"The new club is almost ready. My dad was telling it will be inaugurated by the Vice Chancellor on 15th August," Vasan informed his friends.
"Really that's great news. We can start playing on the new cricket ground inside the club premises," Vicky said excitedly.
"A fat chance we have of doing that," Farukh the perennial pessimist declared.
"Why?" asked Vicky and Vasan together.
"Mir Chachu was mentioning that the new ground is exclusively for their team."
"Oh no!" groaned Vicky.
The three friends were sitting under the neem tree in Vicky's garden munching groundnuts. It was a lazy June afternoon and they had just finished a round of carroms under the shade of the tree.
They were class nine students of Model High School and stayed in the University Campus. Vicky's father was a lecturer in Physics while Vasan's father was a doctor in the Campus Health Centre. Farukh stayed with his Uncle Mir Ali who was a librarian. Kids staying in the campus had got together to form a cricket team. It was called Young Achiever's Team or YAT and its captain was Vicky. YAT was in good form and in the current year had remained unbeaten. They had defeated all the teams in the area including the much fancied team from ECIL campus.
A stretch of land behind the Professor's quarters was their cricket ground. In the middle was a bare strip which served as the pitch. Their ground was embellished with pot holes, small rocks and bushes. Many a fielder had retired hurt after fielding on the ground. Seeing the condition of the ground the ECIL team had simply refused to play.
"We play cricket, we don't take part in obstacle race," Mike their captain had sneered contemptuously. Ultimately they had had to play in its ECIL ground.
Vicky and his friends had been confident of getting the cricket ground in the new club all to themselves. Farukh's Chachu was the Captain of the University Staff Cricket team which was called the Varsity Staff Team or VST. Last year VST had won the Andhra Pradesh inter-varsity staff cricket championship beating Venkateshwara University in the finals.
"Hey! Farukh, why don't you convince your Chachu?"
"There is no chance. He has been lobbying to have a proper ground for so long. You know how keen a cricketer he is. He wants to develop his team into a really good one. He is eying the South Zone Inter-Varsity Cricket Championship. He has made Sunday practice compulsory for all the team members. Last Sunday Reddy Uncle skipped and I found Chachu giving him a mouthful. There is no way he or his team mates are going to agree to spare the ground for us."
The three friends sat munching the groundnuts in gloomy silence.
"I have an idea," Vicky said jumping up.
Vasan and Farukh looked at him rather skeptically. Vicky's ideas usually were too far fetched to be implemented.
"Suppose, just suppose we prove to them that we are a better team then they might let us use the ground."
"And pray how are we going to do that?" Vasan asked.
"We'll challenge them to a cricket match and if we win -"
"That Vicky mian, is a very very big if," Farukh drawled.
"Farukh is right. They will simply smash us."
"What is the harm in trying. With luck we might just scrape through."
Vasan and Farukh looked at each other. Even though the proposal was dotty, at least it sounded like fun.
"What do you say?" Vicky asked looking at them.
"Farukh you will have to convince your Chachu. I'll take on my Dad and Alam Uncle. Vasan you persuade your Father as well as Mennon Uncle.
Vicky's father Vidyut Simha was the Vice Captain, Vasan's Dad, T. Srinivasan, Alam Beg and Gautam Mennon were the other senior players in the team.
* * *
A week later Vicky called a team meeting in his house. All the eleven players and the two reserves who also doubled up umpires as well as ball boys turned up.
"Farukh what is your report?" Vicky asked.
"Like I told you last evening, the VST has accepted the challenge posed by YAT. They have fixed the match on 20th July."
"Oh my God! We have only two weeks to go," groaned Vasan.
"Mian, whether it is two weeks or two years does it make the slightest difference? We are going to get clobbered anyway," Farukh said.
"Come on Farukh don't be such a spoil sport. You seemed to have already given up. Unless we have the will to win we'll never be able to do so," Vicky said.
"Vicky is right,' Manjit nodded his head.
"We have to start finalising our strategy. Our final eleven will be the same that beat ECIL last month. Now let us start analysing our strengths and weaknesses vis a vis that of the opposition," Vicky had attended a couple of meetings conducted by Farukh's Chachu and had been terribly impressed. He was now trying to emulate him.
"Of the team which won the last championship three key members are not there," Farukh said.
"Hasan Uncle the wicket keeper, Rajesh Chopra the off spinner and the opener Nawaz Ali. All three of them have been transferred to various other universities. Their places have been taken up by three new comers who are not all that good."
"That's good we now have to concentrate on Mennon Uncle. He is the best batsmen," Manjit said.
