Somewhere from across the hills abutting the Chittoor Arts college grounds, the Lapwing’s shrill call pierced the peace of our cricket match. “’Did-yoo-doo-it! Did-yoo-doo-it!” It questioned. I ambled to the bowling end. Scratched my calf with my toes and took my position as the umpire. L. Ramesh, self-proclaimed ‘pace’ bowler adjusted his spectacles and waited as Farooq took guard. He took his own time. He took a bail out and rammed it into the ground, to mark his leg stump. And then, took about half an hour to place the bail back on the stumps, thumped his hands on his sides, dusting them. He studied the field, multiple times. I was almost dozing off when Farooq’s “LEG STUMP EMPIRE!” woke me up. I never quite understood why some people called an umpire an ‘empire’. I shook off the grogginess and nodded.
He was taking a middle stump guard but I didn’t want to grow old waiting for him to change his guard, again. So I said ‘Perfect anna! leg stump, bang on!’ And then, Farooq took his stance and started banging the bat, behind his feet. I was almost expecting water to gush out of the hole he had managed to dig. So Praveen, I mean, Farooq was finally ready to face the bowler, L. Ramesh.
Farooq, claimed he had made it to the Ranji probables. Now, that is big. For someone from Chittoor, forget being a part of the Ranji probables, being part of the district team itself was a big deal. But this man, did it! He had played at the highest level: a level no cricketer in Chittoor could dream of. At least in 1989. Which meant that Farooq, was a fixture in the town team. My dream team.
I had toiled for three years now. Carrying the mat and nailing it on the pitch before matches and practice sessions. Watering the pitch and getting the the 25000 ton roller to even it out a bit. Lugging around the ‘kit’. Yes, I had done it all. I did all of that because just talent alone didn’t get you a place in the Town team. You needed the blessings: Raju’s. Reddy’s. And of course, that of the ‘Ranji probables’ man, Farooq.
Only a couple of days back, Reddy, the Town team captain, had told me “We need a medium pacer. Back up bowler. I am thinking of you.” I cried like Kapil pa ji that day. But if I pissed of Farooq, there was no way I could get into the Town team. Forget Town team, I would be banned from playing book-cricket with my own self.
Paceman L. Ramesh screamed in and bowled a beautiful yorker that smacked Farooq on his toes. Ramesh didn’t even appeal. He just ran to deep midwicket celebrating. The fielding team was obviously delighted and ran behind Ramesh. It was not often that a college team had the town team on the mat, as Shastri would have put it.
Ramesh, the bowler did a victory lap and came back and suddenly remembered he hadn’t appealed. “How-how-how-how…” He went. I was almost starting to dance to his song when he finally appealed “…HOWZAAT! Empire?”
I stared hard at Farooq. Right after he was thumped on his toes, Farooq performed a foot-shuffle that would have done Michael Jackson proud. Farooq had hopped away from the stumps and proceeded forward and was now standing almost in the middle of the pitch. Tapping the pitch with his bat and checking the bat’s inside edge. He was sending a message!
Ramesh’s appeal was getting over-board now. He was sounding like an evangelist that had just gifted sight to a blind man. The fielding team, sounded like a thousand congregations. And then Farooq looked at his watch, looked at me and said “Can we play the match please? I am wasting my time here.” Now, I wanted to play for the town team, very badly, yes! But I thought to myself, ‘I would be playing with this condescending prick!’ I wasn’t being all self-righteous and all, but I had had enough of these guys taking me for granted.
That bird, the Lapwing, flew over us , screaming ‘Did-yoo-doo-it! Did-yoo-doo-it’
‘I just did.’ I thought and slowly lifted my middle finger and shouted ‘You are out!’