flick the quickie to the leg-side. But to his surprise (and to the bowler’s), the ball slowed down on bouncing. By the time the ball reached the batsman, the young man had swung the bat far, wide and wild. The ball, with all its roundness, came into his exposed groin.
Painful, yet true.
He stood his ground, inhaling a whole mouthful of air, showing red, plump cheeks. Below him, the ball kept on turning like a whirligig. Ignoring the pain and his pathetic condition which was difficult to describe, he bent down to take the ball. Suleiman, the bowler, who was formerly in the KSRTC, and currently unemployed after a suspension, watched with held breath, displaying utmost angst. The young man, clutching his groin with his left hand, bent down further and picked up the ball with his right hand and threw it to the bowler, in the truest of sportsman spirits.
Suleiman jumped, punching the air, letting his lungi rise in the process and expose his blue underwear, as the umpire, the tutorial lecturer, stared through a disgusted expression. Suleiman then turned towards the umpire, and gathering all his voice, shouted into the umpire’s face, “HOWZZZZZZAT?”
The lecturer stood in a particularly unfazed manner, which contained traces of both existent disgust and introduced dismay. “How’s what?”, he returned, as calm as a summer evening.
“Handling the ball. The ball wasn’t dead when he touched it”
The lecturer was relatively profound in the laws of relativity, and quantitatively proficient in the field of quantum physics, but he wasn’t so well-informed about the minute and minuscule laws of the willow-game. So, considering it absolutely apt, he continued his dead-as-a-dodo look.
But the 3rd ward wasn’t willing to take it in their lap. The wicketkeeper Suresh worked in setting up pandals for marriage and had more lack of knowledge than the honored lecturer in a topic as debatable as cricket. Yet, this was their last straw. The scores were level and the 2nd ward needed just one more run to win. They had squashed the 3rd ward in football and volleyball, and their best shuttle player Gopi had come to play in 3rd ward and thumped the nails out of every player. So, cricket was indeed their last straw.
Suresh made up his mind and in a strikingly similar style that the under-suspension Suleiman had displayed seconds ago, he jumped, punched the air, and landed on his feet, as agile as a gymnast and then shouted, “Howzzaattt?”
As Suresh ended his long scream, or shout, – whatever you may call it, depending on your personal taste of displeasing audible sounds -, he turned around to look at his fielders to see how they reacted. None of them moved – they stood perplexed at the acoustic ferocity of the keeper and the visible loyalty with which he played for his side. After a split-second, they got their voices back.
The entire fielding side, now in a unified chorus, echoed the words into the honored tympanum of the tutorial lecturer. The lecturer, simply struck by the unanimosity (a pitch-perfect blend of unanimity and animosity) of the appeal, and to a certain extent, by the pitiful state of the 3rd ward, and not out of the knowledge of any new-fangled, fancy rules of the game, lifted his right hand in the air and stuck out his index finger, which stayed in the air, signifying a cul-de-sac for the short, yet promising innings of the young man in the blue sports cap.
The fall of the wicket was greeted with rapturous applause. The situation was desperate now. 2nd ward needed just one run to win the match and they had many wickets left. Two balls remained. The crisis was truly impending.
The new batsman, the military Jawan on leave, walked out to bat, displaying the pugnacious pride he earned from the army, and a prudent, yet belligerent bat-face. He came to the crease, and after taking a quick inspection at the pitch in a sachinesque manner – oh yes, he did tickle his crotch – and a quick chat with the runner, rested in the crease on his a-ton-each legs, in one of the most unorthodox and visibly distasteful stances that the game called cricket had ever seen.
Suleiman, after having been hit for two boundaries in his previous over, was now overwhelmed with confidence at his prolific knowledge of the novel legalities of the game. In a very dominating attitude, (one that did little to even bother the Jawan, who had the experience of many types of battles behind him) Suleiman picked up the red cherry and proceeded to take his long run-up.
He came barging past the poor physics lecturer and stretched out his massive right hand into the air and with a quick unassuming action, turned it around, letting the ball go from his hand.
The red ball shot out of his hands and fled like Old Nick towards the three stumps pressed into the red soil. The Jawan, who had much experience blocking out enemy trenches, unfortunately had a paucity of knowledge about feeding the bat on a plum, pure yorker, and ended up letting the ball castle his middle wicket. Hearing the death bell behind him, the Jawan knew that it was all over, that this was another of his lost battles. Yet, an Indian Jawan never lets go of his pride. He lifted his bat and inspected its bottom, flashing clues to everyone around that it was not really his fault, but the fault rested with the inadequateness of the willow, which appeared shorter in the hands of the gigantic Jawan. Behind him, the keeper Suresh was dancing around in circles. Two wickets in 2 balls. What a finish!!
