For the love of the game - A short story
It was the incessant ringing of the door-bell that woke him up. Groggily, the old man checked the time on the wall clock above his television set and was surprised that his friend had arrived much earlier than expected. Slightly annoyed, he got up from his rocking chair and switched off the TV, even as the door-bell continued to ring. “I’m coming!” he shouted grumpily. Muttering to himself, he ambled to the front door and opened it.
“Hello Grandpa. Hope I am not disturbing you.”
For a moment, the old man didn’t know how to respond. After all, it was not often that his teenage grandson came around to visit him; but there he was, standing at his door step with an almost forlorn expression on his face.
“Of course not, kid. Come on in”. The old man moved aside and let the teenager trudge in to the living room. Even as he tried to gather his thoughts, wondering what the reasons for the unexpected visit could be, the teenager flopped on a near-by sofa and asked for a glass of water.
Fetching the glass of water, the old man handed it over to the boy, who gulped it down in a flash.
Shifting uncomfortably, the old man asked, “So, what’s the matter, kid? You look upset.”
The Kid looked up at his grandfather. “Well, I AM upset, grandpa. As you may know, I play cricket for my school team, and recently my form has hit rock bottom. I can’t seem to work it out and am on the verge of getting dropped from the team. Mom said you have played some cricket in your younger days and that you might be able to help. That’s why I’m here.”
The old man’s eyes lit up for a second. Some cricket, huh? Suppose one could call that, he mused. Still, he wasn’t interested in the kid’s problems. All he wanted was to get some more shut-eye before his friend came along to play chess with him.
“Well, it’s no big deal, kid. Every cricketer worth his salt runs into bad form now and then. It is part and parcel of the game. You just got to keep working hard in the nets and never give up. Eventually, everything will fall into place again, and you will be much better for this experience. As they say, form is temporary but class is permanent.” Saying this, the old man subtly walked towards the front door.
The teenager didn’t look convinced. After pondering for a moment, he got up from the sofa. “You know what? Never mind. The only reason I came here was because my mom forced me to, but you are telling me the same stuff I have heard over and over again for the last few weeks. It doesn’t really help, but it’s okay. I was thinking of leaving the game anyway, and trying out for football instead. The other day, I heard a team-mate saying that cricket was dying. If that is true, I might as well make the switch now.”
As the boy made his way towards the door, the old man said calmly, “Sit down, kid. We need to talk.”
There was a fire in the old man’s eyes that the kid had never seen before. Without asking any questions, he made his way back to the sofa and sat down.
The old man took his place at the rocking chair and didn’t say anything for a while. Just as the teen was wondering if he should say something, the old man spoke up.
“Cricket isn’t going anywhere, kid.”
The kid just sat there with a puzzled expression, even as his grandfather continued.
“Cricket is dying, it seems. What a load of rubbish! Do you know of the game’s origins, boy?”
The Kid spluttered, “Umm…it started in the late 1800s I think….”
“The game of cricket was mentioned as early as 1598 in an Italian-English dictionary”, the old man interjected. “So, this game has managed to survive for close to five centuries in one form or the other. During that course, it has survived various tweaks to its laws, two world wars, a series which threatened to bring two countries to an armed conflict, match-fixing claims and more recently, a power struggle between ICC chief Stuart Broad and BCCI president Virat Kohli. In the course of my lifetime, I have heard many doomsday prophets predict that the game was dying; they said that cricket was not keeping up with the modern ways of the world, that an increasing number of youngsters were getting seduced by other sports, and that the game would eventually fade into a relic of the past. Guess what? Cricket has outlasted each and every one of them!”
The old man looked over to the Kid who was listening with his mouth half open and in rapt attention. Satisfied, he pressed on.
“And I’ll tell you why it is not so easy to kill this game. The sport is not owned by a bunch of fat cats sitting in board rooms, as much as they’d like to think so. It survives because of the passion of every individual who is genuinely in love with the game. It survives because of the junior cricketer who wakes up every day with dreams of representing his country at the highest level. It survives because of the pride of the cricketer who plays for his country and recognizes his special privilege. It survives because of the fan that makes sacrifices to watch the matches in stadiums, forsaking the comfort of watching it on TV or the internet. These individuals, who consider this sport as their life, are the ones who keep the game alive.”
Leaning forward and fixing his eyes on the boy, he continued. “So, don’t worry about the game, kid. It can take care of itself. Administrators, players, fans – all will come and go, but cricket will survive. As for your problems, my simple advice would be to relax and learn to enjoy the game. Don’t over complicate matters by worrying about the number or runs you score or the number of wickets you are picking up. Enjoy the simple things: holding a bat in your hands, running between the wickets, diving around the field and running in to bowl a delivery. Learn to celebrate the success of your team-mates and to acknowledge your opponents when they have played a good game. Listen to well meaning advice, acknowledge your shortcomings, and do not let success get to your head. Continue to work hard no matter what. When you have mastered these things, you will be at peace with yourself and your game. The results will invariably follow. Get it?”
The kid nodded in a daze. After few seconds of silence, the kid realized that his grandfather was done. He quietly stood up and started his walk towards the door.
At the door, he paused and looked back towards his grandfather. “Thanks a lot, Grandpa.”
The old man just nodded in acknowledgement.
“Tell me one thing, though. When Mom said that you used to play some cricket, she was just understating it, wasn’t she? Till what level did you actually play?”
The old man got up from his chair, beaming. “Well, let’s just say that I was part of two world cup winning teams and I played over a hundred tests for India.”
The kid’s eyes widened. “Whoa! That’s awesome! So, all the stuff you were talking about…..you actually know that stuff don’t you?”
“Kid, I don’t just know it. I’ve lived it. Highs and lows, I have seen them all; and I learned these things the hard way. It was a journey full of twists and turns; but oh, what a journey it was!”
The kid smiled. His new found admiration for his grandfather was unmistakable. Saying his goodbye, he exited the house. On his way out, he passed an older man who was entering the house.
The visitor looked back at the boy who was leaving the house, with a spring in his step. “Who was that kid, Bhajji?”
“That, my friend, is hopefully a kid who has just realized what cricket is all about.”