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Please note this is a humour article — work of pure fiction
India needed six to win off the last ball in a humdinger at Johannesburg. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the most dramatic victories in the history of Indian cricket.
It had all come down to the last ball: India needed nothing short of a hit that would clear the ropes at the New Wanderers to win the match; Alok Nath, their new replacement, had been roped in at the last moment: he could neither bat nor bowl nor field, but it had been rumoured that he had the ability to cause miracles with his blessings.
He had not bowled, and MS Dhoni had to place a fielder behind him when he strolled at mid-off; surprisingly, however, the sheer captivating aura of the man had prevented the South Africans from scoring quick runs. He took the ground barefoot and never chased a ball: he simply prayed.
The genius of young Quinton de Kock, the perseverance of Hashim Amla, the destructive ruthlessness of AB de Villiers or the adaptive improvisations of Faf du Plessis did not come handy; only Jacques Kallis, with his immense display of respect for Alok Nath, the oldest cricketer on the ground, had managed a sedate 93 not out as the hosts had managed to reach 221 for six.
At 56-and-a-half, Alok Nath was easily the oldest international cricketer the world has seen across formats: he had not expected a call-up even an hour before the match; Dhoni, however, got to know that Alok Nath was in town, and had specifically asked him to turn up for the match despite Duncan Fletcher’s vehement arguments. Emergency arrangements were made to get a new jersey ready, and it was well after toss that Alok Nath had got ready to play.
It had, however, come down to the last ball. After a frugal vegetarian meal during the innings break, Jha had meditated for almost the entirety of the Indian innings, only to be woken up by a surprisingly sombre Virat Kohli at the fall of the seventh wicket. His teammates helped him with his gear just in time as Mohammed Shami, the ninth man out, had started his long walk back to the pavilion.
Alok Nath had his gloves and pads strapped on, but had once again refused to put the boots on. His teammates insisted, and even Fletcher’s expressionless face had a concerned expression. Alok had given in, and just as he walked out to bat, a cohort of young couples from the crowd rushed at him and touched his feet.
“After the match,” said Alok Nath.
“It’s almost time, jee; we do not have more than 10 minutes,” uttered a helpless voice from the couples.
“Do not worry,” said Alok Nath in a tone that oozed of such reassurance that the couples smiled and waited outside the ground in eager anticipation.
Alok Nath had one look at the pavilion, and then, with the wisest of smiles, took his shoes off just outside the ropes as he strode inside. Nobody, not even Dhoni, could hide their surprise at this little event. “The man considers the ground as holy as a temple,” echoed Rahul Dravid’s awestruck voice on air, interrupting Ravi Shastri’s “the match has gone down to the wire now.”
Jha approached the crease at a speed inversely proportional to that of a tracer bullet: a confused de Villiers had tried to appeal for timed out, but kept quiet when he saw the umpires approach Jha and ask for his blessings. The aura was so encompassing that the entire South African team — even Dale Steyn, who was on a hat-trick — followed suit. Even The Reverend David Sheppard had not been able to invoke such respect from his opposition.
Alok Nath looked at the fielders. “How can I defeat these men? They are all my children. We’re one big family.”
Umpire Richard Illingworth walked up to Alok Nath. “Sir, I know what you are thinking; however, the match must go on for the sake of the thousands that have come to the field today.” South African umpire Adrian Holdstock, who had just joined the conversation from square-leg, nodded in acknowledgement.
“Then so be it,” thought Alok Nath. “The couples are also waiting.”
And so Steyn bowled. “A slow, very slow, juicy full-toss, waiting to be hit,” screamed Shastri; and the batsman hit it. The ball soared over the spectators — straight into the Johannesburg Melrose Shree Siva Subramaniam Temple, rung the bell hard, and flew back smeared in turmeric and sandalwood-paste!
The spectators waited in bated breath as the ball flew back to the couples waiting eagerly. The crowd cheered in unison as the ball brushed the hair of each of the girls gently before returning to the turf. Both teams and umpires joined in the applause: Alok Nath had managed to win the match and do the kanyadaan in one stroke — like never before!
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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