Saturday, March 04, 2006

Living up to my name

I am a batsman of limited skills - my best shot is a forward defensive push. I can recount to you ALL the fours I have hit since I began playing summer cricket in the Mid-West Cricket Tournament 8 years ago - and it will not take me too long to tell all the stories!

Until last summer I had never bowled in a match. Towards the later half of the season we were having a tough time getting 11 players to show-up for a game, let alone practice. So at practices I began bowling off-spinners (or rather straight balls with an off-spinning action). Eventually I progressed enough to be able to bowl them from a 15 step run-up. I bowled in the last two matches and even picked up a couple of wickets, much to my surprise.

The skill that I do possess is fielding. My reflexes and stamina are no longer what they used to be in my high school days, when I used to prowl the square-leg to long-on area all by myself, but I am still a decent fielder.

But that is not my best cricketing asset. My most valuable skill does not show up in the early part of the match and sometimes an entire game goes by without my team needing it. In the early part of the game everyone is enthusiastic and jumping about. Also, when wickets are falling, everyone is excited. Then, inevitably, comes a period in the game when the opposing batsmen begin to assert themselves. Shoulders begin to drop, hands start resting on waists, eyes start staring at the ground, feet start shuffling in the dust, and an eerie silence comes upon the ground. Ironically when the team really needs to be making some noise, nobody does. Which is when I begin to earn my place in the squad. When such times come upon us, our captain - SC, puts me at mid-wicket inside the circle and just smiles.

You see, I am a live-wire in the field, incessantly jabbering, clapping hands, jumping about, running around, calling everyone out by name, exhorting them to keep trying as hard as they can. After a while, slowly but surely, the smiles come back on their faces and even though the opposition has built up an unassailable position, our team does not look lost. Last year, we lost 6 of the 7 games we played but not once did our team go completely quiet and give up. I simply refused to let them do that. We may have lost badly, but we were never beaten!

Years ago, I watched Jonty Rhodes change the way fielders behaved and performed on a cricket field. He was the cricketing idol I felt I could emulate the most. (Not for nothing is Jaunty my Internet moniker. Get it?!)

Yesterday the Indian team descended towards a familiar going-through-the-motions stage and, shockingly, only let it get worse. They took an extra half-hour to bowl their overs as they were shuffling around waiting for the English batsmen to make mistakes. The fielding standards dipped, faces started resembling those commonly seen at a funeral, and all the players stood by themselves as if they had each contracted some contagious disease. I was appalled at that. How could they give up so easily?! Haven't they themselves collapsed when seemingly in charge? Why couldn't they expect the same from their counterparts? By allowing themselves to be lethargic, their energy levels decreased and England's attempt to dominate was made easier.

All the talk about the team spirit, heart of a champion, never-say-die attitudes, etc., doesn't mean a thing unless these attributes show up when the chips are down. It is very easy to be upbeat when the going is good. A true champion is one who does not lose before the game is over. I was disappointed with the Indian's on-field demeanor on the 4th day. If on the 5th day they compound it by defending their way towards a draw and still lose - I shall be disheartened, too.

I hope Dravid and his band of men do not let that happen. I really do.

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