Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Dead Game...

It was a dead game. Nevertheless no one on the ground, at least the spectators seemed to mind. A cool breeze tends to blow from across the Pavilion end at the County Ground every afternoon in this time of the year and this played quite a bit of role in cooling the populace that was scattered around the ground in their summer wear on this warm August day. The ladies in their parasols and dainty hats chattered incessantly as the men ooh-ed and aah-ed the game progressed in the middle. A group of kids had finally persuaded their parents to let them out of their eyesight and were engaged in a heated game of marbles at the top of the grassy knoll at the Ashley Down Road end with such an intensity that even some grown ups marvelled at their competitiveness.

But the batsmen in the middle, in their starched white trousers and shirts, were playing without any undue urgency, the audience gently applauding, in true English fashion, every good stroke or a good delivery bowled by the bowlers, the applause dying only when the bowler started his walk back to the start of his run up. The batsman on strike, the batting team’s captain, a tall bearded man with the physique of a bear and the paunch of a seasoned beer chugger seemed determined to show the opposition that though it was almost thirty years since he had made his debut, he had lost neither his form or the hunger for runs that had seen him head the national averages in eleven of his first thirteen years as a first class cricketer.

At the end of an over, he walked over to the non-striker as the next bowler walked from his position looked on waiting to start a fresh over. “The match is as good as dead”, said the batsman. The non striker, nodding at his captain replied “Yes it is, Sir", his respect and awe of his captain evident in his demeanor. "Let’s just get some practice out of this dull day. Yesterday morning at breakfast, I just wished that these Surrey lads would fall down easily, but Mr.Fry here and the other lad Marlowe put up a good show“. His captain smiled at the passing Mr.Fry as he adjusted his cap. “We did not do too bad either, did we, Mr. Brown?” He looked at the scoreboard and smiled to see a “9" and a 0” appear next to his name as the scorers corrected their error and added one more against his name. “Let us get on with the game, gentlemen”, the umpire goaded, wanting to get the remaining dozen 8 ball overs out of the way and head for the pub in the club house. Mr. Board and his captain took their places at the opposite ends of the pitch as the right arm fast medium bowler waited at the start of his run up.

Mr.Fry looked at the batsman waiting to face him and started his run-up. The ball, a perfect in-cutter landed on the good length spot and was patted back to him by the batsman who seemed to be in perfect peace with his surroundings, his demeanor rivaling that of the description of the great Buddha himself. Mr.Fry walked past the umpire and the non-striker and thuoght to himself, “Will my effort be forgotten against the batting exploits of this maestro?" He dismissed all the thought of his good batting performance that had carried his team to a safe position and concentrated on his efforts on dismissing the stalwart. His next ball fell just short of a good length and the batsman pushed it through the covers on his back foot and ambled across for his runs. The crowd gently applauded the stroke from the master as he returned to his crease, completing two runs.

A casual glance at the scoreboard informed the batsman of his individual tally. “92? Interesting score”, he thought to himself. For the next couple of seconds he busied himself trying to think why the word "interesting" had turned up in his mind. In a moment, he smiled to himself as the answer appeared out of nowhere. Mr. Brown thought that he was expected to return the smile and smiled from his spot at the non-striker's end, as did the umpire who grinned, exposing the gap between his front teeth that had been caused, not by the fall from his horse as he had told everyone, but from the punch thrown by a stranger who had been as drunk as he was, leaving the house of a lady, the company of whom no respectable gentleman would want to be seen in public.

The batsman not noticing these smiles, dug his bat gently into the small depression on the white line and decided to play the next few balls at their merits. The next ball pitched on the line of leg stump and seemed to hold its line. The batsman moved to the back foot and prepared to play it on to the vacant region between the square and fine legs when the ball moved just a little bit and caught his leading edge and ballooned toward mid on. A collective gasp went from everyone, including some of the fielders themselves and umpire and the non-striker. However Mr. Fry looked on in frustration as the ball fell into no-man’s land allowing the batsmen to jog across for a single. The scorers started to add one more to the batsman’s and team’s score

Walking back to the start of his run-up at the Pavilion end, however, Mr. Fry found the batsmen walking back with him. Mr. Fry stopped in his tracks and looked around to see every other person on the field sporting the same quizzical glance looking at the departing batsmen. Mr. Fry thought it was prudent that he ask the master what was wrong. “Mr. Grace, where are you going?”.,he asked. “Well, Son.”, started the batsman, waving his bat like a pointer, at the "93" against his name on the scoreboard. “That...is the reason. This lifeless match has served its purpose.” He started walking again, leaving C.B. Fry, bewildered, shaking his head both in amazement and in immense relief.

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