Suddenly, Suresh stopped dancing as he looked at the umpire who had his right arm stretched out sideways. Suresh sprinted over to Suleiman who was staring at the umpire as well, and let out the suppressed words from his mouth into the ears of Suleiman.
“What’s he signaling?”
“If I knew, I would’ve been questioning it long ago”
“I think he’s signaling a wide”
“Give your mouth to the horses”
At that moment, the lecturer, sensing the schism of doubt cleaving the honored brains of the gifted cricketers before him, spoke out.
“No BALL?”, Suresh and Suleiman went off in chorus – and then looked at each other, amazed at the coincidence, and then proceeded, Suresh first, “What no ball?”, followed by Suleiman, “What no ball?”.
The honored physic lecturer pointed his significant finger towards third man. Babu, the electricity lineman stood there, smoking a cigarette. It was the fifteenth and last over of the match and so far not even a ball had come to third man. Bored and disinterested, he did what any bored electricity lineman would do; smoke a filter and puff out the dullness of the day.
Puzzled, Suleiman turned towards the lecturer again, and hesitantly asked, “So what?”
“While fielding, a fielder is not supposed to hold any object in his hand, is not supposed to sit down, is not supposed to lean against any inanimate object on the field. All these instances are liable to called no-ball. I suppose, Suleiman, that you are not the only one around aware of the laws of cricket”, the lecturer finished, proud of his own eloquence.
Suleiman looked beat. Without a word, he walked to take his long run-up. Behind him, the Jawan continued his unorthodox stance, unaware of the reason why he was let on to bat again. But the Indian Jawan is not to ask questions; the Jawan is not to think. The Jawan is to do and die.
He was dead once, a ball ago. Now he is alive again and he is going to do it. He is going to win the match for his ward.
All the while, Suresh kept staring at the umpire. Then, he blew his lid.
“I bet there is one instance where you wouldn’t call no-ball if you saw me clutching something in my hands”. And he walked away to take his position. The lecturer, as calm as ever, excused the attempted vulgarity.
As Suresh flounced on, he looked at Babu, who between all the talk, had finished his cigarette. Now noticing Suresh stare at him, Babu was tempted to prompt a short conversation.
“Why was that a no-ball?”, he queried, unaware of the decent, demure dialogue at the runner’s crease.
“Go ask your mother”, Suresh replied, followed by the choicest of profane tirades, immensely unfit for the print medium. Then Suresh carried on, to his position, satisfied, as Babu stared dumbstruck, failing completely in following the import of the words.
Considering it all fate, Suleiman started to bowl again, first of all looking around to ensure that no one was smoking or sitting down. Having lost his confidence entirely, he came into the crease, and bowled. Just that. No descriptions for such simpleton services.
The Jawan, with renewed confidence, had waited with bated breath to see if the bowler would repeat the gem of a ball he had bowled earlier. But as the ball left Suleiman’s arm, the Jawan sensed it to be silly, simple and soft. In his days he had learned the scout motto ‘to be prepared’, and prepared he was. He watched the ball like the cow watched the old moon, and then fed it the bat, flogging the ball with all his might. And the ball, like a giant juggernaut, was now set in motion.
Suleiman’s brother Hyder Ali carried a just-for-kicks attitude towards cricket, and therefore very rarely came to play – hence was decisively unaware of the constitutional aspects of the ball-game. Moreover, whenever he came to play, he had to field in the inner circle, because all the prominent players fielded near the boundary rope, giving them a chance to rest, the fact being known to all that few of the batsman from 2nd ward could manage to hit the ball past the close-in fielder (Very few of them managed to even hit the ball). But now, as a result of some astral blunder, Hyder Ali found himself at short mid-wicket to be a certain hindrance to a fiery red ball racing at him.
On the 22-yard pitch, all types of emotional battles were taking place. Chandran, who along with Hyder Ali worked for Sahib as daily-wage masons, was in the runner’s crease. Seeing the Jawan flog the ball and the ball race towards the clumsy Hyder, Chandran was now sure about the single and called out with all his hoarse eloquence, “NOW!!”.
The Jawan, like a torpedo on range, shot out of his crease.
