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.
Prabir, meanwhile, standing on the batting end of the wicket, scouts the field with the eyes of a hunter. What Someshwar knows, he knows too. That on his slender shoulders rests the fate of this important match. Important it is, for Prabir too. In spite of being not much aware of Someshwar’s past life, except that he was once a very promising young opening batsman and that he has a son named Siddharth whom he loves very much, the MS Dhoni-aficionado Prabir has seen the same dream which his coach Someshwar had seen all those years ago, i.e, to make the cricket bat his chosen friend in life. Those 22-yards is the only distance he wants to cover, the boundary ropes are the only constraints he wants to clear, the sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot of his bat the only music he wants to hear, the Indian National Cricket Team the only place he yearns for. And he knows he has ability-- loads of it. Yet, today offers to him challenges he has seldom faced before. First, there is the challenge of proving that he is a big-match player because this is the first meaningful final he is participating in. Then, there is the challenge of grabbing an opportunity. In the opponent team Laboni Boys’, there is a player named Subham who is a close friend of the son of a Selector of the Ranji Cricket Team of Bengal. Ever since he heard of this, Prabir hasn’t been able to disassociate himself fully from the realm of possibilities that Subham’s propitious presence might portend. What if, Prabir thought frequently, he plays a heroic innings and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat! Would Shubham be impressed enough to talk about him in the presence of his esteemed friend, the son of a Selector of the Ranji Cricket Team of Bengal? Would that son then be impressed enough and generous enough to talk about him to his father -- the selector of the Bengal Ranji team? How many 15-year old budding batsmen can claim that a selector of the Bengal Ranji team knows his name!! Possibilities, they are just too hot to handle! Who knows when the doors of fortune hear those magic words, uttered by the thieves in the Arabian tale of “Ali Baba and 40 Thieves” ‘Khul ja Sim Sim’, and decide to obey? It isn’t just the title of the Champions of the Annual Salt Lake Cricket Mela which is up for stake here. A life, it’s trajectory maybe too.
But, that’s for the future. The last, which in fact, is the present challenge for Prabir is to score the 40 runs in 3 overs. That’s gettable in a not-so-big ground like this one against a bowling attack bound to tire under the impact of the heat. 3-4 sixes and 2-3 boundaries would do the job. The real concern is the inability of his teammates. Already, 8 wickets are down and there are just 2 wickets in hand, both of the remaining batsman are tailenders with no ability in the batting aspect of the game. One of them Dipankar, a wannabe Shoaib Akhtar who has similar long-hairs and bulky biceps, has just made his way to the crease and the first thing he told Prabir in the middle was that tickets for Salman Khan’s latest blockbuster Sultan is available in Inox City Centre, a multiplex cinema hall located inside City Centre -- the favourite go-to spot of young men and women in Salt Lake. Prabir knows Dipankar and the last batsman Tapan are just 1-ball guests. He not only has to score all the runs needed by himself, he has to do that by shielding DIpankar and Tapan. The more he thinks of this, the more he curses the other batsmen in his team for throwing their wicket away as nonchalantly as sons of billionaires throw their money around. They just don’t care, he rages.
What complicates the already tough equation is the decision of the captain of the opponent team Ranjan, a tall, fair chap with a chiseled body, to not hold back the ace up his sleeve till the last. It seems to Prabir that Ranjan is in a hurry to finish the game. Otherwise, why would he ask his main strike bowler Pradipta, who is as tall as Ranjan but not as athletic, to bowl the last over of his allowed quota of 4, right now? Normal calculation suggests that Pradipta would have bowled the last over. That would have given Prabir 2 overs to repair the damage before going for the ultimate one-vs-one showdown to the finish with Pradipta, one of the best bowlers that he has faced till now and who troubled him a lot in the initial phases of this innings beside accounting for the mini-collapse in the middle stage of their innings. But, the unforeseen calling of Pradipta by Ranjan changes the complexion suddenly. Now, instead of repairing the damage, Prabir has to ensure that Pradipta doesn’t cause more trouble. Who said cricket is just a game of the bat hitting the ball! Rarely is a player’s reading of the game tested more in any other sports! This move by Ranjan will not only test Prabir’s batting ability, but also his cricketing intelligence. Another test before the doors of fortune respond to ‘Khul ja Sim Sim’.
