Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reunited

6 PM on a sunny June Saturday evening. A grass ground tailor-made for cricket, 20 miles north of Seattle. The Wizards play the Last Samurais. I'm a Wizard and we're defending a modest 96 in 16 overs, on a tiny ground where flicks and edges could mean six runs.

Over the past few years - and I realize while typing itself that I've written about my disassociation from cricket far too much recently - cricket and I had sort of parted ways. It used to be the love of my life in Mumbai, with so much thoughts, energy and waking hours expended on it. But I moved to the US in 2009, had a few modest games for Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and moved to Seattle in late 2011 - that signaled the end of my cricketing days. I did play a game or two here and there, but without any practice, and without consistency, my bowling - something that meant so much to me back then, was nothing to write home about.

A few weeks ago, I reached out to a team online to be part of a tennis ball league in the Seattle area. The Wizards were kind enough to play me straight away without seeing me practice. I bowled in a game after roughly three years, and didn't disappoint. Games on slow astro-turf pitches demanded a very different set of bowling skills. I adapted. But I wasn't thrilled either as I wasn't fast enough, not accurate and nowhere near as aggressive as I used to be. The next two games were the same way - just passing the Wizards bar but letting myself down.

But now, it's the 2nd over of the game and I'm bowling my first ball. Surprisingly, the run-up is super smooth and I'm faster than I've ever bowled for the Wizards. The ground smells of grass, and the late afternoon sun is still harsh on my face as I look up in dismay - the batsman was so close to edging! Next few balls, I focus on the run-up - and lock in the stride lengths well in advance. Shoulder speed is just a function of the smooth run-up, and sure enough, I'm faster than before. I'm thrilled. I start panting in three balls though, as I'm not used to so much physical exertion. But I'm not giving this up. A top edge results in a wicket. My first hard earned wicket for the Wizards and my first real exaltation as a bowler in years. Two more overs follow - another wicket - this one much better than the first - as it was the result of an elaborate set up that resulted in an edge to the wicket keeper, and a tight over followed by similar performances by the other Wizard bowlers as well, and we win the game. Third win in a row, but the first time I've played a role in it and I relish every single moment of it.

On the way back home, I felt something I hadn't felt in such a long time. And this is why cricket is such a great game. You could write reams about strategy and playbooks and how plans change games, but in the end - when you run in to the pitch with the wind blowing loudly into your ears in perfect silence, you could be on a crowded ground in Azad Maidan in Mumbai, on the rough muddy patch behind my building (where, by the way some of the most competitive cricket in the world is played) or on a clean cut manicured grass ground in Seattle, but it's all the same - you're focusing on the ball in your hand and the magic you can do with it, and whether you can outfox someone who has a bat in his hand and the exact same passion and aggression as you. It's a mind game and it's about overcoming all the things that make you less than who you are - work stress, personal dilemmas, existential questions, all fade away as your purpose in life narrows down to a single tunnel vision. As you run closer to the wicket and leap just before delivering, it's all crystal clear - life is never as clear to you as it is in that instant - and when the plan works and the batsman edges into welcoming keeper gloves, it all makes sense - pain and gain, effort and output, risk and reward all lie before you and you're victorious. Few things in life make you feel as rewarded as that instant when a fast bowler experience gets his wicket.

As fleeting as it is, that is a moment worth describing. If you've never played cricket, or have never been a fast bowler, I don't know how much of this will make sense to you, but it is one of the most treasured experiences of my life and I could keep talking about it. I'm feeling like I've reunited with a long lost friend, and the feeling is incredible. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh man. Bharath i had goosebumps reading this article. "That feeling" has been expressed so vividly. Long live cricket. And an awesome article.
-Vatsal(too bored to sign in to any of the accounts)