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A World Cup experience


Sachin Tendulkar's fan holding the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy post India's victory in the 2011 Cricket World CupImagine walking out onto a cricket field, a lush green outfield calling out to you to come and roll around in the grass, a beautiful light brown pitch glistening under the sun and cricketing gear lying by the stumps waiting to be used. You look up and you see Sachin Tendulkar Stand written in bold letters. Turn your head a little and you see the Sunil Gavaskar Stand. You’re standing in the middle of the Wankhede stadium. You have an opportunity to actually play on the wicket that so many international matches took place on. Ah! The dream!

I had an opportunity like this before the World Cup Final 2011. The newly laid Wankhede pitch had to be tested before the Final could take place. Only a fool would pass up such an opportunity. So, contrary to what most people say, I was smart enough to lap it up. First, I chose to bowl on the wicket. Taking 15 paces and marking my run-up, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me. As I began my run towards the bowling crease, I couldn’t believe I was about to bowl on the World Cup Final pitch. The thought that this pitch is definitely faster than the pitches on the ‘maidans’ of Mumbai, triggered a curiosity in me as to ‘how fast will the ball whizz past the batsman?’ As I let the ball go, my head going down (yes, bowling action needs work..), I felt the ball would have reached the keeper by now. But as I lifted my head up, the batsman was defending the ball in a manner that made me feel slower than Ramesh Powar. I was flabbergasted at the ease with which he played the delivery. I got him out the next ball though. When I asked him how it was, he replied saying, “I was defecating bricks.” But to me, he looked like he was playing everything quite easily. So I decided to wield the willow.

Thinking it would be a piece of delicately crafted, topped with white chocolate icing chocolate cake, I confidently took guard. Leg stump. I could visualize myself smacking the ball through the off side, but when the ball pitched on a good length and went right past my nose in a blur, I could see my whole life flash before my eyes. My heart started pounding against my rib cage as if it had found a way to escape.  The wait for the next ball was like sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s clinic. However, the next delivery met the middle of the bat. It was a defensive shot, but still felt good. The ball was swinging around and really zipping off the pitch. A few edges, leaves and a few good shots were what I could manage.

As I took off my pads and the rest of the gear, I realized that batting isn’t so easy after all. Everyone knows the effort fast bowlers put in, but with the number of flat decks being produced these days, the general consensus is that batting is quite easy. I beg to differ. Even when the ball is coming on nicely, batting is far from easy. Imagine facing up to a bowler as tall as 6’ 6” running towards you and releasing a red hard ball at 140kmph. The visual itself is scary. Commentators and ex-players often call Indian wickets slow. If the Wankhede pitch was slow, I would not want to bat at the WACA. When a bouncer is bowled with a tennis ball which is used in ‘gully’ cricket, it just sits up waiting to be hit. But the leather ball, zips right off the wicket, especially if it’s new. A split second is all you have to decide how you’re going to save your face, both metaphorically and literally.

Batting requires lightning fast reflexes and a foresight not many possess. However, both can be developed with practice. The more short balls one faces, either hooking or ducking, muscle memory records it. Hence, the response in match situations becomes slightly quicker and when you’re facing 150kmph, the ‘slightly’ is a lot. Suresh Raina has often been criticized for his inability to play the short ball. My above experience does not let him off the hook. But what is good to see, is that in the recent past he has attempted a few hook shots and managed to keep it on the ground. This shows he is willing to work at it. Unlike Yusuf Pathan, who openly makes statements like,”They can bowl only two bouncers, everything else will be in my area.” This lackadaisical attitude does not befit an international cricketer. It only serves to highlight the difference between a player who wants to be great and a player who is satisfied with where he stands.

The only way batting becomes easier is with practice. And if I were given the option, I would bat day in and day out on a wicket like that. All you have to do is middle the ball and time it. The ball travels. That’s easier said than done though. It was an experience I will never forget. It taught me that blaming batsmen is real easy, but being one is bloody difficult…

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