A single droplet of sweat trickled down His brow before falling to the dry ground. As if to herald the fall, 30,000 cheers rang across the ground, and a freakish pipe-tune accompanied them.
He looked up and saw the maroon-shirted man from across 50 yards. A steely stare was affixed on the pacer’s bearded face as he wiped the ball across the seat of his maroon pants in a workmanlike fashion. A few seconds later, the Jamaican smiled in approval at the now dual-coloured ball.
He knew that the Jamaican wanted Him at any cost. It had long since ceased to be a trifling sporting matter between the two of them. It was now as personal as the mutual relationship between Ricky Ponting and the Indian public.
“WALKER!”, screamed the headline of the most circulated tabloid in Mumbai. “FAIR PLAY”, screamed the rival tabloid’s headline, in a font size slightly larger than it’s competitor’s. Grabbing eyeballs was crucial in their particular industry. Font size mattered. Almost as much as ‘Model of the Day’.
There were hundreds of copies of both papers in the 08.20 slow local from Andheri to Churchgate, and double that number of commuters read the story, whether it be by leaning over shoulders or by squeezing under forearms. Everyone was happy, everyone was proud.
Their God had walked. A beacon of fair play in these turbulent times of spot-fixing and Navjot Sidhu.
He adjusted His helmet one last time and took guard. The discomfort was gradually increasing, spreading to other parts of his body.
“It would be a bouncer”, Ishwar Ghorpade told Him.
“You sure?”, He asked Ishwar silently.
Ishwar did not reply to that. Ishwar Ghorpade had the irritating habit of being an inner voice which spoke only when it felt like speaking.
Sometimes He wondered why the public called Him God. God, presumably, was a being which answered to no one and listened to no soul. But He regularly listened to Ishwar Ghorpade while batting. Ghorpade’s rather eccentric suggestion of an upper cut over backward point had resulted in one of His most famous shots back in 2003. Against Shoaib, no less.
Thomas Kilichundan walked into his queerly shaped office building, humming a happy tune about Sheila’s youth. He was particularly happy that day since his God had performed wonders again. Rather different from His usual exploits, but fair-play deserved as much credit as destructive hundreds, didn’t it? Thomas asked himself.
As soon as he nestled into his cushioned chair, his nemesis poked his head into the cubicle, in a manner not dissimilar to Dilbert’s boss.
“Saw the match dude?” Nemesis asked Thomas.
“Of course boss, fantastic stuff in the end. Our bowlers seem to be getting in form at the right time!”
“Abbe Ulloo, the Caribbeans were never gonna get 250+ even against an attack with Munaf Patel in it.. ”
“Yeah yeah.. But great gesture from God yesterday. Shows how different he is from the likes of Ponting, no?”
“I heard that. Why are you LOLing though?”
“Because you are an ass. You think your God did that because he is a fair player?”
“Why else! Is he mad to walk like that after edging a ball?” Thomas asked Nemesis in a rather bemused manner.
Nemesis behaved strangely from then on. He looked around the cubicle rather furtively, and then looked up at the ceiling, presumably to see if someone was listening from there. When satisfied with his inspection, he leaned a bit too close to Thomas and replied in a noxious breath,
“What?” Thomas hadn’t caught the world clearly while trying to block out the ciggy breath. “Vicks? I have Amrutanjan in the bag. Would that do?”
“Fix, beta, fix. FIX. Sab fixed hai.”
“What! The cricket? Are you saying he walked because..”
“Shhhh.. Not so loud. And yes, you are correct. There were crores of bets placed on him getting out in that exact over.”
“Rubbish”, Thomas was seething with fury, as many men seeth when mocked upon their religious beliefs, “He would never do such a thing. You can question the integrity of our entire political system and of the office filter coffee, but never of this man. He’s the last hope of a billion Indians.”
“And he bleeds blue, bla bla.. “, Nemesis mocked, “I know that you have fallen right into the trap of those marketing companies. This fellow is a mortal, just like you and me. A mortal who loves money. Have you never thought why he plays the IPL without fail every season, while begging off ODIs? And those insane advertisements. The man’s crazy about money. And I don’t blame him. I only laugh at fools like you.”
With that, Nemesis laughed to illustrate his point and bounded out of Thomas’ cubicle, mentioning an urgent need for a smoke.
The cubicle now had a doubting Thomas, wondering whether his God was indeed a mortal God.
The runup had begun. The crowd had fallen silent. It takes 4 seconds for the Jamaican to release the ball once he begins his run-up, His brain fed Him that fact immediately. The laptop-wielding coach had told Him that. And there was something else he had told Him. What was it?
Something about the slower ball.
Something that a finger in the Jamaican’s left hand did just before bowling one.
But He couldn’t. He was terribly distracted. The sweating had started again. Nope, this wasn’t going to work.
The Jamaican plonked his left foot firmly on the line which belongs to the umpire (Shastri, since forever), and released the ball with a loud grunt.
It bounced just short of what is considered a good length by knowledgeable people, and rared on it’s haunches, threatening to collide bang-on with the little man’s helmet.
He was in two minds as it was painful to focus. Distracted, He tried to paw the ball away but something that Ishwar Ghorpade whispered at that exact moment caused Him to pull back from the shot. “Phew, that was close”, He thought.
But in a raucous cacophony resembling that of a flock of maroon finches, every fielder and the Jamaican appealed loudly to the umpire. That man, fortunately, seemed undeterred by the ruckus and started gradually shaking his head.
The sweating started again.
It was unbearable. Painful. As irritating as the dreaded cold sweat in an exam hall.
And all this for a dead rubber?
He walked the 22 yards as the umpires and fielders looked on, a bit bemused.
He walked in that inimitable rolling fashion, as thousands in the stadium and millions in their living rooms groaned loudly in anguish.
He walked faster and faster as the pavilion drew nearer. He had to get inside the dressing room.
A slow ovation had started in the stadium, (and in those living rooms), as commentators spewed forth adjectives to describe His noble deed.
But as the claps died down and He entered the cool comfort of His dressing room, He ran into the well-equipped washroom at a pace that the Jamaican would have been proud of.
“Never eat Butter Chicken before a match”, He thought, “Never.”