Racing in aerial proportions, the ball had no sympathy whatsoever for an expedient terrestrial congruence with a person as clumsy as Hyder, and despite his best efforts, the ball bounced on his palm and fell to the ground. Even as the other fielders encored their rancor at him for having missed a crucial catch, he was – in all his excitement for having stopped a ball for the first time – hurrying to pick up the ball.
Noticing the agility with which his colleague had stopped the racing red ball and was now going to throw it to any of the ends, Chandran stopped dead in the middle of the pitch. In front of him, the Jawan was charging like a battering ram, with his head down, and his heavy legs almost quaking the red soil, altogether resembling a Brontosaurus on charge. The extinct animals should be grateful to the Jawan for reinvoking their forgone memories in such a marvelous manner. Chandran had only a moment to decide what to do. Having taking the decision, Chandran turned around and fled to his own end, the Jawan behind him like a battering ram, with his head down.
Hyder Ali, please with himself at having stopped a ball which was hit so hard, now picked it up and wildly threw it at the batsman’s crease, the entire excitement exact.
The Jawan, enjoying every bit of his sprinting bliss, came into the crease with all his force, as the weak, old lecturer took a few steps back, honestly aware of his senile disposition. The Jawan, now breathing heavily, looked around through a victorious face-frame having won the match for his ward, only to be snapped out of his trance by the scrawny, almost emaciated figure of Chandran standing next to him. In a state of shock, he turned to look at the batsman’s crease. Suresh had wasted no time to whip the bails off. The lecturer once again lifted his index finger in the air. The Jawan stared through with disbelief at Chandran.
“@#$%”, and he walked off the pitch. Some things are sometimes better excluded out of print.
“I’ll see you after the match,” the Jawan blabbered towards Chandran as he stoutly walked away.
The result of the match now pivoted on the panchayat postman, the terribly thin Janakiraman. He seemed to have realized this as he walked in to bat, waxing with tension at every step he took, intermittently brushing the quiff of hair on his forehead with his right hand, as his left hand desperately hung on to the willow. The scores were level, and a little quirk of fate could get the postman a single off the last ball, and a victory for his side.
The postman occupied the crease, stretching his bony legs before the 3 stumps. Suleiman giggled at the sight and then picked up the ball. The entire fielding side was now teeming with vigor. Hyder Ali was jumping up and down and giving pep-talks to his other team mates. At third man, Babu had taken out the cigarette packet from his pocket and thrown it down, offering a glimpse of concentration to everyone. Suresh, without even uttering a word, like the newsreaders for the deaf, was indicating to Suleiman to bowl at the off-stump line, and on the front foot. The weak, old lecturer was looking around to see if anyone was smoking, or sitting or leaning on the trees around. The batting side sat on the wall and talked in hushed whispers. Amidst all this, Suleiman started to bowl.
The entire fielding side, the 2nd ward batsmen, the umpire, Chandran, and the trembling postman watched as Suleiman came into the crease, once again barging past the umpire, and let the ball off his hands in pursuit of any of the 3 stumps, or maybe all.
The postman suddenly sensed the immense danger he was in as he saw the ball raging for his left leg put forward. But at his disposal he had an acute talent for survival, which he displayed as he shuffled his legs and hustled the ball awkwardly forward, primarily as an act of self defense and then as a cricketing stroke, whilst the lecturer stared through all this with a slight consternation.
But, wonder of wonders! The ball, on contact with the willow, attained momentum of titanic proportions. The postman watched with dazed horror as the ball raced like a bloodhound in the air towards the twisted, contorted faced of Suleiman who was going through with this follow-through. At the last moment, Suleiman lifted his head to look at the batsman. That absolutely did nothing to mitigate the effect, as the ball came with all its force onto the thick rounded nose of Suleiman. He bent down on his knees, clutching his face, squirmed a bit and fell flat on the pitch. The lecturer stood, unsure.
The fall of Suleiman was tailgated by the demure decline of the postman. Terrified by the lurid assault he had conducted on a fellow cricketer, the assailant fainted to the ground. Both the sides stood breathless watching the mind-boggling turn of events.
The 2nd ward carried the postman away in their arms, while the fielding side examined the broken nose of Suleiman and then carried him to Dr. Ravi’s clinic. The batting side reproved Suleiman’s carefree follow-through as the reason for all the troubles, while the fielding side cursed the barbarian battery done by the postman on a poor KSRTC driver under suspension. Although the blaming and cursing continued, none had a proper exegesis on the outcome of the match. Not even the knowledgeable lecturer as he walked away with the 3 wickets in the batting crease. The huge stone which was used as the wicket in the runners end, stayed there all night for the next day’s match.