It was 45 years ago, but I can still recall vivid details of the cricket match I was part of. Etched in my consciousness to last until my last breath. The golden glow of morning sunlight, the smell of overnight dew on the grass in the outfield, the matted wicket etc. KV IIT School vs St Bede’s High School. We were bowling first. Our Skipper Sashi, was the fast bowler on top of his run up, ready for action. I was to his left at mid-off, about 30 yards from the batsman on strike. Umpire said, ‘Play’.
Sashi ran in to bowl. Tall, lanky, handsome lad with flowing hair flying in the wind. It was a sight to behold. I’ve always been awestruck by his smooth, elegant run up to the wicket, nice and easy, gathering momentum along the way. And then the final leap at the crease, perfectly side on, with the batsman in his peripheral vision over the left shoulder. It wasclassic,natural, aesthetic like poetry in motion. Sashi was truly gifted in the mold of Imran Khan, former Captain of Pakistan. The rhythm and style were similar. Modern day Bhuvneshwar Kumar reminds me of Sashi. Yet another superstar in the making, I was certain. Those were the pre- television days. I’m convinced Sashi bowled around 135 to 140 Km/hour coupled with prodigious swing and seam movement. He was quick. Many a time was grateful, I don’t have to face him in a match. In the nets, it was a scary proposition.
‘Where did he learn the nuances of fast bowling?’ It remains a mystery to this day.
‘He’ll soon play for India,’ I told myself as I watched the shiny red cherry leave his hand. That first ball of the match never landed on the mat. It was a full toss, the batsman least expected. He involuntarily hit it in my direction on the full. I didn’t have to move an inch. The ball came straight at me. Luckily, I managed to pouch it. Everyone was stunned. None reacted. The poor opening batsman shook his head in disgust and trudged off. Slowly I walked towards my Skipper triumphantly, expecting to hear accolades.
Sashi was busy scrutinizing the mat, suggesting he’d lost his footing.He scowled at me.
‘Had you dropped that, M*#@%* (unprintable) I would’ve f*$#@*(never done on any cricket field) you, right here…’ he thundered.
I protested. But that’s precisely Sashi for you. Brash, loud with innocuous bravado intended to intimidate. If you knew him well enough, you wouldn’t be. We, his friends were used to it. Sadly, chain smoking became part of that artificial facade. Beneath though, he was a lovable, affectionate man full of camaraderie, compassion and appreciation. All-encompassing team man, a complete Captain (I feel gutted using past tense here). I loved cricket because of Sashi.
Another occasion. The South Zone KV Team led by Sashi travelled to Hyderabad. I was part of the contingent as an opening batsman. We arrived early in the morning after overnight journey and taken straight to the ground from railway station.
South Zone vs Central Zone.
‘But, hello! We need to… freshen up. Use toilet… and have bath…’
‘That’s all later?!? Stay arranged in Picket central school classrooms, right now, play!!’
We were demoralized. Sashi summoned me. ‘Go for the ‘Toss’ on my behalf. Win the f%#@$* thing… and choose batting…’ he snarled.
I did, miraculously.
‘Now, go and bat…’ Sashi instructed, ‘don’t f*%$#@ get out in the next hour! Meantime, we’ll look for a goddamn toilet…’
It was a beautiful day like in an English County setting. Surprisingly, Central Zone bowlers were easy pickings.I loved batting on that wintery morning. After a while, I got a signal from the happy team that they were refreshed and ready to have a go. And believe me, we took special delight to decimate Central Zone. There’s no greater pleasure than walloping an opposition on a cricket field, especially playing under Sashi. For rest of the matches, we were asked to make our own boarding arrangements. Sashi, took me and three others to his cousin’s place for stay.
After school days, we bumped into each other few times. He hadn’t changed much. Remained single. Gave up playing cricket, he said with a sardonic smile.
‘Struggle for survival.’ He had taken up a job after a failed business attempt.
I gather, he had resigned his job recently to take care of his older brother who suffered a fall. So typical of Sashi.
Yesterday news came that he passed away. Shocking. Devastating. Gone too soon.
‘Rest in peace, Captain. And thank you for the joy. So long…’