Deafening loud cheers filled the atmosphere as I prayed for one last time and stepped into the bullring. There were 11 men waiting for me and another 11,000 cheering those 11 bulls. I knew that the deafening cheers were not for me and it was for the batsman who was just dismissed. Sachin Tendulkar was out for a well-crafted 120. As we crossed each other, our eyes met for a moment and the great man was gone for good. As I continued taking those measured steps of mine towards the 22 yard battle strip, the pictures of the day I made my debut as the 779 Indian Test Batsman was flashing spasmodically back and forth. It did bring a smile but the smile died as quickly as it bloomed.
27th Nov, 2000 was the happiest day in my life as my captain Sourav Ganguly presented me the prestigious India cap. As a 19 year old, I was considered the next best thing which could happen to Indian cricket. I took to cricket as an iron to magnet at a very young age and a solid stint of 2 years with truck load of runs in the domestic circuit earned me the moment I dreamt as a child. We were playing Australia in its den and the venue was Perth. I knew it can’t get bigger and better than this. If I perform here, then nothing can stop me. We won the toss and elected to bat. With the cool breeze behind him, Glenn ‘Mean’ Mcgrath ran in hard and fast to jostle us. Soon we were reduced to 48/4 and it was lunch. The dressing room was in a state of shock and my happiest day was slowly turning out to be an anticlimax for us. In the first over after lunch, the 5th wicket fell and my wait to be a part of Indian Cricket history was over. 49/5 and I get my first opportunity. Truth be told, I was rattled and if I saw a silver lining amidst the darkness, it was obviously to stand in the non-striker’s place and not face the seething Australians directly. Luckily, Laxman took a single of the last ball. That gave me few minutes to compose myself and tell myself that I did belong to this place deservedly. After 6 balls, I took strike to face the wrecker-in-chief of the day, Glenn Mcgrath and the first ball I faced was a peach of a delivery. It breached my defense and crashed the timber behind. My first tryst with Cricket in International level was anything but a disaster. 27th Nov, 2000 was supposed to be the happiest day in my life. The scorecard read 50/6.
Today as I walk in, the scorecard reads 180/5 and needing another 220 runs to win the test match and with that the series. We played quite well in the first innings to muster 452 runs in response to Australia’s 430 but I ended up getting a miserly 2 runs of 40 deliveries. Australia hit back in their second innings setting us a monumental 401 to win. The series stood at 1-1. Everything was at stake – India’s pride, a billion people’s dream and also an unknown batsman’s career. I knew that this would be the last chance I would ever get to prove myself at this level. In fact I was lucky to get this chance as a string of injuries to the first choice batsmen forced the selectors to pick me and I don’t blame them.
Blame reminds me of my debut match that ended in an innings defeat for us. I was run out in the second innings without even facing a ball as the striker’s straight drive clipped the bowler’s fingers and crashed into the stumps. I was backing up way too far and was caught napping. Thus, ended my debut match and with that the confidence that the selectors had in me. The selectors, media and cricketing experts who held me as a child prodigy just 5 days before, wrote me off stating that I lacked the right temperament to play cricket at this level. At 19 years, I realized the ways in which ‘The World’ works. Fickle World! I was not picked for the remaining matches in the series and I was dropped from the team at the end of the series. I joined the list of batsmen who had promised a lot, shown enough potential but failed to deliver when it mattered. I wanted to prove I can deliver and I set about repairing my fractured cricketing career. Three fruitful years of destroying many a bowlers’ confidence in the domestic circuit and a rage to succeed kept me going. The wilderness ended and I was picked as a part of the team to play against England. It was a 3 test series and I got my chance only in the second test. I was still searching for my first international run going into my second test match. After facing 23 deliveries, I opened my account in International Test Cricket with a simple push to mid on. It was a significant moment in my life.
Significant moments in my cricketing career have been few and far between. But every time an opportunity beckoned me, it was always in a match or series that had great significance. Needing 220 more runs and no specialist batsman to follow, I knew this match was also significantly poised as the series can go any way from here. I reached the pitch, had a chat with the senior partner at the other end and took an off stump guard.
