“And Heaven, and Heaven and Nature sing.”
The skies over the Diamond Oval in Kimberley quietened down. The blazing sun that had greeted the team in the first ODI was absent. The relatively harsh day, interspersed with perspiration and dampness, started mellowing down and the clouds were out enveloping the ground.
The sway of a breeze broke through and for the locals, the sweet aroma of the once-dead blooms that gushed forth brought with it a sense of undulated joy.
Accustomed to the still morn and the even-stiller evenings, today saw a marked change. It was as if the omnipresent were converging together for a grand spectacle. The build-up had begun ever since the Indian Women’s Cricket Team gathered in the Rainbow Nation and the Heavens keenly glanced at the occurrences down below.
The everyday happenings. The usual clamour for tickets outside the Kimberley Mine Museum and the Magersfontein Battlefield. The normal shrewdness at the Flamingo World casino or the silence prevailing in and around the Felidae Animal Welfare Centre. For a tourist or a citizen, life carried on as it always does, but somewhere, the day felt strangely different.
Almost 957 kilometers away, the excitement levels had reached a greater peak. The Table Top at Cape Town was readying itself for a day of intense scrutiny and praise as it wrapped its arms around the Newlands stadium. Brimming with energy and shrieks, the city remained engulfed in its hustle and bustle, but the anticipation around the stadium did remain a notch higher.
Will Virat Kohli get his 34th century today? Will the Indian Cricket Team take an unassailable lead in the series? Can the spin twins continue their awe-inspiring magic?
Amidst rounds of questions, most of which were mere rhetorical, the dust gathered over the storm as the match began in the right earnest. Full house. Not a breathing space available. Cricket fanatics all over. Chanting, shouting, waiting in anticipation.
The scenes over Kimberley were hardly different. No, there weren’t many youngsters around. Neither were there many Indians wrapped around in the Tricolour. The strange wigs and the even stranger body paints were amiss and one mostly witnessed a throng of foreigners entering the stadium. They had heard much about the craze that cricket brought with it in India and for once, they had hoped to embrace the hysteria around it.
The scenes, however, portrayed little scenes of excitement, forget craziness. They had to check and double-check. The Indian Cricket Team, yes. The squad of eleven brimming individuals, who wanted to win the series, yes. Then why this silence? Why the attitude of nonchalance?
They would hardly have known. And can they be blamed? When billions back home in India hardly ever knew that the “weaker gender” were playing a game just miles away from the Kohli-led team, can they be blamed for gauging that the cries of cricket madness in India were just hyperbole?
When television broadcasters stayed away from streaming a “popular but not-so-popular” sport, then why raise questions at the few hundred Indians at Kimberley for giving the game a miss?
The World Cup finalists were in town. The “Basher of Australia” Harmanpreet Kaur. The gutsy Smriti Mandhana. The carom-bowling Deepti Sharma. Captain Mithali Raj, of course. The Finals hero Punam Raut as well.
The same bunch that had sent shutterbugs swarming across for a few clicks just a few months ago. Now, they were all hoarded around somewhere far away in the bigger city of Cape Town. Kimberley, despite all its beauties, did not have much to offer.
But as Jhulan Goswami readied herself up in her run-up, the slight flutter of ecstasy reached its summit. Even when she was smashed for two consecutive boundaries by Laura Wolvaardt, the horizon around knew. Ten dot balls on the trot and the chirping around reached a crescendo. True, cricket is defined by the glorious uncertainties, but when destiny itself aligns with fate, the world around gets a silent clue. Of a glorious moment that is yet to arrive; A moment that will push you deeper and deeper into the world of legends, wherein you will dwell for a long, long time.
The two wides to Lizelle Lee was just the thorn in the story. The next delivery, the thirtieth of the match, the ball zoomed back into Wolvaardt, who remained befuddled and bamboozled. As Sushma Verma completed a fine catch, the quietness of the serene stadium was pierced by the loud exhilarating cries of eleven excited girls. Ten, to be precise.
As her team-mates mobbed her and acknowledged her superstardom on becoming the first ever cricketer to capture 200 ODI wickets, Goswami just heaved a heavy sigh of relief, looked up towards the skies, and then towards the empty stands, closed her eyes, smiled, and went back to deliver another ball!
Make no mistake, she was buzzing from inside, the facade which refused to fade away was after all a facade, the player herself was running on to do her job, but the mind was definitely moulding a different story, which was not this cozy, which was not so blessed, a story only she knew, a story her mind had belted so often over these years!
Her minds raced back to the day when she was enamoured by Belinda Clark’s victory lap in 1992. Professional sport is like a theatre bereft of tangible emotions, but Goswami could have been forgiven if her eyes would have turned misty.
The memories came flooding back, that 80-kilometre journey that she undertook on a daily basis to realise the dream, which was far-fetched back in the day, of becoming the best bowler in the world. From the by-lanes of Chakdaha to the passionate roads in Kolkata to the records captured and stamped en-route Kimberley, each moment flashed back.
The moments gaped on, Jhulan kept running in, the mind kept racing back, Jhulan kept pounding in!
The lack of support never gave in to her confidence. Neither did the empty stands, nor the hardly-filled pathways. But she need not have worried.
On this day, the clouds and the birds; the skies and the breeze all synced together to sing praises for a gem from a small village in India. Away from the boisterous world of the mortals, she received her greatest tribute from the murmurs of the world all around. A world, which had been readying itself for this very moment ever since she landed.
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Away from the realm of oblivion, here she found her grandest welcome.