An early induction into the game of cricket is all well and good but the kid who enrolled in Loyola High School, Pune in May 93 didn't have a clue about the nuances of the game. This lack of knowledge can be explained by the fact that my family packed bags and hauled me off to Abu Dhabi in 1989. While undoubtedly a nice place, the U.A.E was no cricket Mecca, preferring to broadcast local club football games and camel races on the telly. The Arabic commentators for the football games were a bunch of loonies. On the pitch, the defender would be calmly passing the ball to another guy in his own half or the midfielder would cross the ball to the winger. It really didn't matter what innocuous move was being made because the commentators would risk a haemorrhage from minute 0:01, shrieking excitedly in Arabic about everything.
You literally could not understand what the big deal was about something even as plain as a throw-in. Was the chap about to do something acrobatic ? Was there a lot of money riding on how far he could throw it ? And what about the defender passing the ball ? Was he a major star ? Was the commentator being gruesomely murdered live on air ? Who knew ? So, not understanding a word, I'd watch as they worked themselves into a frenzy, until the forward took pity on them and scored a goal. This was the culmination of the commentators' lives. They'd shriek "Walla, walla, walla, walla.... gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooallllllllll." And then pass out for lack of oxygen, I suppose.
So anyway, while this was hilariously exciting, I gradually forgot what little I knew about cricket. Then, the family did a U-turn and we pitched tent in Pune. During that first P.T period in school, I watched enviously as my classmates batted with elan and bowled fast and furious. Tendulkar and Kapil Dev's names came up a lot. Fielding positions, thankfully still involved pointing and waving to different parts of the ground rather than the actual names. I mean, if someone had told me to field at deep backward square leg, I'd have quietly left the field, hoping no one noticed. So, while batting was not a bother, it took me a while to figure out overarm bowling and adjust the radar. Not being the most robust chap even then, I soon cottoned on to the fact that fast bowling was not for me. Everyone and his uncle wanted to bat and some of these guys were actually good at it, so I didn't chance my luck there. So, slow bowling was the only thing left.
Some moments are frozen in time, no ? The sequence that day goes like this. A sad, medium pace delivery was dispatched with contempt by the batsman who then proceeded with whatever passed for verbal jousting in 5th standard. For the next ball, I gave up the pointlessly long run-up, and decided on a 4 step approach to the wicket. I jogged in, gripping the ball across the seam and... honestly, I don't know exactly what I did next. My ring finger flicked across the seam even as my wrist translated the irritation of the previous shot into a whiplash moment. The ball arched gently to my right while the chap with the bat raised it for the customary Indian hoick. The ball bounced on leg and I winced in anticipation of the 6 that would surely follow. The middle stump was on the ground a second later as the ball spun viciously across the batsman and bowled him.
The wicket itself, I don't remember fondly. No, what I still enjoy is the disbelieving silence that followed it; the batsman because he'd been clean bowled, the fielders because the new kid had actually taken a wicket and I, because I'd finally figured out my calling as a cricketer - Legspin bowling. Now, all I needed was a few bowlers to emulate.
That year was 1993, remember ? In June, Shane Warne bowled his first ball of the Ashes series to Mike Gatting. In November, a bespectacled Indian called Anil Kumble bowled against the West Indies in the final of the Bengal Jubilee Cricket LOI series.
The universe doesn't give any more indications than it has to.
Song for the moment: I feel free - Cream