"Yes, he is like Sachin Tendulkar. The entire team depends heavily on him. If we get him out cheaply half the battle is won," pointed out Vicky.
"But it won't be that easy to get him out," Vasan said. "He is really too good."
"Does he have a favourite shot?" Vicky asked Farukh.
"He loves playing the hook shot."
"Then we'll have to tempt him and try our luck."
"Even if we get the entire team out cheaply we have to reckon with the bowling of Chachu," Farukh said. "His Yorker is unplayable."
"I know. Manjit and Vasan you will as usual have to open the innings. You have to make sure that you survive Mir Chachu's opening spell. Even you don't score too many runs but just hang around it will be okay. Once Chachu finishes his first few overs the others will be relatively easier to face," Vicky explained.
"Now Vicky let us now analyse our strengths and weaknesses,' suggested Feroze the wicket keeper.
"Our batting and bowling is not as good as VST's. But our fielding and running between the wickets is decidedly better," pointed out Vasan.
"You are right Vasan. As far as batting is concerned we should concentrate on taking quick singles and twos. Our opponents because of their age will not be as fast as we are. We have to capitalise on this. Moreover it will not be easy for us to clobber their bowling for 4s and 6s. The best bet is to convert half a run into a single and a single to a two."
"Our bowlers should stick to their line and length and not try anything too ambitious," Farukh added.
"Our opponents will be supremely confident of themselves and will tend to take us for granted. We should be able to exploit this feeling to our advantage," Manjit said.
"The bottomline is that our fielding and running between the wickets should offset our weaknesses in the area of batting and bowling," Vicky declared.
* * *
For the next couple of weeks the YAT members practised really hard. As the day of the match grew near the excitement grew. The entire campus was talking about the match. Even the VST members were looking forward to the match though they were confident of beating the youngsters.
"The Campus Ladies Club was hosting the lunch for members of the both the teams. The office bearers of the Campus Club were sponsoring the prizes.
* * *
20th July was a bright and sunny day - ideal for cricket. It was a 30 over match. Vicky won the toss and elected to bat. Manjit and Vasan stuck to their task and tamely faced the first three overs of Mir Chachu. They didn't score many runs but more important they didn't lose a wicket. After six overs the score was 20 for no loss.
Once Mir Chachu was out of the attack Vasan started scoring freely and with Manjit giving him good support the scorer was kept reasonably busy.At 20 over stage the score was a healthy 95 for no loss. Just when things were going smoothly disaster struck. Vasan in a bid to bolster the run rate went for a big hit and was caught at deep mid wicket. Mir Chachu was brought back into the attack and on the very first ball yorked Manjit. Vicky and Feroze came together. Their job was now to steady the innings. Both fell to a couple of beauties from Mir Chachu. The rest of the batsmen too couldn't quite face Chachu who seemed in devastating form. YAT were all out for 122 two overs short of the allotted quota of 30 overs. Mir Chachu returned the magic figures of 6 overs 3 maidens 13 runs and six wickets.
Vicky was disappointed. After a quick lunch he gathered his team members together and gave them some pep talk.
"I know we have not done well. But at least let us bowl and field well. Our first t target is to get Mennon Uncle out. I'll bowl a few short pitched deliveries and you Farukh, you have got a safe pair of hands, you stand at deep fine leg. I'll tempt Mennon Uncle to go for a hook shot. Let's hope he succumbs and mistimes. The rest of you concentrate on fielding well and bowling a tidy line and length. Remember our total is too small. We won't be able to restrict them. What we'll have to try is to get them out."
Mennon Uncle and Alam Uncle opened the innings. Vicky's first ball was shot pitched. Mennon Uncle stepped back and hooked it on top of fine leg for a six. The ground erupted in cheers. It was a beautiful shot. Vicky went back and bowled a similar ball. This time Mennon Uncle responded with an even better shot which cleared the ground and landed in the Gurkha Tej Ram's house. The ball was retrieved and Vicky started his run up.
"At this rate the match will be over in ten overs," whispered Mrs Mennon to Vicky's mother.
Vicky's third ball was slightly slower. Mennon Uncle couldn't judge the pace and his bid to make a hat trick of sixes mistimed his shot. The ball flew high in the air and Feroze ran to his right and diving headlong just managed to catch it inches off the ground.
The Young Achievers were delirious with joy. They went around doing high fives and jumping and hugging each other.
"We still have a long way to go," Vicky said cautioning his team mates.
"Vicky we need a couple of wickets," Vasan said.
"We have to try something different. If we don't break this partnership quickly we are finished," Farukh said.
