A challenge…

“Take this challenge, Bless. The boundary is 80 yards to your leg-side. Clear it!”

“Ok.”

It took a few wickets for him to hold the bat. Somehow the burden seemed lighter to him. Not of the bat. But within his head.

Few moments ago, when he had nothing to achieve, he made efforts to play himself in, and try out some technically correct shots. Apparently, when a left-handed cover-drives, it’s pure bliss to those watching minus the bowler. But now, it was no longer a normal ‘number-number-12-balls-a-batsman’ format. It was what everyone in Mumbai calls ‘touch-n-go.’ So, the moment, the ball hits the bat, you gotta run. Putting both you and more so, your non-striker at risk of running out.

Yet, to ‘touch and go’ seemed to be the last minute on his mind. Before he took guard, he eyed the leg side. Saw the fielders. He had to clear them. By a long margin. “Remember the challenge, Bless?” Vijesh made it a point to remind him. He just nodded.

Very unlike him, he charged at the very first delivery he got. Connected it beautifully. On the off-side. What would be a beautifully timed boundary didn’t please him. His challenge was still incomplete.

A full toss outside the off stump. He stretched to swing, but nowhere close to the ball! He looked at Vijesh. Both exchange a smile. The latter’s smile had a question. “You’re going for it, aren’t you?”

A short delivery. Thumped. In the air for a fair while, but bounces well short of the eighty yards, as it hit the concrete steps.

Low full-toss. This time on the leg-stump. It’s slammed with disdain. Vijesh had already gone to retrieve the previous ball, when this one was coming straight at him. But much to the batsman’s relief, he doesn’t pick up the shout by the fielders. The ball bounces in front and over him. Another boundary.

Again he comes charging. Plays the ball on the full. Smashes it again. That’s towards the long-on fielder. He judges it. Absolutely imperfectly. He survives. Ball crosses the boundary bouncing a few times over.

Again a short ball. Asking to be hit. He does. Vijesh has placed himself deep. But this goes over his head. Again, poorly judged. The ball bounces in front of the concrete steps. The challenge stays.

Half-volley. Thonked straight down over the head of the bowler. Beats everyone. “Well-played!” says the ‘keeper. Four again. Challenge stays.

On the off. Thumps this one to point for four. Challenge begins to fade.

Meanwhile, at the other end, his partners are running out. Including Vijesh. For all it’s worth, he might end up not achieving the target, without getting out.

Another delivery on the legs. Gives himself a little bit of room and smashes it out of his sight. This one seems to be soaring. “Go go go!” Vijesh looks in anticipation. The challenge might just be achieved. 80 yards! From a tennis ball.

“YES!”

“Is everything ok, Bless?” his mom asks him. He opens his eyes. Wipes them. It’s time to brush the teeth and head for another long day in office!


PS: The last three paragraphs are born out of my imagination. Neither did I achieve the challenge, nor did I dream about it. See, basically, I was bored and had nothing better to do than write this. And you obviously had nothing better to do than read this.


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10 wickets; 210 runs; 205 runs; 175 runs; 215 runs; 9 wickets; 231 runs; 131 runs.

For those following the ICC World Cup 2011, the numbers above may not look too weird. These are the margins of defeat involving an ICC associate nation team. A few years ago, losing by such a margin was considered an absolute shame. Remember, India held the World Record for the largest margin of defeat in terms of runs (202 against England in the 1975 World Cup, thanks to Sunny Gavaskar’s famous 36 runs from 174 balls) – a record that stayed for almost 12 years!

This world cup (and the previous one) has proven that a top test playing nation can fancy breaking a few records against these hapless lesser fancied teams, unless of course, you are India or England!

I have nothing against the lesser cricketing nations playing the World Cup. My problem is the frequency at which they play. One can’t expect a Canada or a Holland to improve after playing just once in four years against the top sides. A classic example is that of the Kenyan side. World Cup semi-finalists in 2003 and now, three of the above eight numbers are against the African side. After the 2003 World Cup, Kenyans played just one quadrangular tournament and two matches in the Champions Trophy in three years! Imagine a World Cup Semi-finalist being treated like that, although the political unrest and match-fixing can be partly blamed for this! Between 2005 and 2007, the only ‘test playing nations’ that they played against was Bangladesh and Zimbabwe – definitely not the kind of teams you’d put in the top bracket. This team failed to even qualify for the World Twenty20, after nine months of absolutely no international cricket in 2008.

So here’s the point – you can’t throw an injured pigeon among the tigers, and expect it to come out unscathed! First, give them wings. Teach them to fly. (Am I sounding Siddhuish here?) For the game to develop in these regions, let these cricketers, and most of them really talented ones, meet the more fancied nations more frequently. Organise tri-nation and quadrangular events, inviting these associate nations as one of the teams. It would also do a world of good to these lesser countries if they are made to host with some financial assistance from the richer boards participating.

A case in point is Ireland hosting India and South Africa in Dublin in 2007. Although this wasn’t a triangular series, it still drew a good response from the local crowd. Irish team has won a lot of fans in the current edition of the World Cup, and was easily the best among the lesser equals. Obviously, that has something to do with their exposure to playing against the top test nations.

Sure, some of these matches in the tri-series/quadrangulars would be boring and one-sided. But then, at least, the World Cup matches won’t be! Hopefully. Besides, an upset in a tri-series/quadrangular would open the tournament wide open. Also, for players on an individual level, these would do a world of good. They can market themselves by performing against a top-side, and won’t have to wait for that once-in-four-years opportunity!

Imagine, what if the IPL world had seen a Kevin O’ Brien blitzkrieg much before the IPL-4 bidding? Imagine, what if Holland’s Pieter Seelar’s and Canada’s Hiral Patel’s skills had got noticed by the Mallyas and Ambanis? These guys would suddenly be living their dream by sharing the same dressing room with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne!

Time to re-think. Maybe.


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