The re-run was at the India-England match in Durban, and memories of the extravagant Sachin pull shot off Caddick whet their appetites.
As Sachin rocked back, and majestically pulled the ball into the stands, and Ravi Shastri, started his usual recorded commentary, Nardendra Singh, let out a sigh. His 20 year old son and 17 year old daughter, immediately started mocking him, “Papa, you could have been playing in South Africa na”, they said, and started smiling, disbelieving that the middle aged Narendra Singh with a big moustache, spectacles, and a huge belly, would ever have been young and fit to play cricket.
Narendra Singh, however, had travelled back to Patna in 1976.
It was those days, much before Twenty20, ODI’s was just trying to become popular, and BCCI was not the cash rich bully that they are now. Cricket Academies and Coaching classes were established in the big cities and exclusive to the rich. The Indian middle class was still sleeping. For a poor small town boy, international cricket was bought home by the radio and youthful dreams of MCG and Lords.
Cricket was still not a profession then. The national team players hardly made money out of the game, and the Ranji trophy types, played because, that got them a goverment job in the sports quota.
Patna then had a few semi organized league, cricket being played on weekends, which sort of feeded cricketers into a little less shady league, and so on and so forth to the Bihar ranji squad (which was not much of a team either). Narendra Singh played in one such league.
Evening college was much the rage then, seth-lings (young boys who would inherit their father’s store) and aspiring bank job seekers, could then spend the day apperenticing and get their degree in the evening, earning some money while studying. Narendra Singh was doing his BCom in an evening college, and balancing the accounts of a big Sari dealer during the day. As was common with most of the middle class service families then, Narendra Singh’s income would be transferred to the college as fees. He would surreptiously save a few rupees here and there, and pool it in with 11 other friends to afford the cricket kit and the leather balls and the fees to play in the weekend league.
He used to bat down the order, but was menancingly fast with the new ball. His team, of 5 accountants in the making, the wicket keeper who was a Chemistry major, 2 bachelors from the colony who had their dreams set on IAS and 4 12th drop-outs who juggled odd jobs, had somehow managed it to one of the knock-out games.
On an uneven ground, an overcast August sky welcomed the players, and unkown to them, sitting in the crowd was a Bihar Cricket Association biggie (the opposition team had a player whose father was well connected). Narendra Singh’s captain lost the toss, and was asked to bat. The swinging ball accounted for a few early wickets, and suddenly Narendra Singh was out in the middle, his team 52/7 in the 18th over, and 22 overs left in the innings. Narendra Singh’s previous batting exploits were nothing great, but somehow, that August morning, the ball contrived to hit the middle of his bat. In what was to be an explosive innings in those days, Narendra Singh managed 40 runs of 55 balls before he got out. And his team were left to defend 130 in 40 overs.
After lunch, Narendra Singh steamed in, and his first ball pitched on good length and moved away from the right handed opener, who tried to block it and missed it. The second one jagged back in and trapped him in front, but the umpire was unmoved. For four overs, Narendra Singh ran in hard, and mesmerized the batsmen, but was unlucky not to have had more success than the 2 wickets that he prized out. However the other bowlers were extravagent, and the match was quickly lost.
As he got his stuff together, and waited at the bus-stop to get back home, the BCA biggie accosted him on his scooter and offered to drop him back home. On the way, Narendra Singh was made an dream offer, a chance to play for Bihar in the Ranji. The biggie, turned out to be a selector in the BCA, and was much impressed by the fast bowling and brave batting. Bihar needs an all-rounder, India needs one, he commented.
Narendra Singh was esctatic, and immediately started day-dreaming about millions of people tuning in ther radios after the afternoon lunch to listen to Narendra Singh rock the English batting in Lords. The dreams were short lived, as his dad Devendra Singh took no time in rejecting Narendra’s dream. As with other 17 year olds in the 1970’s, Narendra Singh understood the importance of a steady income, and the vagaries of Indian Cricket Team, it’s selectors and BCCI. He gave up the dream of bowling at Lords, to more practical dreams of having his own scooter, his small apartment, wife and kids and fan and television etc.
Much to the dissapointment of the BCA biggie, Narendra Singh, remained content with college and weekend matches for his motely team, for the next 3 years. Since then, he passed the Bank selection exam, and has moved up the ladders efficiently, and lived his modest and practical dreams.
But for a few hours on that August afternoon, after that almost magical conversation with the BCA biggie, Narendra Singh was almost an India player in the making.
A smile came on the middle aged Narendra Singh’s face, and he continued watching the rest of the re-run. As the TV channel cut to a break, and Pragya Sen, started jigging in the latest Bollywood movie trailer, Mrs Narendra Singh let out a sigh, and the children started, “Ya, We know ma, you could have been the biggest Bollywood heroine”.