He desperately wanted his friend to succeed. Cricket was Sagar’s life and his greatest ambition was to play for his school and then move on to greater heights.
“Hey Aamir, wake up you lazy bones! I’ve got terrific news for you,” Sagar said, shaking his friend.
It was a Sunday morning and even though it was 8:00 am, Aamir was dead to the world. The night before he had sat up late reading the latest Harry Potter.
“What’s it, buddy?” Aamir opened his eyes and scowled.
“I made it to the final eleven!”
“I…. don’t get it,” Aamir said, blinking at him.
“Idiot – I’m in the school cricket team’s final eleven! I’ll be playing today’s final match against Wisdom High School.”
Aamir’s eyes widened and he sat up.
“That’s great. But till last evening your name was in the extras, wasn’t it?”
“It was. But things changed after that. You know Mohsin of Class X-B?”
“Yes, of course! The burly fellow with the funny action.”
“Yep, that’s the guy. Apparently, he has an upset stomach and won’t be able to take the field. Actually, it was neck and neck between me and Vishal of Class IX-D. But according to Sam my fielding and batting tilted the scales in my favour.”
‘Sagar, you just made it by the skin of your teeth because you are a better fielder than Vishal. Moreover, in a crunch situation I feel you can swing your bat a bit and make a few runs too’, Sam told me.”
Samuel Turner was their school cricket team captain and best batsman.
“Sagar, this is your best chance, yaar. If you do well you can find a permanent place,” Aamir said jumping on the bed with excitement.
“Yes, I know. Mohsin’s stomach won’t be protesting for too long. I’ll have to play really well and see that irrespective of Mohsin’s tummy condition my place is secure.”
“When is the match starting?’
“At nine, but I have to report at 8.30 so I better get going.”
“I’ll be there by nine,” Aamir said shaking his friend’s hand and wishing him good luck.
Wisdom High School (WHS) won the toss and elected to bat. Their opening pair of Gurdeep and Bikram started quite slowly and then picked up speed. In the 9th over the score was 36 for no loss. In the 10th over Rehman of TPS bowled a Yorker, which went through, shattering Gurdeep’s stumps. In the very next ball, the newcomer Vikas took a single. Bikram was now facing Rehman who bowled a straight one. Bikram was expecting an Outswinger and was caught off guard. He offered a simple catch at silly mid-off.
WHS was now 37 for two. WHS Captain, Tarun, had joined Vikas. Sam decided to introduce Sagar. With two new Outswingers in, this was the ideal time to try a new bowler about whom the opposition had little or no idea.
Aamir watched with bated breath as Sagar marked his run-up. He desperately wanted his friend to succeed. Cricket was Sagar’s life and his greatest ambition was to play for his school and then move on to greater heights. Neelabh was sitting beside Aamir. Neelabh enjoyed playing as well as watching cricket and had a good knowledge of the game.
Sagar started on a trot and, picking up speed, bowled the first ball. It pitched outside the off-stump and then veered away. The umpire signalled a wide.
Sagar turned back and then came charging in. ‘Nobe’ the umpire indicated. Vikas, who had heard the call in time, stepped out and swung his bat. The ball went straight over long-on for a six.
The WHS supporters who were gathered in one corner of the pavilion jumped up shouting and screaming in delight.
“That’s eight runs and not a delivery counted,” Neelabh said shaking his head.
Sagar who had been bowling over the wicket now decided to bowl round the wicket. The next delivery went down the leg side and the umpire signalled a wide. Sagar then pitched one too short and Vikas pulled it for a six.
“Boo, boo,” screamed the students of TPS, their frustration mounting with each ball.
“Why doesn’t Sam talk to Sagar? I think Sagar is trying too hard. He is trying for the extra bounce and speed. As a result, both the line and length are going awry,” Neelabh muttered.
The same thought seemed to have struck Sam who walked up to Sagar and spoke to him.
As Sagar walked back Aamir felt sorry for his friend. His shoulders were drooping and it was as if he had already lost the battle.
The next two balls were straight on target. However, Vikas, who had gained in confidence, moved his feet quickly and punched them through extra cover and mid-wicket for a boundary and a single. Tarun took two runs off the first ball that he faced from Sagar, followed by a single. In the last ball of the over Sagar tried to bowl a Yorker. Vikas, who was now facing him stepped out and lifted it over the bowler’s head. It landed a yard inside the boundary and then crossed the ropes.
“Sagar has conceded 27 runs in his first over. This is the highest in the tournament so far,” Neelabh said gloomily.
“What’s going to happen now?”
“He’s not going to get another chance to bowl, at least in this match, that’s for sure.”
Sagar’s one-over seemed to have turned the tide completely in WHS’ favour. Vikas and Tarun put on 67 runs for the third wicket before the off-spinner Rehman scalped Tarun. Vikas continued batting in an aggressive manner and, with support from the middle and lower order, took the score of WHS to an extremely challenging one of 264 for seven in the allotted 40 overs.
During lunch Aamir and Neelabh found Sagar sitting in one corner, away from the others, picking at his food.
“Hey Sagar, come on yaar! Don’t look so down and out,” Neelabh said patting his friend on the back.
“I messed up everything. Even in my worst nightmare, I couldn’t imagine my performance would be this pathetic. Just imagine 27 runs in one over. Everyone is sniggering at me. My cricketing career seems to have crash-landed even before it could take off,” Sagar said looking at Aamir and Neelabh.
“All is not lost, Sagar. You still have a chance with the bat.”
“Aamir is right. Even though you failed with the ball you can try to make it up by putting up a good show with the bat.”
“I go six down, I might not even get a chance to bat. Moreover, I am a much better bowler than a batsman; when I couldn’t bowl properly where is the question of me batting with such brilliance as to make up?” Sagar said gloomily shaking his head.
“Sagar, I have seen you practice at the nets. You are pretty good with the bat. You are tall and wiry; if you try, the ball will go searching for the boundary. Believe me, with a little bit of application you will be able to make quite an impact with the bat. Even the legendary Kapil Dev started off as a fast bowler but soon with guts, gumption and some unorthodox techniques he metamorphosed into a match-winning batsman,” Neelabh said.
“Neelabh is right, Sagar. You don’t have anything to lose. Go out into the middle and give it all you have. I’m sure you will succeed. Someone as good as you should not give up hope so easily,” Aamir said.
“We shall be there in the stands cheering every run you make and even those you try and don’t make,” Neelabh said winking at Sagar who answered with a wry smile.
Read on to Chapter 12
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