Pinaki turns his concerned face towards Someshwar. ‘Someshwar, if this guy gets Prabir’s wicket, the match will end in this over itself.’ Someshwar, while taking hold of a water bottle kept below the chair, rebuts Pinaki’s concern. ‘Prabir is smart. He wont do anything foolish. Who else is left for them to bowl the final 2 overs? Prabir knows if he sees off this over, the match is his to win.’ His lips may have uttered those words of comfort steadily, but, inside, his heart kept on pounding at a frenetic pace. He feels powerless, all he can do is to clutch onto the fragile strands of hope. Pinaki, one of the rare friends Someshwar had made on the cricket ground, who doesn’t lack faith in Someshwar’s reading of the game, remains unconvinced, though. He doubts whether Prabir can think so calmly and clearly in this torturous July heat.
Prabir forms his strategy, which is, safety first. He will see through this over from the threatening Pradipta, then feast upon the lesser bowlers in the last 2 overs. Pradipta, dressed in his team’s whites, runs in to bowl. Prabir defends the first 3 balls of the over. 40 runs are still needed, now off 15 balls. Self doubts appear inside Prabir’s mind. He is unsure of his strategy. Is he right in seeing off Pradipta or is he committing THE cardinal mistake in Twenty Twenty cricket of wasting balls? Prabir looks towards his team lodged just outside the boundary ropes. He seeks validation of his strategy from them. But, what he sees doesn’t warm his heart. Among his teammates, all dressed in white shirts and trousers with matching sport shoes, there is Sukanta, his opening partner, with his fingers pointing loosely at the centre of the field, whispering something into the ears of Rabi, a middle-order batsman. Immediately, Rabi lets out a chuckle. Prabir can fathom very well what is said, that it is a damning taunt of his strategy. It’s as if he can hear it himself; Sukanta telling Rabi that Prabir is afraid of Pradipta! Among the rest, some are busy seeing something in the screens of their phones, while others chat away nonchalantly. Only Ricky, captain of the team, is watching intently. ‘F•©kers, bloody f•©kers. Irresponsible, non-committed arses’, Prabir’s inside seems to scream out. Prabir turns a desperate glance towards coach Someshwar. What has happened to him? Prabir wonders. Someshwar looks as still as a statue! Such nervousness! Such inability to absorb pressure! Is this what his club EC Cricket Champs all about, then? A bunch of careless f•©kers, coached by a man having no nerves? How much Prabir wishes that Subham recommends his name to his friend -- the son of the Selector!
Prabir is afraid of Pradipta! So, that’s what Sukanta and Rabi think? Huh? A wish of revenge engulfs Prabir. He decides that he will smack Pradipta out of the ground. That should be enough to reassert his dominance both in the ground and within the team. Prabir, taking guard, grins while thinking about Sukanta’s and Rabi’s reaction when they see him hit Pradipta out of the ground. Classic egg-in-the-face! Ha Ha!
Pradipta rushes towards the bowling crease and releases the ball. Prabir has a wild swing at it. His eyes look at the sky hoping to see the red ball fly towards the white clouds and then descent slowly outside the boundary ropes, finally landing on Sukanta’s head sending him collapsing into the ground! Nothing is happening in the sky though. Actually, nothing came out of that ill-planned daredevilry. He has missed the ball by a huge margin. In his zeal to make Sukanta and Rabi look foolish, he himself acted idiotic. What’s more, the instant he sees Pradipta stand in the middle of the crease at the top of his follow through, with his hands on his head and a frustrating smile adorning his face, Prabir knows that he was centimeters away from being bowled out. As if on instinct, he looks at his team. Most of his teammates have sprung to their feet, a few of them are mimicking Pradipta’s hands-on-the-head reaction without the smile part of it. Most attention-grabbing though is the reaction of Someshwar. Prabir sees him leave his chair as if his bottom has made contact with a high-voltage electric wire, smash the water bottle into the ground and then go onto kick it out of his sight. Prabir realises the scale of the shock that his mindless attempt at heroism has caused in his coach. Next moment, Prabir sees Someshwar wave wildly at him and instruct him to keep calm through hand gestures. Prabir returns a thumbs-up sign signalling his comprehension of his coach’s instructions. Someshwar returns to his seat. Prabir takes his guard again. Again, the strategy ought to be safety-first.
