For someone who has never ventured anywhere close to a bat and a ball, deciding to play the sport sounds like an apt answer to a mid life crisis. Yes, I did play in the Samrajya (the beautiful condo I call home) Ladies Cricket Tournament couple of weeks ago. My friend had gone ahead and added my name to the list. I was overwhelmed by what I had gotten into. My mind ran back to schooldays; Primary School Sports Heats; and I instantly wished my memory had deceived me; my classmate Vidya and I would find ourselves competing for the second last spot, whatever the race. I mean, what consistency man!! I smiled. No, I wasn’t fat at all, back then. But somehow, my acceleration never stepped up. So sports and I were never meant to be.
I was nervous, disheartened and mad to say the least. I dreaded being a part of Cricket!! Something I had hated all my life. But my inner voice seldom lets me quit. So there I was, not quite set to play, but still supporting my uncanny inner voice to go ahead.
I have neither known nor seen any women upbeat about cricket. Now was I in for a surprise!! There were 53 of them… I was the 54th and the only disinterested soul. I couldn’t believe it. So many women not just around to cheer, but play the matches too.
So morning rituals in every household underwent a renaissance. Enthusiastic women were seen downstairs soon after packing kids off to school around 7.30am flaunting their sporty look, all set for a hands-on with the game itself.Warm ups, catches and matches began coloring the landscape of the condo. The otherwise quiet neighborhood would now be abuzz with screams and sounds of balls getting either hit or missed. There would be occasional cheer for the crème de la crème. You could count them on your fingers though. They doubled up as trainers for the not so well acquainted.
Initial practice sessions began with a zest and a zing. Level 1 was all about throws and catches. It was quite a sight. 6 women on either side standing 10 feet apart to throw the ball across; with an abandoned car tyre lying on the ground to mark the centre. Now, that reminded me of the Indian team from the superhit movie Lagaan. No, we were not as bad, but reflexes don’t lie. And predictably enough, most women were found on a wild goose chase as the 4 inch Lawn tennis ball caught speed.
Then there was batting, bowling and fielding. It’s hilarious how the little green ball when hit with strength would make its way past at least a couple of women making a pout with their hands trying to get a catch with the mere movement of eyeballs, while the rest of the body would bend over or move only after the ball had whisked further away towards the next woman standing. Not that I am some champion to make such mean comments, it’s only an observation. Personally, I fell way below the league of brave hearts that stood their ground to at least attempt the catch.
The mere ‘fatak’ sound of the bat and ball connecting would send chills down my spine and I decided to move away rather than torture my soft, mushy palms with pain and disappointing the bats(wo)man aiming a boundary. As a result, I ended staying out for a better part of practice. From the corner of one eye, I would reckon the good players and console my petty mind there is a whole majority like me. I cannot be from Mars (men are from Mars right?) Instead, I focused on finding excuses for not playing. I read the instructions as ‘8 over a match’ and quickly decoded it as 8 players on a team, which meant the 9th member was a spare – a genuine display of any cricketing knowledge or even English. My captain rolled her eyes and gave me the ‘oh you don’t seem that dumb’ look. It was easy enough to go and let her know I didn’t want to play. Sadly, my brain can never take the letters ‘QUIT’ in that permutation. I didn’t quit. And I didn’t practice. Now could this get any dumber!!
As the day drew closer, I saw women in their 50s stretching their limits too. That felt like a whack on the butt for being absolutely shameless to even try. I finally decided to take the plunge and figure how I could possibly end up being close to an asset rather than stand as unscathed as stumps with my feet dug into the ground appearing like some sort of a bimbo.
I pestered the one man who knew his way around the bat and the ball. So, 3 days before the matches, we headed down for a catch practice. He threw and I tried to catch. He threw again and it hurt my fingers. We went on and on for about half an hour and I felt like some mad dog chasing that ball for God knows what. Hubby did a great job as a trainer – throwing the ball in all directions – left, right, closer, farther; pacing it differently, throwing it high up sometimes and so on and so forth. By the end of the hour, I was kind of able to hold on to the ball without letting it fall off. On the hindsight, my fingers had turned black and blue. They were swollen and I was in pain. I felt like some 6 year old deftly controlling any tears from rolling out lest the onlookers came up with wrong conclusions. In the meanwhile, my wrath put poor hubby almost at the doorstep of family court for signing divorce papers.
Despite all the tantrums, hubby patted me saying I did well. As always, I was stumped by his kindness. Over the next couple of days, I caught sight of some teammates. We would decide on a place and time and after some 100 odd messages on Whatsapp, only 4-5 would turn up and practice. And yes, we would strategize!! (Women are ultracrepidarian you see).
I love looking for a silver lining in every situation. The biggest positive about my team was that every soul barring myself was working and still upbeat about the match. We practised all we could and planned on going out for coffee, whether we lost or won!! I thought that was terrific. Secretly though, I got judgemental and thought these women were totally not my type (only to be defied later).
