Are you such a dreamer
To put the world to rights?
I’ll stay home forever
Where two and two always makes a five
So, not much of a dreamer are you? Not when it comes to matters of cricket? Well, heed my advice and start. Right about now. Now that this gong show on Indian pitches – the one originally conceived by the unholy ménage a trios betwixt the oligarchs of the BCCI, CA and CSA – has meandered to its manufactured cacophonous, yet vacuous end. This is the time to start. For there is no putting this world to right. Over the next few months, you can stay home all you want. And be cursed with ruing and mulling over the sad fact that all two and two actually amounts to is not five, but a big fat zero. Nada. Zilch.
So, dream on…
There he stands, poised like a spring. Taut sinew in white, pawing at his marker. Unblinking eyes set in that immobile head trained on his prey. Face a mask of impassivity, conserving every joule in his muscles. Priming the still torso to build up a head, mentally checking the starter’s pistol. Confirm the spot, set the timer now. One last run through of the checklist. A last glance down at the quivering, raring feet. Eyes back now on the prey. Flick the switch, shut off peripheral vision. Inhale. Wait for the crack…
Total silence. A still place devoid of entropy. A singularity blotting all around. And he is a peripheral visionary himself. A master. But it is time now to turn it off. The data has been stored. Coordinates logged. Recall and access will be involuntary. Still with his back to the hunter. The willow plinth upright in his arms. Eyes squinting. Wrists clenching and unclenching now. Tiptoe back softly, turning. Now in position. Time now for the micro-squat, the ritualistic yet functional groin adjustment. Check the furrow in the dirt. Examine the canyon laid out to line up. Set the plinth into the groove. Anchor it, and settle into the final crouch. Feet meticulously decorous in their arrangement. The beadlet of sweat at the nose-tip in focus. A deep breath. Lift head. Turn. Tighten the grip, start the clock and commence keeping time with the taps of the bat. Wait.
The first one. Biding time he knows can be lethal. Plotting would be mere platitude. With him, you did not reach for the formula. Just jugular. The risks were monumental with every wasted salvo. Now picking up steam as he approached. Locomotive breath by the half way mark. A locomotive’s view of just straight tracks, prey immobile between them in the distance, terrain flying past in a blur. No gamble with the spot with this first one. Just conservative spatial perfection. But there had to be a catch. That was imperative. Signal rotator cuff. Submit request. Inform elbow and wrist to prepare. Whiplash within caliper calibration of umpire’s head. Cuff, elbow, wrist. Explode, release, and desperately exhale, thundering off the tracks. Eyes boring and willing it to keep its appointment with the spot. For he is no fool’s gold now, is he? Subterfuge in microscopic amounts was the currency of this battle. Detonation on target. The landing just perfunctory. No time wasted before trampolining skywards and away. Flash of surprise in the prey’s eyes as he observed him still unblinking, thundering through alongside the tracks. It was arcing and delivering its surprise. Rising. Arcing. Prey on taut tiptoe . The willow rising, back stiffening now. The spinning logo flashing back messages of the status of the mission to his eyes. Homing in on the plank of wood all the while on plan to sidestep it. The thickness and the width a promise of just a promiscuous touch. Then… daylight. Missed. Completion of the trajectory now mere formality. Keep disappointment aside. That was close, but no cigar. Stop. And turn around. His eyes said it. They acknowledged.
Settle down. Just settle down he tells himself. What did he expect? Etiquette? A handshake? A champion’s greeting it was alright. Settle down and settle in. It is on now. And he can smell it. The familiar fumes of battle. Release muscles and take a walk down the track. Knows too well he is being stared at. His burning gaze is all around. Look up and lock eyes for an instant. Say it with the eyes. Let him know that yes, he knows. Avert eyes now and peer down at the smudge. What happened there? Greeted by an obfuscation of the laws of physics? Don’t overanalyze the turf yet. This isn’t new. And hindsight is superfluous right now. Make a note. Walk back. Mini-squat. Groin. In position now. Look up. Check the bead of sweat. Still there. Focus quickly now. For he is on his way. Standard tactic with him. Not one to patiently let you stew. Always intent on cutting off contemplation. Good you wiped that previous spot off your retina. This one is destined for more distance. Watch it bending time and space as it approaches. Its trajectory a flexed strip of rigid plastic knifing through the air. You have it covered now as you step forward. And you have timed it right. You are there to receive it. Wait. He’s still got his thumb on one end of this plastic strip. And he is pressing hard. And it is still flexing. Bending. You know it is too late for you now. Your bat is well underway in its arc. Everything is committed. You can only hope that he has overcooked it. And that you miss. It whizzes past still bending. Did you miss it? Did you? You are not going to think about it right now. But you want it to end up as a miss. Badly. For it has been captured safely behind. And you freeze and wait in foreboding. But he is walking away. Just walking away!
He missed. He bloody missed again. Is luck going to play bastard with me, he thinks briefly as he turns at the end of his brisk walk into position. Clears his head. An inward smile. Luck. Dispense any thoughts of that and get on with it. Two close shaves in two and you hold the hand now. Just use your head. What would he be thinking now? What is he expecting? He decides to surprise him. With no surprise. Just reprise. Visualizes the strip of plastic suspended above the pitch and calibrates the bend. Prepares thumb. Feet together. Off now. Standard whiplash. Start the bending. Looks good. Looks good. Easy, easy with the bend. Lest he miss again. Barreling through he watches as he indeed doesn’t miss this time. And he didn’t judge the bend again either. Finally, contact. And the logo spins facing him as he switches back on his peripheral view. Man in position tracking the whirling logo himself, palms cupping and tensing. Awaiting. And then. Damning luck was not premature after all. For this trajectory is awry. It is dipping slavishly to gravity. Rapidly. Sigh. Put aside those anticipatory cupped palms, man. They will not be needed. Watches as it skids onto and off the grass.
