In the late 90's and early 2000s, my housing complex had some extremely talented guys who played an attractive brand of cricket . All of them were high school or college students, and played the game only for fun , but the competition was intense and the skill levels on display were beyond belief ! I was an ardent fan of many of them , and spent hours , sitting at the sidelines, watching them play. We were the junior kids , who begged for our inclusion in their matches, but most of the time, we were not taken in the teams , or even if we got a chance, we were the last persons to come out to bat , and had the mandatory job of fielding the full quota of overs. Naturally, we had the tendency to grab the eyes of the seniors in the field , as that was the only place where we had the chance to show off our qualities, and we dived around on the rough grounds, in an effort to make ourselves more prominent; in the process , often ending up with abrasions. Once or twice, if someone got the chance to bowl, he would be over the moon with joy, but very often , the enthusiasm was short lived, as he would be taken apart in that one over , signalling yet another lengthy wait for another chance to bowl in a match !
However, we , the juniors tried to improve ourselves, and lift our own games. Every evening , after returning from school , we would assemble on the ground and play hard , till the time when the sun had long set , and the housing lights had taken over . We would try to bowl fast , catch high balls , and throw down the stumps . But no matter how hard we tried , it seemed we were always worse off than the seniors , who were able to pull off more difficult things with consummate ease !
I had my sights set on being a fast bowler for my housing team , and I made gradual progress . The day came when I made the transition to the seniors' matches along with a few other juniors friends . We were beginning to be assigned with more important roles than just fetching the ball from outside our complex ( when they were carted for massive sixes that flew out above the buildings onto the road ) . A year went by , with me getting a couple of overs at least, every match that took place on weekends . But my problem was not being able to deliver good balls consistently . There would be the occasional over where I would bowl a few decent balls,and take a wicket , but subsequently , spray the ball around , get hit, and effectively get taken off the attack . In my mind , I would replay my performance the whole of the subsequent week , grimacing at how my wicket taking deliveries were followed up with big sixes . I needed to improve . I needed to do better . I needed that one big performance that would see me getting respect from the seniors .
Once every few months , our housing team played matches with teams from neighbouring clubs at a ground outside our complex. It was one of days when a match had been arranged , that marked my first appearance in this outside fixture , as we were short on our regular bowlers . The captain had told me that I had to shoulder extra responsibility, as my team was looking forward to my quota of overs as the fast bowling option . The excitement within me knew no bounds , but at the same time , I was apprehensive as to what might happen if I messed up the plot . Batting first , our team put on quite a big total . At the changeover , the captain told me to loosen up as he would be asking me to bowl quite early . I was the youngest member of our team , and this was the huge opportunity that I had been looking for . I was brought on as a first change bowler , and I managed to keep my nerves , bowling a decent line , and even managing to uproot the middle stump of the opponent opener.
But my first overs were not really the problem . The errors crept in mostly in my later spells , when I lost focus and ended up bowling trash. So, I was very nervous by the time I was called upon to bowl again at the death . I felt I was starting to lose the plot in my mind. What if I bowled full tosses ? What if I bowled wayward short deliveries ? My team was looking at me to bowl us to victory , and my fellow death bowler was extremely good . What if I undid all his good work? I was unsure of myself. Did I have the temperament to succeed under pressure ? Did I have it in myself to keep my head cool ?
I ran in and bowled a good length ball that fetched one run . The wicket keeper and fielders shouted encouragement, and I felt a little better . The captain came up and said , "get out the Yorker!" I nodded , and ran in yet again but what happened next sucked the life out of me. The ball was sent soaring above square leg and out of the ground for a mammoth six . " Not the short ball you idiot ", the captain was fuming , but I hadn't tried the short ball at all . In my effort to bowl as a fast as I could , I had bowled a rank bad ball , that just sat up to be thrashed. I ran in yet again , and this time , overcompensating for the previous ball , I had bowled a full toss, that disappeared over mid wicket .
In a jiffy, the equation had turned against us . My skipper was dumbfounded , and all of the fielders were stunned. My heart was beating so fast that I felt I would have to sit down to rest . My worst fears were coming true, and I was yet again self destructing . My senior bowling partner ran in and put an arm around me . " Calm down , you're trying too hard . Can you just keep the length right ? That'll do ! " he said . He gave me an extra couple of seconds to get myself together again , and now a plan had sprouted in my brain from nowhere . What if I bowl a slower ball? The rational side of my brain jumped up in protest," don't even think of it, you'll get hit again "! But my mind was working fervently . This was my only hope ......to bowl a slower ball expertly . I had practiced it many times, but it had never quite come off as expected in a match situation . The voice in my brain was saying ," show off your skill man .,......this is it! Do it now , if it doesn't come off , you won't have the regret of not trying ! " I was now determined . I gripped the ball and ran in , more nervous than I ever was . At the delivery stride, I rolled over the fingers , hoping I could at least ,land the off cutter correctly . As I released the ball, a sense of belief arose within me.
The batsman, who was expecting yet another fast ball , went for an almighty hoick , but this time, my delivery arrived far later than he had expected , and took the edge ! As the ball lobbed up for a simple catch at point , a spontaneous cry of "CATCH ITTTTTT" escaped my lips . The next moment, as the ball landed safely in the hands of the fielder , I was mobbed by my team mates . Everyone started exclaiming how I had managed to bowl an exceptional delivery under pressure. This was the moment I had been waiting for so long . A moment that filled me with hope , and made me believe that I too belonged to the big league with my seniors . I was now confident . I could now be counted upon to show my own sets of skills! I could deliver under pressure. The fact that the best opposition batsman had been foxed by me gave me immense self belief . I was elated.
The renewed vigour in my bowling spelt doom for our opponents. The very next ball to the new batsman was a searing Yorker that took leg stump out . Even though I didn't manage to bag the hattrick , I returned an over later to pick up two more wickets , to seal victory for my team . There was no dearth of adulation for me and suddenly , from being a minnow, I was the centre of attention . One defining moment of excellence had turned the tide in my favour , and scripted a new dawn within me. It was a decision to trust my instinct and back myself to do what I believed I could achieve , and it had helped me change my outlook . I was a proper player now, no longer a bits and pieces player needed to fill up a team . I was ready to take up the responsibility from my seniors ! I was rejuvenated ...........it was my moment of glory!