Clad in a milky white trouser, a matching half-sleeve shirt, sporting an unshaven beard which is bordering on turning prematurely white, wearing a spectacle having thick-lenses, Someshwar, a lean man of medium height having a long face, sitting on a chair, casts a pensive glance at the make-shift scoreboard placed at a distance, 30 degrees to his left. The 2 short men busy changing the numbers in the scoreboard aren’t painting a bright picture for him to see. Being pitted against a rival cricket club Laboni Boys’, in a final match whose winner will be crowned the Champions of the Annual Salt Lake Twenty-Twenty Cricket Mela, EC Cricket Champs, the team coached by him, is staring at a hope-smashing defeat on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Having put Laboni Boys in to bat first in a wicket on which they thought the ball would seam in the initial half an hour, Someshwar had to watch the horrible sight of his bowlers getting smashed all around the medium-sized cricket ground situated in the middle of the sports park named Central Salt Lake Krira Udyan. Right now, while chasing a formidable target of 187 runs, which has to be scored within 20 overs, he feels furious on seeing his team lose its way at a critical juncture in its reply. Having started their innings on a roll, courtesy the staggering stroke play from the blades of his team’s opener Prabir, whom coach Someshwar refers in private as ‘The Biggest Champ among EC Cricket Champs’ -- a signature expression of Someshwar which reveals the special place the prodigal Prabir has in his heart, his team has lost 4 quick wickets between overs 10th and 12th, a mishap which has put the Laboni Boys’ in the driving seat in this all-important final.
All-important it indeed is, at least for Someshwar. The 40-year old Someshwar had dreams of becoming a professional cricketer in his teens. That’s nothing unusual for a young starry-eyed adolescent boy growing up in India of the 80s, a time when legends like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev lorded over the Indian cricket landscape and virtually had copyrights on the fantasies of teenagers like Someshwar. But, in Someshwar’s case, that dream had got translated rapidly into life-defining resolution, thanks to his own prowess with the cricket bat in hand. Geared with his own ability as an aggressive yet dependable opening batsman, Someshwar dived deeper and deeper into the ocean of cricket. Practise was followed by more practise, long hours spent at the net were followed by even longer duration of hard work dedicated to perfecting the art of batting. He forsook his studies for the sake of playing cricket, a brave call to make for someone like him who belonged to the lower middle class section of Bengali society during the communist-ruled 80s and 90s. That he was an orphan, growing up in his uncle’s house, helped though. His uncle Kartik and aunt Kamala, themselves parents of 2 and perennially bothered over stretched family resources, couldn’t care any less about Someshwar’s future. They had left Someshwar to the whims of fate. For them, Someshwar was a piece of wood floating lonely on the muddy waters of life. Life’s own course was to determine Someshwar’s destination. But, Someshwar, without confiding to them, because of their not-so-hidden indifference towards him, had chosen his destination -- The Indian National Cricket Team. The India Cap, which every cricketer earns on making his debut for the Indian National Cricket team, which is blue in colour and has the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s logo at the centre in the front, was an object of hypnotic lust for him. That cap also has a number emblazoned on its sides. If a cricketer’s India Cap has the number 200, it means he is the 200th cricketer to wear this special cap which also means he si the 200th cricketer to make a debut for the Indian National Cricket Team. Someshwar wanted THAT number, more than anything else in this world. He was fixated to making it big as a cricketer and inscribing his name in golden letters in the history-book of Indian cricket. While the cricket world pondered over who will replace Sunil Gavaskar post his retirement in 1986, his tender mind knew the answer-- Someshwar Ghosh.