Tense now. Three down and smoked each time. But three escapes. He watches his receding back in admiration. A foe to remember. And to relish later. Any of those attempts would have lingered. But to be welcomed by these three! So, today wasn’t going to be routine. Not a day to dream the imperious. Not yet at least. A day when all formalities seemed to have been dispensed with. The hunt was on. And this hunter was on his game. Watches the coiled cadence of his approach. The fierce blur of limbs. The explosive refrain off the turf. And realizes instantly that trouble is afoot again. Midway through the geometric arc of his bat’s path, the realization. It is deviating. Late. Too late for his arc’s good. Bites down hard and holds his breath. The whistle of air as it passes. Gasps. The jaw releases. And he can scarcely believe it. Still alive!
No. No. This was perfidy of fate. How did he get away again? The walk back was exasperating, though he kept the mask impassive. Stared at the ball when it arrived in his hands at the top. Glared at it like he was admonishing it. Against his best judgment, he was getting worked up. He looked up and continued to glare. Now at the escape artist. Hesitated a bit more than usual. He could sense his cohorts sucking in their breath as they settled in tensely, awaiting him. He made up his mind now. Picked his weapon. And set off. This, he would let rip. This he would bend to his will. This…as he watched bent over with his arm still slinging around his torso after the release, he grimaced. And closed his eyes. Aghast. And waited for it. For he knew this one was biltong. And it was going to get chewed on good. Crack! Stood there, eyes closed in disgust. What had he done? Blown the stash of accumulated good karma.
That had surprised him. After the sweat and nerves of the previous four and braced for another, a miniscule error and he was off the hook. For now. It had been an eternity since he felt that reassuring vibration travel up his wrist and forearms to soothe his nerves. He had been let off here and he knew it. As he snuck a peek at him standing there eyes closed and face grim, he willed himself to not dwell on this. Wiped it clean and stood still. Waiting. For the retaliation was portended. It was ordained. The last one of this batch could still be the one and perhaps he had used up one escape card too many. He would need every faculty to negotiate the aftermath. Adjust, crouch, wait. And almost gave it away in surprise. For it arrived in as perfect a spot, the right height and pace as he could have conjured up for himself. No demons. And he meets it respectfully. And benignly. And looks up at him. Their eyes lock. And then they turn away.
They both know it.
Remember Adelaide, 28th January, 2012? Can you picture Umesh Yadav, feet rooted in a tub of molasses at the crease, wafting at a flighted delivery from Nathan Lyon, edging it tamely into Brad Haddin’s gloves? The waft that mercifully put an end to a train wreck of a tour for India. A tour whose noxious fumes are still wafting between the ears of Indian cricket fans. That delivery was the last one in an overseas Test match involving India to date.
That was when I first had that dream. That was the day. For it was written in the oligarchs’ scriptures that it would be a long twenty three months before we would see Dhoni’s men away from home in whites. And I dreamt that he would still be there to take on the South African champion. To reprise that magical and now mythical over in Capetown on January 4, 2011. If one had to wait almost two years, this was the one to savor. So I had dreamt then. In hope.
Now this. After smearing themselves across the cricket landscape all year with scandals, infighting, arm-twisting, bullying, petulance and recriminations, their piece de resistance. A stunning display of brazen unilateralism that has now laid to ruin this most anticipated of tours. The wanton throwing and thrashing around of their might that stands to deprive us of the number one team in the world taking on this new look Indian squad stacked with promising young colts. And with him still in their midst. The tour held hostage. One day hanging by a thread. The next day written off for good.
And to buttress their threat and bare their teeth, the incredulous shoe-horning and conjuring of a home series out of thin air. A two Test illicit affair. “A number of countries are keen to play with India. There is no problem at all” trumpeted a proclamation from the innards. And now a number of countries are indeed coming to play India. They are collectively called the West Indies. And then with a move that perplexed even the Kiwis, rolling back the dates of the tour of New Zealand to tighten the noose around the South Africans.
All that is left now to finish off this hatchet job is the sanctimonious announcement of what can only be a throttled tour. Two Test matches are all that fit. Yet another even numbered abomination. And so it will come to pass. And all we, the plebeians, are left with is the nagging feeling of what could have been.
And should have.
And then the 200th. In the grand scheme of things and against the sheer magnitude of the man’s towering achievements, an utterly insignificant number. Worth merely a sideways glance. But an all encompassing sideshow it now promises to be. A manufactured and contrived event that demeans the essence of the man. Now to be rolled out for our benefit in all its lurid glory with the assistance of “many countries”.
Two at home, a house of cards. And two – at best – in South Africa, the remnants of a hack job.
Two and two that amount to a disgusting and meaningless nothing.
So dream on about that over. For the 200th should have been like the 177th.
In South Africa.
It’s the devil’s way now
There is no way out
You can scream and you can shout
It is too late now