Fortunately, Pradipta, that ever accurate swing bowler, tries too much in the next ball. The Dale Steyn of Laboni, that’s what he is called by his teammates, pitches the ball on the leg stump in the hope that it will swing back in and take out Prabir’s off stump! Wow! Another attempt at heroism! Another failure! The ball doesn’t swing in, rather disobeys the bowler, holds onto it’s line and races straight to Prabir’s left pad. Prabir laps up this unexpected gift. He gives his wrists that light twist, something that Someshwar loves, and glances the ball past the wicket keeper’s left side and onto the boundary. 36 runs are now needed off 13 balls. More importantly, Prabir starts believing that runs can be scored against Pradipta.
Next ball, which is the last ball of the over, Pradipta attacks Prabir’s off stump. But, Prabir, buoyed by the last boundary, plays it smart. He waits for the ball to come and then offers a cheeky late cut. The ball deflects towards the first slip position, where no one is fielding, just escapes the gloves of the diving wicket keeper and slowly trickles towards the boundary. 4 more runs scored with minimum risk taking. What’s more, Pradipta has overstepped! As a result of his folly, one more run is added to the chase and Pradipta has to trudge back to his run up to deliver again.
Outside the field, Someshwar smiles proudly at Pinaki. Pinaki smiles back and says ‘Well done Someshwar, you have not only taught this kid how to bat but also how to apply his mind! Great stuff that’.
Prabir cautiously drives Pradipta’s last ball to long-on for a single. Prabir has managed to prevent Pradipta from causing further damage. In fact, he has taken 10 runs off him! After joining fist pumps with Dibakar in the middle of the pitch during the break between overs, Prabir walks confidently towards the batting end. He can’t wait to finish this game and walk up to see the face of dumb Sukanta and dumb Rabi.
While adjusting his gloves, he casts an accidental glance at that side of the ground which is opposite to the end where his team is seated. Just one man is standing beyond the boundary ropes, few metres to the left of the fielder stationed there by Ranjan. If he is just an anonymous passer-by who happens to station himself there temporarily out of his love for the game of cricket, then Prabir could ignore him and focus on the job at hand. But, that man, in sky coloured shirt and grey pants, is Sukhomoy, a vastly experienced coach having won a record number of trophies in club-level tournaments played in the Maidan and who is the present coach of EC Cricket Champ’s principal rival team FC Masters. Prabir sees Sukhomoy, a lean and fit man in spite of having turned white on his head, keeping a hawk-like focus on him. He knows that Sukhomoy is studying his every move. Sukhomoy always does. Prabir doesn’t know why, but whenever he sees Sukhomoy, he seems to be noticing Prabir with a monkish concentration. Is he up to something? Prabir doesn’t know because Sukhomoy never comes up to him and speak. Neither does he himself feel any push to speak to Sukhomoy. What’s the need? Someshwar is doing a fine job coaching him. Ever since Someshwar became the coach of EC Cricket Champs, the improvement in Prabir’s batting has been in geometric progression. Irrespective of this, the doubt lingers on in Prabir’s mind. Why does Sukhomoy look at him so minutely?
After a lot of deliberation, involving long chats with the team’s vice-captain, Ranjan hands over the mighty responsibility of bowling the 19th over, often the match deciding over in Twenty-Twenty Cricket, to spinner Bittu, a short guy having wavy hairs, stiff upper body and a lanky nether. The sight of a spinner coming to bowl this crucial over makes Prabir’s tongue salivate in delight. Oh! Not many 15-year-olds can loft spinners beyond the boundary as effortlessly and as frequently as Prabir! He knows it, therefore feels a strong sense of certainty with regards to the fate of this game, that it will be in his favour. Prabir’s teammates know it too, That’s why Ricky, also the the lead spinner, Bittu’s counterpart, in EC Cricket Champs, a fair-skinned, spectacled, thin fellow, can’t stop himself from going up to Someshwar and giggle, ‘Sir, now you just see. It’s sixer time! Prabir will send Bittu to Mars’. Pinaki lets out a hearty laughter, but Someshwar presents a poker face to his team’s captain Ricky before telling him to go back to his seat and not celebrate prematurely.
Bittu starts the 19th over. By the time, Bittu finishes the over, EC Cricket Champs are 5 runs away from the target. Prabir has smashed Bittu for four sixes in the over, two of them were Dhoni-type lofts which made the ball disappear into the roofs of the buildings situated beside the ground, one was an exquisite inside-out loft over extra cover which brought out a standing ovation from Someshwar and the last one a fierce pull that sent the ball just behind his teammates outside the boundary.On his own, Prabir has put EC Cricket Champs in the driving seat now.
