Monday, December 5

To live is to fly

(Sorry readers. Stuff came up. Lost the thread of the post and then interest. Anyway...)

Part 2:

KS was in mental turmoil. As usual. His team had made it to the quarter-finals of the footy tournament, which made him happy. But, and there's always one of those tripping him up, the quarters, semis and finals would be played on Sunday; the quarters in the morning, the semis around 5 pm and the finals at 9:30 pm. This was the official schedule, which, in India and especially in Pune, can be summarily dismissed. Assuming the Sunday Boys made it to the final, it could safely be said that the game would begin no earlier than 10:30 pm. Therein lay the roots of our hero's turmoil. 

Although he spends a shocking amount of time in Pune, KS is actually based in Hyderabad. Being the pain & discomfort loving bloke that he is, KS makes the torturous 12 - 14 hour bus trip too and fro pretty regularly. This was one such trip and he was to leave for biryani land on the 8 pm bus on Sunday. If the Boys lost. Which was not what KS wanted. Checking for the last available option for Sunday night found some Neeta Volvo horror that skulked out of the city round about midnight. Neeta Volvo services being synonymous with every MC/BC/etc. gaali one could come up with, was not an option at all. So, train options were examined and seats found on the Pune-Hyderabad Shatabdi leaving at 5:50 am. One was booked.

On Sunday morning, I slept in and reached the ground after the quarter final was over to find the team sitting rather silently behind one of the goal-posts. They'd won, but only just. An enormous slice of luck ensured that a hopeful punt up-field by KC had inexplicably bounced over the charging keeper and into the net, giving the Sunday Boys a 1-0 ticket to the semis. I missed this evening game to watch the new Tintin movie with the family. Having followed and cheered the Boys road to the final thus far, I can say with complete honesty that I forgot about the game while the movie was on. At 8 pm, I received a happy text from KS, announcing that the Boys had thrashed their opponents 2-0 (in the shorter form of the game, this was a thrashing) and were in the finals. 

As I parked the bike and walked around the periphery of the field, there was a noticeable buzz in the air. As fate would have it, the final was a repeat of the previous year, in which CF and KS's team had lost. This was, effectively, a grudge match. Once the tomfoolery over the chief guest's appearance had been settled, the players began their warm-ups. The Sunday Boys were calm and cheerful, practising their short passing game before desultorily taking a few practice penalties. Their opponents, United FC, spent the entire time taking penalties, a forewarning of their philosophy of play. Some time later, the field was watered and chalked afresh and the game began. 

From the first whistle, it was obvious that United FC were not going to allow the Boys to settle into their usual rhythm. Every time one of the Boys got the ball, 2 of the opponents would swarm him, forcing him to boot it toward a team mate or commit an error. When United had the ball, they would quickly make their way towards the opposing goal and shoot. Although an ugly style of play, it was effective, since it intimidated the Sunday Boys, both mentally and physically. CF found himself on the receiving end of more than a few tasty tackles and was definitely not his usual commandeering self. After a goalless first half, United FC were awarded a penalty since the Boys had conceded 3 corners (3 corners = 1 penalty, which was the rule). This was a team that got to the finals without scoring even one goal from open play. Penalties were their strength, so the result of the penalty was a foregone conclusion for most of the spectators.

It was a well-taken penalty, I'll give him that. The ball arrowed in towards goal at the right height and in the right direction. But finals are a different ball-game (pun whatever... you decide) altogether. For some reason, the ball hit the inside of the post, but deflected out and into open play. An audible sigh of relief came from my right, where CF's young son was there to see his dad lift the trophy. CF's brother, built like a brick-house, stood next to the kid and also looked about as thankful as a huge, intimidating bloke can. The game went on. A few minutes later, it got ugly. There was a clear hand-ball by one of the United FC players, but the referee signalled for a simple foul rather than a penalty. CF, already rather ragged thanks to the rough treatment he was getting from the opponents, lost his temper and almost marched off the field in protest.

2 minutes before the game was to end, the Sunday Boys got a penalty of their own, through the 'corner' rule. Scoring a goal this close to the final whistle would effectively kill the game and everyone knew it, both on and off the field. As an aside, I would like to inform the readers that the phrase 'could cut the tension with a knife' is both true and in this case, apt. I did not want to watch this penalty being taken but couldn't take my eyes away from the game unlike CF's kid, who'd turned in the opposite direction and was studiously examining an interesting patch of sky. 

What happened next took the game from ugly to uglier. As CF swung his foot to take the shot, a laser light began zagging on the ball. Whether this distracted him we will never know, but the ball came nowhere near the goal post. Once again, Lady Luck ignored the Sunday Boys, who requested a retake of the penalty, which was refused. Over on the sidelines, the owner of the laser was immediately identified and warned by the authorities. But the inherent frustrations of the game bubbled over in CF's brother who confronted the laser guy and began a brawl, which threatened to shift the focus away from the game. At one point, it looked like things could get really bad for the audience as various people began to congregate around the brawlers and cheer them on while loud curses could be heard coming from both camps of supporters. 

Somehow, the melee was stopped and the game went on. However, something had gone out of the Sunday Boys who became indifferent and listless. The final whistle confirmed that the game would be settled by penalties. The rest is history.

Now, I'd love to tell you how the Sunday Boys consolidated all their discipline, focus and accuracy and scored every goal flawlessly. Real life though, takes the piss out of fairytale endings. The Boys could not convert even one of their three penalty attempts and United FC won by converting just one chance. The Sunday Boys had given it their best shot, but it wasn't enough. The final result was not a story of redemption but one of repetition. Prizes were distributed, speeches were made and the crowd dispersed. 

No doubt it would be awesome if this post ended with some inspirational words or uplifting messages. But it doesn't work like that. A glum KS left for Hyderabad the next morning. A few days later, I happened to pass by the ground and found some guys in the middle of a game. Life goes on. 

Song for the moment: The kids are alright - The Who       


Kshitij said...

Kick ass mate..lovely, very well written, could'nt ask for more(apart from taking my ass in the begining, el uselesslo..)

G said...

@Kshitij - Tankoo, saar. The taking case part was unavoidable. Got to stay true to facts, right?