Surya switched on his TV to see the ICC World Test Championship final between New Zealand and India. In the pandemic caused by Covid-19, and having to be confined to his home for months together, his retired life received some solace from the ‘idiot box’, of seeing some exciting serials, movies and cricket matches like the one in question; all this, when he was not busy otherwise in his various pursuits and hobbies.
What a relief to see the cricketers all in white with light cream-coloured pullovers having the classic double borders; a far cry from the motley ‘uniforms’ donned by the players in international cricket tournaments in the prevailing two other formats. It reminded him much about the time that he used to play cricket for his school in a prestigious inter-school tournament. He would be dressed in spotless white shirt and full pant, all of thirteen years of age, and would stride out confidently to the wicket with a singular aim of garnering the maximum number of runs for his school and, oh, of course of keeping wickets with elan and swift reflexes.
Those were the days, in the summer of ’69, when the cricket tournament was played in a format extending for three days, with breaks for lunch and drinks. Surya would be very excited when a match was scheduled at his school ground where he could get the cheers and applause from his classmates in abundance which would spur him on to put on his best performance.
He was revelling in those nostalgic memories, when the Indian batsman at the crease executed an exquisite cover drive, in copy-book style, which made the ball roll all the way to the boundary. Surya gave a wide grin and clapped instinctively. ‘After a lull, the score-board is sure ticking away’, he thought, as he reached for another morsel of his favourite onion pakora that his wife, Usha, had doled out affectionately for him on a platter along with coriander and mint chutney. By all accounts, the wicket had shown signs of aiding the bowlers after the spell of rain which had played spoil-sport and the outfield, too, was not helpful to the batsmen in any way; nevertheless, the power behind the stroke which had despatched the ball to the boundary had surmounted the disadvantage posed by the lovely green ground all around the pitch.
The rattled bowler tried to make amends by swinging the ball both ways, for the remaining part of the over, but the batsman was well-settled in his crease. It was time for drinks and the play was adjourned for that tiny break when the players refreshed themselves with soft drinks and the like. The match got underway immediately thereafter and Surya, after quickly using the loo, came back to his sofa with his favourite pakoras within easy reach.
The New Zealand captain continued his pace attack with the fast-medium bowlers getting the bite off the pitch as the ball kept swinging off the air and on the pitch with sustained ferocity. And then the unfortunate incident happened; a youthful-looking but big-built bowler sent down one of his bouncers at a speed of 135kph which, after traversing the air, hit the batsman bang-on in the area of his left temple. His helmet cracked at the side and a piece flew off. Thoroughly shaken, he stood aside the wicket and removed his helmet. After massaging the side of his face for about ten seconds, he decided to resume his innings. The helmet had saved him from a possible serious head injury. Soon, as the match progressed, the incident was forgotten; but, for Surya, it took him on another trip down memory lane.
During those days when he played for his school, protective gear such as helmets had not been introduced in the game. So, apart from the pads and gloves that he wore when he was a wicket-keeper, there was nothing else that was available to protect him from the fury of the pace bowlers of the day. All the body-hits or the punches that he got on his thighs while batting were duly attended to either immediately or after the innings was over. Rarely though it was, that any player was seriously injured by any pace delivery.
However, in one of the critical encounters which his school had with the then holders of the trophy, at the knock-out stage, excitement was running high with the adrenalin rising in everyone’s veins. The existing champions were in a dismal situation in their first innings with both their openers out for no score. Number three and number four batsmen were at the crease and his school’s pace attack was still being invoked. Imran was their star bowler who always returned with startling averages that would have been any bowler’s delight.
As Imran went back to the top of his run-up, Surya was joking with his chum, Bhuvan, in the first slip. As Imran turned round and came at a fast clip, Surya positioned himself at a respectable distance behind the wicket. Down came Imran’s good-length ball, eluding the batman who had intended to play on the forward foot. It hit the middle stump with a thump and as the batsman walked away in dismay, Surya and the other fielders joined in the celebration of cheering, clapping and complimenting Imran. Little did Surya realize that, though the ball had come across the pitch with full force, it had only hit the top of the middle stump, flicked the bails and had continued its trajectory beyond the wicket towards him. Consequently, when complacency at seeing the batsman getting out had got the better of his senses, Surya was in a very vulnerable position when the ball, after hitting the stump flew straight at his face. He was struck on the side of his nose below the bridge and was felled by the hit. Bleeding profusely, he was lying on the ground for about five seconds, before Imran, who happened to notice the accident, on his follow-through, came running down the pitch and, carrying the young Surya in his arms, ran towards the school’s infirmary where the young lad was immediately administered first aid. Later on, he was rushed to the nearby hospital for an X-ray. The medical examination did not reveal any fracture, but there was a severe concussion on account of the impact of the five-and-a- half ounce ball striking the nose at an estimated speed of 100kph. According to the doctors, it had been a miraculous escape for Surya from more severe injury.
As for Imran, his white shirt and pant were soaked in blood. Fearing the worst, if he were to go home in that attire, he called for fresh clothes from his residence and, changing into these at the end of the day’s play, he made his way homeward.
Surya looked back and reminisced that, but for the timely intervention and action by Imran to arrange to provide him with medical aid, his situation could have aggravated to a more serious consequence.