A dejected Ranjan brings himself to bowl the last over. He has given up. There is no hope for his team now. He pitches the ball in the middle of the wicket. Prabir pulls that hopeless bouncer over the mid-wicket boundary for a six. EC Cricket Champs are the Champions of the Annual Salt Lake Cricket Mela! They are the cricket kings of Salt Lake, a satellite township in Eastern part of Kolkata. And They have just one payer to thank -- Prabir!
The moment the ball flies past the boundary line, Prabir drops the bat to the ground, takes off his helmet, throws open his arms, turns towards his team and lets out a triumphant roar. All of his teammates start rushing towards him in ecstasy from beyond the ropes. Within a minute, all of them swarm him, some feverishly pat him in the back while others keep on repeating ‘Well done Champ’. When Ricky starts chanting ‘Prabir, Prabir, Prabir’ he is joined in swiftly by the rest. In the middle of this rain of adulation, Prabir gathers himself and looks around for his coach Someshwar. Prabir cant find him near. Prabir pulls away from the crowd for a moment and looks beyond the ropes. There he is!! Standing outside the boundary, clapping gently. Why is his reaction so subdued, Prabir wonders. Nevertheless, the crowd of his teammates escort him to their coach. Pinaki runs towards him in no time. In excitement, Pinaki kisses Prabir’s forehead, runs his palms across hiss sweaty and displaced hair, looks into his big eyes and congratulates him. ‘Very Very Good! Well Done, you will do wonders.’ Before Prabir can return a ‘Thank you’ to this man whom he doesn’t know, Someshwar comes to him and smiles warmly. After patting Prabir’s back through a measured display of affection, he orders the team to stand together in front of him. When his colts has finished following the instruction, Someshwar speaks aloud
“Well done, EC Cricket Champs. We are the Champions”.
The round of self-appreciating applause following this triumphant declaration arising from the team gathering of EC Cricket Champs can be heard even by the despondent players of Laboni Sports Club who are resting at a distance.
Someshwar continues, “ Each and every one of us deserves equal credit for this victory. Even those whose performances weren’t good deserve equal credit. We are a team and team spirit is the oxygen for any team in any sports.”
The players of Laboni Boys can now hear another round of loud applause which has the same point of origin like the previous one.
“Still, team, we have areas to improve upon. Our bowling wasn’t fantastic and most of our batsmen didn’t choose the right shots to hit. Therefore, we need to practise more. Is that clear?” asks Someshwar. The players of EC Cricket Champs cry out ‘Yes. Sir.’ in unison.
No sooner had Someshwar finished speaking, one of the organisers of the tournament comes towards them, congratulates the team, picks out Prabir for mouthing special words of encouragement and informs them that the award presentation party is ready and they must make their way towards the dais. Someshwar thanks him and signals the team to move towards the dais.
While the awards are being distributed, Prabir keeps on wondering whether what Someshwar said few moments ago is indeed true. Is it true that each and every one in the team deserves equal credit? He has scored 95 of the required 188 runs, that’s more than half of the team’s total; it’s he who has batted from first to last in this unbearable heat; doesn’t he deserve more credit than everyone else? Does Sukanta, who hit a full toss straight to a fielder deserve ANY credit? Does Sudip, who ran for a suicidal second run? Does Anup who got hit for 3 sixes in the last over of Labony’s innings? NO!!! He deserves not only credit, but ALL the credit! How could Someshwar divide credit equally in such a bland manner? Does he really not think that Prabir is the best in his team? Has his own performances left any scope for Someshwar to entertain such notions?
In this moment of repulsion that Prabir is experiencing for his coach, suddenly a face appears in Prabir’s imagination. A face, watching him intently. A face, measuring his every move. The face of Sukhomoy! Prabir, in an instant, turns around to see that place where Sukhomoy was standing during the match. But, now that place is empty. Turning back, for a second, Prabir wonders if Sukhomoy had been his coach, could he have made that statement? Could he have divided the credit equally? Prabir’s heart, his instinct answers in the negative. The special focus that Sukhomoy puts on him every time they come face to face makes the answer obvious.