He had made a promising start too. After leaving his uncle’s home in BarrackPore, which is located about 30 kms away from Kolkata, he shared a room with an elder player named Rashid in Kasba area of Kolkata. He joined the coaching classes of Ramchandra Banik, a Cricket coach whose nickname in the Calcutta Maidan was ‘Mr.Hitler’, earned because of his hard taskmaster style of teaching cricket to teen-aged wannabe Gavaskars. As the most promising colt in the Cricket stable of Ramchandra Banik, Someshwar had blazed through the various under-age state-level cricket tournaments. His consistent run-scoring, accompanied by his penchant for tearing apart bowling attacks, which not only was good-value entertainment but was also a refreshing departure from the dominant Gavaskar-inspired defensive style of batting in vogue throughout the country, made people higher up in the cricket hierarchy take notice. Murmurs of him being Bengal Cricket’s ‘Special Boy’ were increasingly heard in different corners of the Maidan. Soon, at the age of 18, Someshwar was picked up by Mohan Bagan Cricket Club, a heavyweight in the domestic cricket set-up of Bengal, to represent them. That day, the local newspapers had run special stories on how the Maidan was reposing it’s faith on the prodigy named Someshwar Ghosh. Someshwar, though, had remained unfazed by that increasing adulation. His target was clear -- THE INDIAN NATIONAL CRICKET TEAM. Nothing less would have done.
Alas, fate didn’t reserve anything more for him.
50 runs are required in 5 overs with 4 wickets left -- that’s what the scoreboard reads. Someshwar looks behind towards his players. Most of them are seated on a mat, right under the blazing sun, while Ranjib, the next batsman, a medium-to-tall lanky fellow, is standing beside, shadow practicing with full concentration. Someshwar, though, is quick to cast his glance back at where all the action lay, i.e., on the 22-yeards long pitch. He knows hope doesn’t lay on his backside, rather on his front -- on Prabir who is still batting and batting very very well. No matter how high his other players score in terms of sincerity, passion for the game and zeal to learn it, Someshwar knows they just don’t possess the talent which God has endowed Prabir with. This 15-year-old shortish kid having roundish face, medium-to-fair complexion, big teeth and even bigger eyes has special powers when it comes to wielding the willow -- Someshwar, a man whose life has been dedicated to the sport of cricket can’t mistake that. Ahh! the tender twist he gives to his wrist to glance the ball past leg gully. Ahh! That lightning quick shift of his weight behind the crease to square cut the ball past point. Again, on the very next ball, if pitched up, he doesn’t falter in first, middling it and then, with an effortless push towards his front, sending the ball racing to the fence through the gaps between fielders. AND THAT STRAIGHT DRIVE!! Pure Tendulkar!! That minimum backlift, that straight offering of the bat’s face, that lightest of punches and off it goes --to the fence, as straight as an arrow. Uff!! Terrific!! Spectacular!! Incredible!! Someshwar just loves him; loves him to no end. Hence, the knowledge, embedded deep into Someshwar’s psyche by now, that if EC Cricket Champs has to be the Champions today, Prabir has to be the man to win it. Yet, Someshwar feels a bit of unease when he looks at Prabir from a distance. Hope hasn’t been his most trustworthy friend in life. It has only proven to be a deception, a harbinger of heartbreak. Is Prabir’s talent too a mirage? Someshwar knows the next 5 overs would provide some hints towards a definite answer. That’s why this match is all-important for him. It’s not about the trophy even if it will be the first trophy won by Someshwar as coach. It’s about the question, is he, the wonder kid on whom Maidan once reposed its faith, right in reposing his own faith in this little teenager, “The Biggest Champ among EC Cricket Champs”?
The next 2 overs sees EC Cricket Champs lose 2 more wickets. Ranjib got bowled in the very first ball he faced. They still need 40 runs. Hope is quickly fading away, but this maybe true for the entire team but not for coach Someshwar. He still believes in his special pupil Prabir. Yet, the sense of unease, born out of a lingering lack of faith in fortune, doesn’t leave him. Sensing this, Someshwar’s friend Pinaki Ghoshal, another spectacle-wearing man having a square face, sporting a sizeable paunch, wearing a grey shirt and a loose blue jeans, who was standing to Someshwar’s right near the boundary ropes, creeps towards him and asks, ‘What happened, coach? Are you too losing hope?’. Someshwar, eyes fixed on Prabir, slowly moves his head in disagreement.
.... There is more of this story ...