The year was 1996. Sachin Tendulkar was already a legend. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was not even a ticket collector. The school Sports Day was approaching. There was only one question on everyone’s mind:
Would Vinay House remain the laughing stock of the school?
Let’s back up for a second.
Now that Harry Potter has taken over the world, even the gringos are probably familiar with the “house” system that divides schools across the commonwealth into groups that compete in everything from football to quiz competitions.
I wish I could tell you that my house– the mauve hued Vinay House– was the Gryffindor of our school. Frankly, I would have settled for Ravenclaw.
No, sadly, we were the Hufflepuff of our school. We were the nice guys who finished last. You know all the kids Grace said adored Ferris Bueller? Yeah, they were in Vinay House.
Enough with the pop culture analogies. For now.
Sports Day began with each house marching past the flag, the audience and the chief guest. The chief guest would be some local politician, or local sports star (Kiran More!), or, one time, when the real celeb canceled, it was my father. No, my father is not famous, unless you are a cancer cell. In which case, you’d know him like assassination-victims knew Jason Bourne.
Vinay House would march past doing a Three Stooges routine, followed by the rest of the houses in perfect rhythm to the drum beat. This would be followed by a few track and field events, the final tally of the points and the chief guest would hand out the trophies.
Yes, my father once handed me a trophy in front of the entire school. It was awkward.
Before we got to this day, every sporting event had to be complete, the scores tallied, the points allotted. Which brings us to the fateful cricket match.
Vinay House had already lost their first game, and were now in a battle for 3rd place. I was in the team. I was neither a bowler, nor a batsman, a sort of Darren Sammy without the captaincy. I came in at #10, with eight wickets down and some 12 runs yet to be chased.
And then we lost the 9th wicket. At #11, in walked a friend I had known for ten years, and neither of us were what you could call a Kevin O’Brien with the bat. Or even a Rizwan Cheema. Or even a Venkatpathy Raju.
It came down to the last few balls. I was on strike. 4-ish runs remained. One wicket in hand. One of my closest friends was bowling.
The ball was straight, and a little short, and I swung my Slazenger.
Let’s back up for a second.
Ok, sorry, let’s not.
I swung my Slazenger and the ball flew over Long On as the crowd rushed in. Six runs. Vinay House was not #4. On that day, at least.
Very quickly I was surrounded by my closest friends.
I did it for Sachin.
No, not really. Though I would have if he’d asked.
- The bowler and I are still close friends. Not sure if you could say the same about Dhoni and Nuwan Kulasekara.
- One of the people who surrounded me after I hit that six is now my wife.
- After that day, I announced my retirement from cricket. It was time to let in a new generation.
- Also, they didn’t select me for the team the next year. So in a sense, you could say I also pulled a Ponting. “You can’t fire me, I quit!”