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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gladiators

The Roman Colosseum might not be there, but those 22 yards defined a battlefield which bonded us in many a fascinating tussle over the four years of engineering. It was all adrenaline in those days, but four years hence, as I look back, those exploits on the cricket pitch spoke aplenty about the characters forged over time of these five men.

A Bhavsar - (If the Oxford weren't already in vogue, they would have had a separate name for commitment) In a team full of 'Indians' (all flair, little substance), he was the rare Kiwi, the black cap of the team. The site of Aby swooping down on the ball at long off/on (he normally was at long on) was in itself, a wonder to behold. With him, you could feel the momentum of his thrust, as if some invisible source of power had turbocharged him towards the little round object hurtling at him, though in most cases, it would be Aby jet setting at the ball. One of the safest outfielders, I don't remember him ever dropping a catch (as much as I never remember ever having taken one). One might wonder, so what! Aby is just your good cricketer. Wrong! What made Aby so special was his commitment. He wasn't a natural cricketer. With an ungainly stance and a flawed technique he probably wouldn't have lasted a minute on the pitch, but what he lacked in flair (thankfully) he more than made up with his commitment. He reminded us, especially me, of how much more we could contribute given our natural flair. He never took his outfielding for granted, always concentrating, always "on the ball". Cricket shapes characters, but here's one, who shaped cricket. With his chutzpah in absentia, Aby till date reminds me, that -"its not what you got, its what you do with what you got that matters".

H. Gadhvi ('Keeper' of our fortunes) - I never knew whether to be raging mad at him or be amazed by his attitude on field. He is the guy who, in the last over, with eight runs required for victory, would hit a six of the first ball, and then not be able to take a single for the next five deliveries (only a wide from the generous bowler earned us a draw).

Gadhu was the nerve centre of our team. As a wicketkeeper, he was the quintessential chatterbox & while he never said "well bowled" to a wide delivery (most of them came from me) unlike Wasim Bari, he kept the spirits up with his witty comments that flowed ceaselessly. I remember once having my jaws hanging down at a catch pulled off by him. It was a good length, outside off-stump delivery (probably from Turkz) which the batsman edged to first slip that was not there. All of a sudden, gravity seemed to disappear, as I saw Gadhu turn parallel to the ground and in mid air, pluck what must have been one of the best catches of that tournament. It was a good effort, but what made it extra special was that, the person who pulled off the stunner weighed at least 20 stones at that time. It didn't matter. Somehow, for these chaps, they seemed to be playing with their minds rather than their bodies, and no fetter could shackle them, when they really, badly wanted to do something. Gadhu did all this, but he did it with a smile, & a jauntily cracked joke. The 'keeper of our fortunes' has now had one catch that he would latch on to, for the rest of his life, for Mr. H. Gadhvi is now the proud father of a little cherub and that's a prize he mightily deserves.

K Mehta - (Nobody played the square cut better) - Not even Turkz came close to Gabba's (no reference to WACA) square cut. I saw him play plenty of those as I was usually at the other end, wondering how he conjured up a charm of such beauty & power. The feet would move parallel to the crease, the bat chopped down at a graceful arc and his stance, when seen sideways, was more akin to a ballet dancer than a savage stroke maker & the only sign of the ferocity of the stroke lay in the ball dashing away to the point boundary (sadly it was blocked by the stadium or else Gabba would have had far more runs to his credit).

In the last final that we ever played in college, I remember Gabba getting both his feet in air & viciously cutting the deliveries outside off to the point boundary (this was played on a different ground & it did have a point boundary). He was a stylist, and there was a certain amount of grace in the way he knelt into each stroke which both endeared him to me as well as made him an object of envy. The other factor that made him indispensable was that along with Aby, he cordoned off the long off region with impeccable outfielding. With these two around, you could safely bowl half volleys for most of them would end up in either of these bloke's hands. Tall, handsome & style personified, I only hope Gabba knows how good he is, for that would bolster his 'score' even further.

T Chauhan (the best, by a long distance) - I got Turkz only once in a match (internal)& that remains my most cherished memory on the pitch, one that even eclipsed an innings where I somehow managed to carry my bat through. He was an assembly of some ordinary parts that summed up to something extraordinary. Turkz always gave me a hint of vulnerability, an impression that he could be prized out, but after four long years (& even after that) he remained one of the most difficult batsmen to dislodge. I loved his technique, especially as a he defended. Everything seemed copybook. Front foot to the line of the ball, head knelt in the direction the ball was meant to go and no daylight between bat and pad. Ah, I still savour the memory. Turkz's cricketing exploits are well chronicled in the sheafs of our memory but recounting them would be pouring old wine in a new bottle. He engineered, what was probably the best run-chase in the college at that time, a feat I don't remember having been equaled. With half the team gone & over eighty runs to get in a little over 8 overs, Turkz played a blinder. We got home with a delivery to spare and the hero of the moment came back unfazed for it was business as usual. Turkz was probably a bit of a British on the pitch - 'never too elated in victory or despondent in adversity'. I never saw him gloat over his achievements. He probably dosen't even remember half of them (frankly, it would require some effort, coz he had so many of them). From plucking one handed stunners on the boundary field to bamboozling batsman with one that 'moved away', Turkz did it all, and he did it quietly, unobtrusively. He was a gentleman, prizing out batsman almost apologetically, as in batting he seemed to coax and cajole the ball to where he wanted them to go. I sometimes wondered what made him so good. While I don't have a concrete answer (genius can never be explained in mere words), I would surmise that his strength lay in his mental sturdiness. Like Aby, his application and dedication to his craft orchestrated a master at work, an impregnable defence and a champion performer. Turkz taught me more about 'playing the game' than anybody else did & I still learn from him. Mate, didn't we once say that "life's like cricket" & if that be so, I'd like to see one more innings like the one you played against FAU, just for old time's sake!

A Acharya - (Iceman) - The sobriquet was famously gifted to Steve Waugh for his ability to absorb the pressure and nobody would dispute giving 'the Captain' (of our team) a similar brand. He was the leader and in all these years, there never has been a better captain witnessed by me. He, alongwith Turkz, outthought, outmaneuvered, outlasted, outfought every opponent who came their way. Sample this:


With three odd runs in the last over to defend, Captain comes on to bowl...and pins the batsman in the other end. The shocked faces of our opponents reflected the magnitude of his achievement.

In a match, when Turkz was down with injury, Captain stood firm against all attack and ultimately finished the match with a single over mid off. The rest of the team had collapsed around him as he hurtled towards an inexorable victory.

Ten required off the last over with the no. ten batsman at the other end - a late cut followed by a pull, a tap for two towards point and match is over - another miracle fashioned by the Captain.

The Captain reeled off one champion performance after another and yet, his steely resolve to give each match his everything never wavered. He was respected as the first among equals and till date, his exploits on the pitch remain one of the most talked about subjects in our get together. More importantly, in a team of mavericks, he earned the unquestionable loyalty from each of its members and only those, who were a part of that team can gauge the extent of this achievement. I could only dream to perform like him, but it was more akin to a 'Midsummer's Night's Dream". He lives his life, the way he played cricket - uncomplicated, tough, fair and always to win, and that is what endears the Captain to all of us. There could have never been a better leader of those blokes than you Captain. Keep it up and keep it going!!


Its been four years, since I passed out from Engineering and yet every little incident on those 22 yards is as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. In times to come, I hope to teach my kid about this great game, but he would be lucky to have such wonderful comrades like these five men, five gladiators, who taught me more about the game and life than anybody ever did.

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