Sagar’s challenges continue. “I was dreading this would happen one day – my past would catch up with me. Now my cricketing career is finished forever.”
In the second week of September the Inter-School Cricket Tournament started. TPS did well but lost in the finals to the first-time finalist, Little Flower. Sagar’s personal performance was consistent, both with the bat as well as the ball.
In the first Terminal exams Aamir managed to retain the top spot, but in the second Terminals Shantanu beat him by 35 marks, bagging the highest in both English and Maths.
Aamir was shattered. “I think I got over confident,” he told Sagar.
“Till the final put your Literary Club activities on the back burner and get down to some really serious study.”
“You are right. I’ll talk to Sharma Sir. Jacob, of Class IX, has been shaping up quite well. He can take over as the President of the Literary Club.”
Aamir put his plan into action and started working harder than he had ever worked.
Aamir was quite happy with his performance in the Class X Board examination.
“I think I have done well but let us see how well the others have done,” Aamir told Sagar.
“What about Gopal?”
“He says he has done well in all subjects except English and Social Studies. What about you?”
“Thanks to your notes and last minute cramming I’ll manage a first class. While most subjects were cool, it was confirmed once again that I am just not cut out for Science,” Sagar said.
“Sagar, you yourself don’t realise how intelligent you are. You are cut out for every subject. But you seem to have taken a vow not to study,” Aamir said and Sagar just smiled.
During the holidays a selection camp was organised for finalising the Hyderabad Team that was to take part in the Under-16 Cricket Tournament for the Gavaskar Trophy. This was the most prestigious tournament in the country for school students and the best young talent could be seen in the fray. Many top cricketers of the country had got their first major break in this tournament.
Sagar made it to the sixteen-member Hyderabad Team that was named the Hyderabad Blues for the sky-blue colour of the team’s dress colour.
Riding on a thick slice of luck and a spirited display of some gutsy cricket, the Hyderabad Blues team did rather well. It entered the finals, beating more fancied teams from Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. In the final round it had to take on the team from Mumbai — the Mumbai Reds — who were the reigning champs. The match was to be played on the 25th at Lal Bahadur Stadium.
On the evening of the 22nd Sagar was practising at the nets. He had not yet made it to the Final Eleven. And it looked highly probable that in the finals too he would be cooling his heels in the pavilion.
Irfan Khan, the Captain of Hyderabad Blues, called him. Irfan, a wiry sixteen year old of medium height, was a student of Saint Peter’s High School. He was a dashing left-hand batsman and a brilliant close-in fielder.
“Hey Sagar, I have terrific news for you.”
Sagar looked at him, hoping against hope that his prayers would be answered.
“You have made it to the Final Eleven,” he said, slapping Sagar on his back. “The Mumbai Reds have four left-handers on their side. Your Inswingers can prove very effective against them. You still have a couple of days to go. Practise as much as possible.”
“Who’s being dropped?”
“P Satyan. He has not done all that well in the earlier matches. Moreover, the Mumbai Reds have an impressive batting line-up. We need to strengthen our batting. It was felt by our team’s think tank that since you are also a better batsman than Satyan you should be preferred.”
“Thanks,” Sagar said, shaking his captain’s hands and went back to the nets with his feet barely touching the ground.
The next day after net practice Sagar and Aamir were sitting in the stands munching groundnuts, which Aamir had got for Sagar. Aamir had taken permission from the Principal to be with Sagar.
“Sagar,” Sagar and Aamir looked up. It was Irfan. His face looked tense.
“Sagar, let me come straight to the point. Were you on drugs earlier?”
Sagar reacted as if he had been slapped. Aamir got up.
“Why are you asking this, Irfan bhai?”
“You keep out of it,” Irfan snapped. Then turning to Sagar asked, “Now, tell me Sagar? Were you taking drugs? Were you admitted to a de-addiction centre for more than a month?”
Sagar looked Irfan straight in the eye and said, “Yes.”
Irfan met his gaze and then said very quietly, “You are out of the team.” He then turned around and started walking away.
“Wait, wait, Irfan! You can’t do this to me,” Sagar ran back and caught hold of Irfan’s arm.
“The decision is not mine. The think-tank comprising Ramesh Naidu, the President of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, Veerendra Yadav, Chairman of the Selection Committee and Raghav, our Coach have decided. I was only asked to communicate the decision to you.”
“Who told them all this?”
“I really don’t know. Veerendra Yadav called an emergency meeting and I was asked to attend. This decision was taken there,” Irfan said and walked away.
Sagar came and sat down beside Aamir.
“I was dreading this would happen one day – my past would catch up with me. Now my cricketing career is finished forever,” Sagar said, staring vacantly into space.
Read on to Chapter 26
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