Just then, a feeling of shame surrounds Prabir. Prabir feels guilty. A voice inside him seems to tell him that it’s because of Someshwar he is batting so well. He shouldn’t be scornful towards him, rather should be grateful. This inner voice admonishes Prabir for placing Sukhomoy in Someshwar’s chair. It reminds him of the great example of Sachin Tendukar’s devotion towards his guru Ramakant Achrekar. His Achrekar is Someshwar. How could he think bad about his Achrekar? An ashamed Prabir swats away thoughts about Someshwar’s speech and chooses to focus on the awards which continue being distributed. There are some for him too.
In the prize distribution ceremony, Prabir lands the Man of the Match award, the Man of the Tournament award and the Highest Run Scorer award. After awards have been distributed, the team returns to where they were seated, to pick up their cricket gears and head home. Prabir hasn’t yet found time to put, with great care and love, his bat back into his kit. He had carried his bat with him to the dais. Now, after having waived goodbye to Someshwar and Pinaki, he opens the chain of his bag, kisses the blade of his bat, offers 3 pranaams to it and places it inside with all the care in the world. As he was about to close the chain, Prabir discovers a handwritten note in one corner of the bag. He knows who has kept it inside his bag. This ain’t the first time he is finding such notes.He takes it out and reads.
‘Why did you play that stupid shot against Pradipta? Siddhartha would have never played that shot!’ -- Someshwar Sir.
Siddhartha! That son of Someshwar Sir about whom he can’t stop talking. ‘Ok! A father may love his son to no end. But, why does he need to compare his son with me?’ asks Prabir to himself. Prabir doesn’t know anything about Siddhartha. Is he too a batsman? But he doesn’t learn cricket under Someshwar. Where is he learning the game then? Prabir knows nothing and this increases his anger. All that Someshwar tells him about Siddhartha is that he wouldn’t make the mistakes that Prabir does. ‘F•©ker Siddhartha.’ Prabir lets out a frustrated sigh. This frequent comparison with Siddhartha that Someshwar constantly digs up, always in private though, unsettles Prabir. Cant his coach understand that?
“Oh! Man of the Match! Lets go. We have a train to catch”, yells Sukanta, a chubby teenager having acnes spread all over his face which is topped by dense, curly hairs. ‘Chameleon, this Sukanta’, Prabir thinks to himself. Prabir lifts his bag up and starts walking towards the road keeping a distance with Sukanta.
“What happened? Come closer” Sukanta tells Prabir.
“Dont talk to me. What were you whispering to Rabi when i defended against Pradipta. You feel that i don’t understand? You were mocking me and saying that i am afraid of Pradipta.” Prabir shoots.
Sukanta stops, drops his cricket kits to the ground and says, mixing shock and assurance in his voice, ‘What are you saying, Prabir? You’ve got it all wrong. I was telling Rabi that Pradipta shouldn’t become complacent because it’s time for him to face your wrath. God Promise! This is what i told Rabi. You go and ask him”.
‘Arrey i am not lying, mate. How can i taunt you? You play so better than me!’ Sukanta walks closer to Prabir and lays his arm round him. This open acknowledgement of his superiority by Sukanta, his opening partner, softens Prabir. The two start walking together. ‘Accha, tell me how do you bat so well? How do you decide perfecty when to hit and when not to hit? I just cant decide upon this timing when i bat.Either i hit or i block. How do i improve?’ asks Sukanta.
‘To do that you need to have brains, which Sukanta the Great doesn’t have.’
‘Oh! I see!’ Sukanta darts at Prabir, but a loudly laughing Prabir runs away. The 2 openers cross the road, one running after the other.
In the middle of this friendly banter, Prabir doesn’t forget to dispatch Someshwar’s letter into a roadside dustbin.