"I think we should take a calculated risk. We should start feeding them and hope that they hit out and in the process get out," Vasan suggested.
After the break Vicky the ball to Chandru the leg spinner. Chandru, the baby of the team - he was only in class seven - had earlier been successful in breaking quite a few partnerships. However his problem was that he tended to be a little too expensive. Vicky had a chat with him and accordingly set the field. Chandru's first two balls were treated with respect by Alan Peters. The third ball was lifted straight over long on for a huge six. His fourth ball was smashed through mid on for an exquisite boundary. The next two balls were hit for two more boundaries. The over yielded 18 runs. Poor Chandru was utterly demoralised. Vicky brought himself on for the next over and gave away just two runs. Now the question was should Chandru be given another chance. Both Farukh and Vasan were against it. But Vicky decided to take a risk. He went up to Chandru and spoke to him patting him on the back and whispering words of encouragement.
Chandru shortened his run up and instead of bowling over the wicket bowled around it. He saw Alan Peters coming down the pitch and dropped the ball short. Alan took a swing missed the line completely and was stumped by the wicket keeper Sumit.
Vicky ran to Chandru and hugged him. "You did it maan," he said thumping him on his back.
Sreenivasan Uncle who came in next ended up facing Chandru's favourite delivery - a googly. He couldn't read it and was clean bowled and Chandru was on a hattrick.
Reddy Uncle strode in. He was tall and massive and was called the Pat Symcox of the team. Chandru bowled a straight ball this time. Reddy Uncle shuffled forward and was rapped on the pad.
"Howzatt! yelled the entire team. THe umpire Mathew Uncle's finger went up and Chandru jumped onto Vicky's lap.The ground erupted in enthusiastic applause.
Chandru's over had brought VAT back into the game. After that runs were scored and wickets too fell at regular intervals. Finally in the final over VST needed nine runs to win with three wickets in hand.
Vicky was to bowl the final over and facing him was Alam Uncle who was unbeaten on a fighting 43. Vicky's first ball was a yorker. Alam Uncle stepped forward and took it on the full. The ball went racing to cover boundary. VST needed five to win. Vicky bowled a slower delivery. Alam Uncle played it to short mid wicket and made a dash. The ball was racing past Farukh who dived and in one smooth motion picked it up and threw it to Sumit who removed the bails. Mir Chachu was run out and more important Alam Uncle was at the bowler's end. The equation now was five runs, four balls and two wickets. Vicky's Father came to face the third delivery. He took a swipe and the ball trickled to square leg. There was no fielder there. Vicky went tearing and picked up the ball. He could see only one stump. He threw the ball and it crashed into the stump sending the bails flying. Alam Uncle was run out.
Four runs to go, three balls left and one wicket in hand - it was anybody's game. The last man Murty Uncle took guard. The entire ground was on its feet. No one could have imagined the match would reach the last over. The tension was terrific. As Vicky started his run there was a hush all around. Vicky, for the first time since the match started, was hopeful of winning. He raced in and bowled another yorker. Murty Uncle stepped out and gave a mighty heave. The ball soared over Vicky's head and landed just short of the long on boundary. There was no long on or long off. Vicky ran back and watched in dismay the ball trickling over the ropes.
VST had won by one wicket with two balls to spare.
* * *
The award distribution ceremony was in progress. The Mr. T.R. Deshpande, the Registrar of the University was the Chief Guest.
The Young Achievers sat in one corner with long faces. It had been the classic case of so near and yet so far.
The best fielder award was bagged by Vicky for the spectacular run out and a couple of great catches. Chandru won the best bowler award for his hattrick. Vasan's steady 53 won him the best batsmen award. Mir Chachu won the man of the match award. The compere called Mir Chachu the captain of the winning team to say a few words.
"Friends, my team and I really enjoyed the game. We had all along believed the game would be completely one sided. In fact the only reason why we had agreed was because we liked the spirit of the youngsters.
Full credit to the boys for putting up such a terrific fight and nearly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. My teammates and I have been discussing their performance. We feel that even though we won, the real winners are these spirited youngsters. They fought against a much tougher opposition and exhibited the one quality that is the hallmark of champions - the will to win. Till the very last over they did not give up. We believe the ground truly belongs to the little champions."
There was a loud applause. VAT members looked at each other unable to believe what they had heard.
"Yes, my young friends the ground is yours. I have requested the registrar and he has agreed to sanction funds for developing the barren land behind our club into a cricket ground. Till then we will borrow the Young Achiever's Ground whenever we want it. I hope you will lend it to us.
"Of course we will," chorused the Young Achievers' happily.