A sense of occasion. I was hoping we wouldn’t have that. Having won 7 out of 8 matches we had barged into the semis big-time favourites. I was already thinking of a good place to put the trophy before I forced myself to remember there was another match to go before that. The D-day arrived. I reached the ground 20 minutes before the match, wearing the same blue sweat-pants, green t-shirt, white shoes and red cap that I had worn in every one of the matches played before this. Nothing was to be different this day.
The captain was late. As always. He forgot to wear his shoes too, he said. He managed to borrow something from someone. It set alarms ringing. The only other match we had lost and someone in the team had forgotten his shoes too, having to borrow from someone. We lost the toss, and prayed we got to bat first. The only match we had lost, we had chased. They put us in to bat. It was going to be business as usual.
First over. The bowler was well known, had ripped through good batting lineups before. He went for 8 the first over. This was going to be good. But it was too good to last. The runs dried up and in a couple of overs, one of the openers who was the leading run scorer this season fell. A freakish catch claimed another wicket and the captain batting on the other side was all nerves collecting a dozen dot balls in a row. He fell, edgy and never looking like lasting the distance and the very next ball another wicket fell, pitching me into the ring.
I plodded for a couple of balls for the end of the over. Next over I watched the other batsman get bowled around his legs by a left arm bowler. We were 19/5 and the match was clearly doomed now. The wicket keeper joined me and we started with just one intention – DO NOT GET OUT! Runs came at an even 4 per over as we milked singles, saw off good bowlers and tried to go after easy ones. Having had a treacherous run the whole season I played myself in, waiting for my legs to move. And move they did. The flick to fine leg, the dab to square leg, the perfect cover drive all returned. And then, just as we got ready to mount a final assault, he got out at the other end.
The last man was pitched in with 3 overs still to go. Planning to go after the bowlers the last 3 overs I put such ideas off for the last over. The last over produced 5-6 runs as we ended up at 53 from 16 overs. We were still confident, having won defending 56 once.
But it required resolve and also holding on to catches. We had the former and not much of the latter. A catch was dropped in the 3rd over and soon they were 10 from 4 overs without a wicket. The captain pressed himself on and removed the left hander which was all I needed. I came on for the next, handing over my cap to the captain (another unchanged tradition) and produced 6 runs from the over. For someone who’s season economy rate is below 4 per over that was devastating. Next over I conjured up the perfect out-swinger pitching on middle and off at the perfect length and moving away from the batsman, taking the edge on the way to the keeper.
Rest of the over was forgettable as I had hurt my wrist while celebrating the wicket (the irony of it!) and the umpire turned out to be a moron who didn’t know where the wide line was. But still I went for only 3 runs. They were making steady progress though. Last 8 overs they needed only 20 odd runs to win. The next over I bowled with better control going for 2 in it. When I came in for my final over, it was 16 required off 5 overs. I asked to bowl one of the final overs, but was asked to restrict them further and get the match closer. In the searing heat with not much energy left, I counted out the balls, with no inclination to bowl a single extra delivery. The over produced one run and some perfect out-swingers which beat the bat regularly without much success at getting edges. I finished with 12-1 off my 4 and knew we had lost the match with 15 required off the last 4. They knocked it off in 3 overs and my dream for a cricket trophy remained just that.
Post-match I wondered what I could’ve done differently. Maybe a few more risks? But then with the score at 19-5 and playing with the last batsman, would it have been a good decision? But I guess, all said and done, we lost the match at 19-5. Guess the trophy cabinet will have to wait…