I was too nervous to play on the d-day. I didn’t understand the balls. I had never held a bat before. Yorker, Full Toss, Wide Ball, No Ball were mere words that sounded familiar with no meaning available in my brain. Fortunately, our match was in the afternoon. I had all morning. I dragged my better half downstairs while other teams played on. I asked him to bowl. This was my face-off with the game. And just like catches, hubby began his over. The first 6 balls went straight at the stumps. It was unnerving. Of all things embarrassing I had witnessed so far, the least I wanted was to play a few balls before heading back to pavilion. I couldn’t bear the fright of losing my wicket on the very first ball.
So now, hubby decided we needed some theory before I could swing my bat off like Dhoni. I stood all ears and tried my best to fathom the words falling out from his mouth. He asked me to look at the ball, not the bowler. And try and figure what the bowler was going to do. It sounded spot on; but difficult to put into practice, given my dedication (that I decided to show up the very morning of the match for nets). Nevertheless, I tried. Some 15 balls later, miraculously enough, my bat finally touched the ball. It was as though some girl had obliged a hopeless guy following her day after day, month on month.
Then I began to hit another and another. It felt good. The confidence that had vanished away started to soar like mercury on thermometer. A few more balls and I decided to relax and watch others play. My hubby is my darling angel. He told me not every bowler was going to bowl like him. ‘So go ahead. And have fun’. I joined friends to watch the ongoing match. Cheering others felt fabulous. The Smashers were smashing away their opponents. They were among the top 2 teams and we were going to face them next.
After almost an hour, it was our turn. The toss was in our favour. We decided to bat. My Captain sent me out first; my maiden match!! We had an audience; I mean who goes to watch a bunch of crazy women all out to beat the odds at batting!! Add to it, my family made up for a better part of the audience. My Mom, Mom-in-law, kids and hubby were all out to cheer me.
This was it. I had to face it. Inside me, I was going cold. I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. But then, I thought of my coach – my hubby. I took a deep breath in, and looked at the ball; not the bowler. And there, came the very first delivery, from the fastest and strongest player. And ‘fatak’, my bat connected with the ball. Phew, it was nothing short of a miracle. I could feel my blood flow again. It felt warm. All nervousness subsided. Hubby was right, after all. Her ball wasn’t as fast as his. The tension suddenly popped like bubbles. And after that, there was no looking back. I enjoyed my batting. And being the only left handed woman had its perks.
We lost the match; unfortunately you cannot borrow fielders like runners. And hence the other team won with a few big hits in 4 overs flat. But we scored a brilliant 22 against the team that was finally going to win the trophy. The last woman standing did a commendable job of holding on to the wicket till the end and scoring at the same time. We had begun to bond as a team. We were screaming, we were cheering and we were having fun. We were in the moment; there were no thoughts crossing our otherwise feminine brains. And did I tell you, we were color grey; the 9 Shades of Grey. We called ourselves Zappers.
We had another match to play in order to qualify for the semis. Now my Skipper insisted we win at least one match. And that’s exactly what we did. We batted phenomenally, we bowled well and our fielding looked a tad better, one match down the line. It was team effort. I got a few big hits too. It felt great. Winning made such a damn difference!! No matter the lack of practice, or playing with complete strangers or even the fact that I was sulking and brooding until an hour ago. Now, right now, I was in the moment, I felt ecstatic; we felt on a high; a victory can make you intoxicated. The feeling was beyond compare. We were elated; we felt light. We decided to flaunt ourselves to the world – with our booties on scooties. We headed straight to a café and ordered cold coffee. This time we bonded like never before. It felt like we were meant to be friends.
The day had turned out surprisingly great. It changed something within me. Later that evening, I was still on cloud 9. I drove all around the place with my favourite pillion member (no marks for guessing). For the first time in life, I understood the joy hubby would have felt all these years, playing a sport of his choice and regretted stopping him the many times I acted like such a girl. After this, it would be difficult to refrain him from indulging. We made it to the semis and lost to the other best team. But we weren’t sad. We couldn’t expect to win given our practice history. We enjoyed the rest of the day cheering others and applauded the winners and everyone else that showed true sportsmanship. Things ended on a great note sowing the seeds of new friendships.
That week, something within me moved in permanence. This sudden influx of Cricket rushed into my system like the first showers of rain on parched Earth. It felt like falling in love when you are 16; it felt like I had made that dent in the Universe; I was overcome with this all pervading happiness that wouldn’t fade away. I loved every bit of my play and that of others. I felt alive and back in college. For those couple of days, the condo looked like another planet vibrating with cumulative energies of women that are otherwise operating in the guise of mothers, wives, daughter-in-laws. It felt liberating.
Wouldn’t it be selfish to forget the friend who was responsible for signing me u
p in the first place?