Someshwar adjusts his glasses while looking at the passing of trains, through the railway tracks directly beneath the over bridge, connecting the 2 platforms in Ultadanga Rail Station, on which he is standing. Scores of passengers move to and fro behind him. All of them have either ended their journey or are about to begin it. To which group does he belong? The question relates not to the journey by train, but to the journey by time- the journey of his life. Upon an objective analysis, it has to be concluded that his life had reached it’s station long ago. Ouch! What an unfortunate journey it was! Shameful too, not because of what transpired, but when compared to what dreams the journey held at it’s commencement, it’s final reality was indeed shameful. After joining Mohan Bagan as their 1st choice opener, Someshwar failed to score in the first two matches. Then, in the 3rd match, tragedy struck. A ball jumped from a rough spot on the pitch and hit the little finger of Someshwar’s right hand causing an instant fracture. Someshwar went out of action for 6 months due to the need to have a surgery. The phsycial pain was bearable but the torturous feeling of being unable to hold his bat, his weapon, was not. After he returned from his injury lay-off Someshwar found that his place was taken by a left-handed opener named Koushik Chakraborty who was scoring runs in the bounty. Most often, Someshwar found himself warming the reserve bench. He got chances in bits and pieces and didn’t seize them either. Finally, what broke the camel’s back was a payment dispute with Mohan Bagan Cricket Club. Mohan Bgan refused to pay him his dues arguing that he didn’t play enough matches to warrant a full payment of player fees. A frustrated Someshwar coudn’t take this insult and shouted cuss words at Radha Kanta Mukherjee, an infuential office bearer in Mohan Bagan, the biggest club in Kolkata. There was no way he could stay on in Mohan Bagan after that. The day he left the club, Mukherjee had warned him that he won’t find another club to play for. Mukherjee kept his word. No other big club in Maidan took him. In a matter of 3 frustrating years, Someshwar had been reduced from being a special prodigy to an unwanted troublemaker. At last, a small cub named Wari Athetic Club decided to take him. There, he got regular chances to play. But, so bad was that team that they couldn’t win more than 2 matches in 1st division competition. They barely escaped relegation. No one cares about losers. Someshwar’s good performances, naturally, went unnoticed. He was ignored repeatedly for selection into the Bengal Team. 3 years later, when he was 24 years old, came the final blow. While fielding in the deep, he dived to stop a boundary. In the process, he tore his knee ligaments. That sent him out for almost a year. When he came back, he coudn’t hold onto his place even in Wari’s playing XI. He now had to find a team playing in 2nd divison. Heeding to sensible advice from Sandhya, his wife, he decided to give up on Cricket. He realised that his chosen destination-- The Indian National Cricket Team was too distant. Since then, he had nothing to do with cricket. He didn’t even touch his beloved bat. He still remembers the day he took that decision to turn his face away from Cricket. His journey had stopped. He was a deadman alive. After all, what’s a man sans a dream if not a deadman?
It was difficult for a cricket-addict like him to clutch onto something other than cricket. Away from cricket, he spent 14 unremarkable years which don’t have a single moment worth recounting, except that moment when he became a father. First, he became a driver for a rich businessman HansRaj Gupta living in Lake Town. He left that job after Mrs. Gupta accused him of stealing money. Then, he started working as a shopkeeper in a sweet shop in Gariahat. He left that work out of sheer boredom. Finally, when he was working in a courier company based in Dum Dum, he met his old friend Pinaki. Pinaki was a middle-order batsman playing in Wari when he happened to be that team’s opener. They were good friends then. Someshwar coudn’t stop himself from opening up to his old friend about the sorrows of his life. Taking pity at the depth of his wounds, Pinaki had informed him that a generous middle-aged businessman Mr.Lodha, claiming to be a diehard fan of cricket, has decided to buy a cricket club in Salt Lake and is on the lookout for a coach. Someshwar, at first, didnt want to approach that businessman because cricket, by then, had become a tormenting memory to him, it was a chapter he wanted to erase from his life book, but, such was his mental condition that except cricket, nothing else could have saved him. At least, his mind would be occupied and not ponder over the other harder hits that he had taken, he had thought. He contacted Mr. Lodha. He got the job of coaching EC Cricket Champs. It’s here that he saw Prabir. Ever since, Someshwar doubts whether his journey has indeed ended.
Being lost in his thoughts, Someshwar didn’t realise when he has descended onto the platform. He jumps back to his senses when he sees the local train to Barrackpore arrive.
Someshwar unlocks the door and enters his home, located 5 kms away from Pir Baba Mosque in Barrackpore Town. It’s a small, 2 roomed flat where he stays alone. He switches on the lights and throws his tired body onto the bed which is covered by a pale, yellow bedsheet. After travelling in a train, jam packed with sweaty people, one is in serious requirement of this interval of 10-15 minutes where one would keep his or her body absolutely still, relax and let go what all he was forced to rein in so far. It is a must-use recovery tool. The need to take this tiring 45-minute train journey daily from Barrackpore to Ultadanga and then proceed to Maidan from there, was the factor which forced Someshwar to leave his uncle’s house and stay put in Kasba, all those years ago. Had he stayed in Barrackpore and commuted from there, he would have been half dead by the time he reached the nets of Ramchandra Banik.