Open letter: Plight of the good ol' red cherry
It’s a bit dark in here as I write. I am inside a van, bundled with others of my own flesh, or rather I should say, my own leather, traveling to Lahore for a cricket camp for kids aged under sixteen. It seems I might not ever witness an international fixture again. The other day, Rehman chacha alluded that his ball manufacturing company doesn’t need me anymore. It’s not just the case here in Pakistan, though; my pals in London, Aukland, and Sydney – all share the same plight of dejection. Even that SG fellow across the border is being slowly ostracized.
Everyone tells me that they have found someone superior to us. It’s rosy and radiant, and gleams beautifully in the night sky under lights. To be honest, I initially didn’t believe it would pose much trouble since it looked unmanly, and certainly wasn’t something brawny men would like to hold. We even assumed it was designed by Cricket Australia for a possible George Bailey testimonial match.
After all, who’d really want to witness a fearsome Dale Steyn or a Wahab Riaz firing-down something this effeminate at the batsman? Certainly not the cricket traditionalists. I am glad this did not happen in the previous era, or else, we would see a 6 feet 8 Joel Garner raging towards the crease, only to hurl a cute-looking object at the batsman. What an anti-climax that’d turn out to be!
But not everyone thinks like us, and the pink ball is here for the long run. Maybe, cricket’s turning mellower. Maybe, we need that fiery Fawad Khan-lookalike, who plays for India, to crank up things up a bit on the field once again. I know Misbah cannot, so that’s the only hope.
There was a time when we, the red cherries, were the stars. We were critical to a fielding team's cause, with the fielding captain often (either by himself or through his opening bowler) prudently selecting the best among us before the start of a game. After all, we were all that mattered to them on the field. We were the instruments on which the bowlers played their orchestra; the puppets in their drama.
Often, the bowlers and fielders would spit on me to shine my one side, while keeping my other side rough. Ravi Shastri explained on air that keeping one side shiny made me talk more. He also often mentioned about batsmen throwing the kitchen sink at me. I could never understand Shastri.
I had some great memories, though. I remember the time when Wasim bhai used to tactfully hide me from the batsmen’s vision, making me go the other way, often ending up hoodwinking the batsman. Then there was Muralitharan as well, who just with a twirl his arm and wrist, would send me in endless gyration. I liked Shane Warne during his early days since he took great care of me; it’s only later that I realized that his interest in curvy and shiny looking things went beyond the cricket field.
But amidst the good days, there were some terrible ones too. Apart from killing a bird here and there in Adelaide or being hit by Sreesanth for a six, only to see him break into a jig, I specifically disliked the games where Shahid Afridi played. Don’t take me otherwise; it wasn’t for his batting. In fact, he seemed a really warm-hearted and sweet guy whenever he batted; getting out cheaply most of the times, and not really troubling me. It was during his bowling, though; he often tried to bite me with his big teeth in the middle of the game, and that too, in a thoroughly tasteless manner.
Coming to the batsmen now, I liked a few of them too – especially that VVS Laxman; what a gentleman with the bat. He hardly ever smashed me; often caressing me with motherly love to the fence. Rahul Dravid was kind too; we shared deep mutual respect, he would not hit me hard, and in reply, I would not hit his stumps or the edge of his bat.
Only later on in my careers that I met forces like MS Dhoni, Chris Gayle, and AB de Villiers who bludgeoned me and my kin with disdain. But to tell you the truth, I did get to travel by air more often, and that made even my dad proud; who spent his entire career moving indolently on the grass after a Geoffery Boycott cover-drive.
I spent all my life thinking that if anyone could remotely compete with me, it’ll be the white leather ball. I envied it; since it had all the fun; the girls held it tight after a six-hit, it didn’t have to stay in the sun all day, and could even be gifted to lady fans given it put Dhoni’s autograph on its body.
I, on the other hand, once landed inside the beer glass of a pot-bellied man in Headingly, and also once got ricocheted off the boundary rope to hit a ball boy’s face, disturbing his adolescent teeth. That was my definition of fun.
But I never felt insecure with the white ball. We competed in different markets; it looked after the pretty chicks, and I looked after the uncles. Our maintenance was done differently, we swung in a contrasting manner (although India’s Shikhar Dhawan could not read both of us), and even had different lifespans. But with the pink ball, things are different. Pakistan is playing two pink ball Tests this year, and most other teams have started playing or will start playing in near future, and that scares me.
I also realize that the pink balls are priced at a premium, much higher than what I cost. I wish kids don't opt for the pink ones citing economic concerns. I also hope their parents turn out to be traditionalists. Some others also say the pink ball doesn’t swing and may turn Tests boring. Currently, Pakistan is mounting heaps of runs against an insipid West Indies in empty stands at Dubai. This gives me hope.
My friends have been narrating me stories of how unused cricket balls end up becoming skulls of dolls for ten-year-old girls. It’s not that I dislike little girls; I am just better off in a fast bowler’s grasp.