What with the thoughts oscillating between cockroaches and cricket, and vice-versa, I found myself seriously contemplating the ethical aspects of using Laxman Rekha to mass murder cockroaches, when I found myself looking around the ground in a brooding sort of way. The cricketing kids, each one of them, were masticating, probably chewing gum, and the lone bovine inhabitant of the Karamana School ground looked at them with what seemed to be a mix of contempt and disgust, the sort many an original composer might have reserved for Annu Malik, and then proceeded, the cow not Annu Malik or other composers, to spit out all the grass.
It was under such tranquil settings that the words hit me - “That went like a tracer bullet”. I spun around and expected to see Ravi Shastri standing behind me. Just vacant space. Must be the mind playing tricks. Having watched a lot of cricket on TV recently, I may have started hearing and seeing things. Just as I started banging my head on an imaginary wall, worrying whether it was a psychological disorder, I heard it again - “That went like a tracer bullet”. This time, I was not to be fooled. You can fool some people some time and though some of my acquaintances say that you can fool me all the time, this was not going to be one of those times. The batsman had just completed a helicopter-blade-rotation with the bat, the ball having somehow managed to find a spot on the edge of the bat to make contact had gently sailed over the head of the short cover fielder and rolled into one of those distinctive 7 pits that make the Karamana School ground stand out from the rest. Talking of those pits, a bit of their anatomic description wouldn’t be out of place. They are about 10 feet in length and more than 3 feet in depth (The depth measurement is accurate, because whenever I have gone into one of the pits to retrieve the tennis ball and looked above, I had this forlorn feeling of being cut off from humanity, I couldn’t see even a trace of the outside world, so it was definitely more than 2.5 feet in depth). If Neil Armstrong had been fortunate enough to have been born somewhere around Karamana and spent his formative years playing cricket in the Karamana School ground, he wouldn’t have sweated as much as he did when after landing on the moon and looking around to find 3-4 gigantic spheres around him, he was left with the unenvious task of first identifying from amongst them our own planet and then waving towards it. Poor bloke must have felt like we did when we sat for the Engineering Entrance exams and the neither the questions nor any of the multiple choice answers seemed familiar. At least we had the option of walking out of the exam hall and gracing one of the 14 movie theatres that dot the Thampanoor area with our presence. What a digressor I am. As I was saying, if Neil Armstrong had been familiar with Karamana School terrain, he would have identified the 7 pits on the earth’s surface in a flash, and shouted from the moon – ‘There it is, the Karamana School ground, I can see it very clearly’ and would have jumped with joy waving at Mother Earth. But instead he failed miserably at identifying our planet and tried to cover it up by babbling something about steps and leaps.
Without digressing again, let me come back to the tracer bullet story. After considerable strain to my eyes, ears and the passive block inside the head which goes by the epithet of brain, I identified that it was the wicket-keeper who was trying to be Ravi Shastri. At the end of the over, I tapped the keeper on the shoulder, to which he turned around and looked at me like Yuvraj does when he hits a massive six. Ignoring the look, I proceeded to ask him why, whenever the batsman tries to get the bat on ball, he says it went like a tracer bullet. The haughty tyke proceeded to enlighten me – I am the skipper of the batting team and I have to encourage the batsmen. But why the tracer bullet reference – I asked. I had to endure more of his supercilious gaze when he said – It’s a cricketing terminology to appreciate a good stroke. Don’t you watch cricket on TV?
O Ravi Shastri, what have you done to our younger generation with your cliché-ridden commentary. A passerby would have noted that I looked as if I might break down any moment, when further tragedy struck. The next over had commenced, the batsman again managed to edge or nudge the ball over the head of the short cover fielder, when the bowler standing mid-pitch with hands on hips like Zaheer Khan, barked at the poor fielder – These need to be taken at this level. Catches win matches.
Eh, at this level? What level? Karamana School level? Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. How could you do this? I watched your debut test series against England and immediately became your fan, I watched the WCC and the Rothman’s Cup praying each time that you do well. And now, this is what you do to our future crop of cricketers.
There was more to come. One of the fielders, trying to inspire the bowling team said – C’mon boys. There is a real buzz around the ground now. Rameez Raja, Ian Bishop, Danny Morrison – the culprits. I looked around. The cow, having spit out its dinner, was far from a buzzing mood, nor was the lone mutt doing the rounds of the ground. Then I noticed it. This was real. There was a real one, but a bus not a buzz around the ground. A KSRTC bus probably plying from Pappanamcode to East Fort.
At which time, the batsman did an Arun Lal, after hitting the ball through mid-off, by announcing - that is a boundary, when as always happens with Arun Lal’s such pronouncements, some fielder strolled up to field the ball before it reached its destination.
Now I waited for someone to say that the atmosphere was electric when I noticed another strange drama take place. The bowler managed to induce a thin edge and the ball settled in the right armpit of the keeper. The bowler appealed strongly but retreated quietly when the umpire stretched his right hand in front of him and showed a sort of sign which looked like he was saying something about a particularly dangerous curve to the right on the F1 track that Shcumacher used to handle with ease. I was intrigued.
Ignoring the haughtiness of the wicket keeper, I again did the tapping-on-the-shoulder routine. ‘The bowler stopped appealing when the umpire used some strange sign language. What is that all about?’ – I asked. The contemptuous look on the Wicket Keeper’s face returned. He began to lecture on the virtues of watching cricket on TV - You don’t watch cricket on TV. That’s your problem. Haven’t you ever seen Darrel Harper do it to indicate it is not out.
Eh? Hit me with the cricket bat. Hit me with the tennis ball. Hit me with the stumps. Hit me with the bails. Oh no. When an umpire indicates that the ball is sliding down the legside and your younger geenration thinks it is how you deliver your not out decision, the future of the cricket in the country is doomed.