Look at me today and it is difficult to believe that I was a very popular cricketer in my youth. Batting, bowling or fielding I was the darling of the crowds. It was either a conspiracy of fate or the envy of my fellow-cricketers at school that I did not find a place in the cricket team of my school and a promising cricketing career was nipped in the bud.
There are batsmen who attract crowds with their shots. Since they only play these shots every now and then, the crowds get entertained infrequently. I, however, entertained the crowds from the moment I took my stance. Having never seen any batsman spread his legs wide apart and tuck the bat in the geometric center of that space, the spectators were normally all attention on me. With the way I stood, it was a toss-up as to whether I would hit the shin of the right leg on my backswing or the ankle of the left leg when I swung the bat forward. I believe that the first instance of ball-by-ball betting in cricket happened then, when an enterprising student started taking bets on which of the two would happen.
You know how hide-bound people can be. The games master instructed me to place my legs closer together and I tried out his way. This insidious plot aimed at minimizing my popularity was foiled by the fact that, whenever I tried to hit the ball, I would gracefully topple over thereby managing to rivet the attention of the spectators. I, thereafter, reverted to my usual stance. The red letter day in my batting history was when I managed to avoid the front leg and hit the ball for a boundary. Or, at least, it would have been a certain boundary but for the fact that the fielder at point was inconsiderate enough to get in the way and claim a catch.
I truly do not like blowing my own trumpet but I was probably the first slinger in the history of world cricket. At least the first slinging spinner! I really do not know whether Malinga was a part of the crowd of admiring spectators. Seems unlikely but the world is full of unlikely incidents. Who knows, I may have been the primary inspiration for his slinging ways.
The world is full of jealous people. Can you believe that people actually said that the only way I could get a wicket was if the batsman fell asleep waiting for the ball to arrive? I was a vicious spinner of the ball and could have extracted turn better than Murali. The problem, however, was that the batsmen just wouldn’t wait for the ball to pitch before hitting it. Here I was using all my guile and craft to impart spin to the ball such that the batsmen would be deceived by the turn after it pitched and those idiots would not even allow the ball to pitch. They used to run half-way down the pitch and take it on the full. Is that fair? Cheating, I call it!
Still, no one could rob me of my popularity. The spectators normally cheered non-stop while I was bowling. My detractors were, as usual, keen on robbing me of the credit. They claimed that the spectators were cheering the batsmen for their prowess in hitting boundaries. If they were cheering the batsmen and not me then why do they cheer mainly when I was bowling? Can you answer me that?
Fielding, I must modestly say, was always my forte. I had an uncanny ability to time my catches perfectly. Do you know of anyone who could invariably take a spooned catch on the tips of his fingers? Every time I managed to do it and, instead of lauding me for the accuracy of the timing or commiserating with me in my pain, people used to shout at me for missing the catch. I don’t know what they mean by missing – considering that the ball has never once missed knocking off a nail from my fingers.
As for ground fielding, if I told you about my contributions you would not believe it. Oh! All Right!All Right! I will tell you. In a time when Indian cricketers were shy of diving while fielding, I was always diving around. Whenever the ball was struck firmly in my direction I used to dive – the other way! Only a suicidal person would get in the way of a rapidly traveling cricket ball!
Considering my all round abilities to entertain on the cricket field, I know that all of you must be convinced that I would have been a shoo-in for any cricket team. So I would have been but for the rampant favoritism prevalent in the country then! It is a tribute to the essential sweetness of my nature that I am still able to take interest in Cricket!