After successfully opening my account, I took an off stump guard to face the off spinner. The ball spun, took my bat’s edge and flew to the first slip. My wicket opened up the lower order and the opposition was on the offensive. Three years of hard work yielded in 1 run. If my first innings was tragedy, my second innings was unfortunate to say the least. I stood there on zero notout as I saw batsman after batsman succumb and bite the dust. I was getting used to being a part of the losing side and the same script was re-enacted but with a different screen play. I was picked for the third and the final test and one thing which I badly wanted to do was to stay there in the middle and face as many deliveries as I could and then slowly take it from there. I knew I could do that because I had a glittering domestic career resume with 15 centuries and 20 fifties in 52 matches at a sky rocketing average of 64.47. Staying in the middle should never be an issue. Determined as a rock that cannot be dislodged, I stood facing delivery after delivery, playing dead bat and showing caution. I had eaten up 40 odd deliveries and was feeling confident to get off the mark and then came the howler – a ridiculous leg before decision especially considering the fact that the ball hit my bat and thudded into my pad. I felt cheated and at that moment I thought the powers above and the world in front of me have conspired to see me crumbling. Yes.. I crumbled and fizzled out completely in the second innings as I faced the bowler resigned to the fate that I would never be picked again. A furious swing of the bat to the very first ball and the wicket-keeper gleefully caught it and sealed the coffin with my career dead and buried inside! My test career innings’ read – 0, 0, 1, 0*, 0 and 0 – a potential that never prospered. I was dropped from the team for good and I thought it was forever. At 22 years, I was a done and dusted cricketer, soon to be former cricketer. I convinced myself that I lacked something but it was not the ability and if there was someone who believed in me, it was my coach who stood by me when I was down in dumps physically, mentally and emotionally. The immortal words of wisdom, my coach kept hammering into my head helped me recover from the rustiness I willingly got into and I decided to play and enjoy the game again. My coach said..
“There are times in life when the ability really does not matter. What matters is the attitude to absorb the pressure and thrive in it – suppressing all those doubts within, fighting all those fears within and killing all those distresses within. After all you need to simply hit a piece of leather with a chunk of wood and that is something you have always loved doing!”
Yes.. I loved hitting the piece of leather, high and handsome, with a beautiful chunk of wood. At 22 years, I knew nothing other than cricket and I loved the game sincerely and passionately. So what if I cannot play for India, at least I would do what I love to do and stay in peace. The next four years were bliss as I remained in peace and played the game I loved with lots of rigor and passion pocketing every record and cherishing every win in my career in domestic cricket. The call for national duty came and I was rushed to the same Australia where I went 8 years ago. This time I was not the celebrated child prodigy but a secluded growing-old batsman who was coming in to fill the batting order simply because the preferred ones were injured. But I respected the call and joined the team with nothing to lose.
I knew I had nothing to lose. I wanted to enjoy the moment however significant the match stood. 220 runs on a fifth day pitch with 85 odd overs to be bowled and 5 wickets in hand, the Australians were slowly choking us. My coach’s words kept replaying in my mind as I saw the bowler gather steam and run in towards me. It was my first solid defense and ball went rolling back to the bowler. He picked the ball and muttered a sequence of numbers which obviously were my scores in International Cricket till date and the game was well and truly on. I kept blocking ball after ball. It was frustration for the Aussies and I was obviously enjoying it. But we needed runs and I knew I cannot keep blocking all day. The barrier was broken and the suppression of 8 years of pain, agony and suffering exploded – I hit that piece of leather hard and it soared beyond the boundary ropes. It was a six!
Next day as I was having my breakfast, Sachin Tendulkar came up to me and showed me the headlines of a newspaper. It read “India wins a thriller… A star is born overnight” and the photograph of my first six was below those lines. I scored a maiden century and we won. It was my first victory! I retired to my room with the newspaper and somehow I was not able to take my eyes of that page in the newspaper and specifically that word ‘Overnight’.
‘Just that in my case the overnight took 8 long years to happen!’
(The above story is a work of fiction but the protagonist is one among us who keeps fighting failures and wants to succeed in life. Cricket and cricketers are just the medium I have used to tell a story which applies to everyone who wants to stand up a midst the ruins. Hope you had an enjoyable read!)