During my school days, Sehwag and Sachin held more importance than Trigonometry or Akbar the Great Illustration: Tapasri Saha
During my school days, I had quite an engaging routine — getting pulled up for bringing the wrong textbooks and passively lining up outside the principal’s office for some shriek-inducing caning, locating some water bodies on a boring India map, seeing stars when the Mathematics teacher went on a Trigonometry rant, feeling cheekily sorry for the history teacher who, we thought, always lived in the past, deliberately thinking of morally corrupt things during the Moral Science class, and chalking out a conniving strategy to steal someone’s lunchbox.
Then, as the gong signalled the end of day, I would clumsily stuff everything into my bag and sprint towards the school bus to hijack a window seat. On reaching home, I’d dig into a plate of rajma chawal and potato fries and watch SWAT Kats on Cartoon Network.
The change came very soon, when my dad realised I should take up outdoor sports. So he got me a cricket bat, a red leather ball, stumps, gloves and a pair of pads. After taking me to the field himself on most Sunday mornings, he finally pushed me into a cricket coaching academy, where he had once trained while representing the state association.
Up until now, my cricketing acumen was restricted to that occasional game on my terrace with children even younger. The bat was mine, the ball was mine. So, I’d obviously win all the matches.
I was yet to take the field in a competitive game. That happened soon. In 2002, I failed in the seventh standard. And when the next batch joined me, I was made captain of the class team for being their ‘senior’. My dad had a convincing smile on his face. He thought repeating a class finally bore fruit.
I remember how he pulled a face whenever I asked him to get me football spikes, a knee guard or goal-keeping gloves. He would talk to me more about Sir Vivian Richards or Malcolm Marshall and less about Pele or Diego Maradona or David Beckham. Unfortunately for him, my focus was still on other things but cricket.
The first day at the coaching academy was obviously tough. Dad introduced me to former international umpire and veteran Bengal player, Subroto Porel, who had coached the big names at the state and district level. He never smiled.
Mr Porel asked me to run 10 laps of the field that boasted a roughly 200m radius. As I perspired and groaned my way into the last lap with many other boys my age, I wondered whether Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are punished in the same way by John Wright or Anshuman Gaekwad. Back then, cricket, at least for me, was only about Sachin thrashing Glenn McGrath or a jittery Team India facing a grumpy Shoaib Akhtar.
I slowly fell in love with the game. Throughout my high school days, I would wake up early for training, keep my diet in check and hit the nets religiously. I wanted to play for the state, and tirelessly dreamt of signing autographs and making guest appearances on fancy TV shows. But all of that was sadly short-lived.
During one of those challenging practice sessions, I walked in to bat without wearing a helmet. I did that deliberately because the night before, I was watching Sunil Gavaskar smash Michael Holding and Joel Garner over the boundary without a helmet. So, I decided giving such international-level daredevilry a shot.
The one mistake I made was not realising that bowlers at the training academy also drew inspiration from fierce names such as Garner, Holding, Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar.
I took guard, and the very first delivery whizzed past my nose. The second one was lethal, an accurate, stinging bouncer, which smashed my left ear. I collapsed and starting bleeding profusely and a part of my skull’s lining was mildly damaged, which the doctor later fixed with stitches.
Then, after spending two weeks away from cricket, dad expected me to resume. But my grandmother, who still pampers me to bits with delicious paranthas, shahi paneer and chicken curry, decided against it. She loves to have the last word. It all ended too soon. Kulchey choley and lassi won, and my cricket career retired hurt.
Maybe, I wasn’t keen enough to take it to the next level, or just that the unforgettable, ferocious bouncer dented my confidence for good.
Years later, I bagged a job as sport correspondent, where I was assigned the cricket beat. Not quite the dream he had in his head, but my dad had that convincing smile on his face, once again.