The Batsman and the BowlerThe 52-inch LED television on the wall opposite the entrance to the recreation room is showing a live broadcast of a One-Day International cricket match between India and England. The room is full of people, but few watch the game.
The 52-inch LED television on the wall opposite the entrance to the recreation room is showing a live broadcast of a One-Day International cricket match between India and England. The room is full of people, but few watch the game.
Two middle-aged men are talking enthusiastically outside. They are sitting on the long balcony that runs parallel to the wings of the recreation Room and faces a lush green garden dotted with Acacia trees.
“Cricket is not the same anymore, partner,” the man with a salt and pepper beard says. “We enjoyed playing the gentleman’s game during our era. I loved competing on bowler-friendly pitches and watching others play.”
“Yeah,” replies the bald man. “This age cannot match those wonderful years. I miss them—the white flannels, stripped blazers, hand-made shoes, lemonade breaks, tea with biscuits and well-informed spectators. Cricketers and the spectators loved the game.”
Grey beard nods in agreement and says, “There was grace and skill on show in a relaxed setting unlike the win-at-all-cost approach that we see these days. Opponents and spectators would understand a classic cover drive or a square-cut.”
“Yes, yes old chap… A batsman, caught in the slips edging a late out-swinger, acknowledged the bowler’s good delivery while returning to the pavilion.”
“Did you do it in your time?”
“All the time,” replies the bald man. “Every time a batsman dispatched my good deliveries to the boundary, I would nod my head. I did not do it when they hit my bad deliveries. Bad balls deserve punishment. Most batters complimented my unplayable bowling.”
“Times have changed Mr Swinger. Now people wildly cheer mishits and edges that fly over the third man boundary.”
“It is sad,” sighs the bald man. “Blame the Asian emigrants for this deplorable trend. I say old chap, these Asians may applaud even a no-ball in the future.”
The bearded man does some shadowboxing and says, “Worse. Like English football fans they might start a riot inside the stadium, throw rubbish at the players; maybe some will even beat up umpires.”
“I’m glad I played cricket in an era where players and spectators celebrated victory with dignity, accepted defeat graciously. Defeat did not mean humiliation,” says the bald man. “I often bowled some of my best spells, took wickets, and yet ended on the losing side. The skipper encouraged us saying, “Well played lads, good luck for the next game.”
“Familiar words these. I recollect scoring more than one century that did not help my team win. Satisfaction outweighed my disappointment. At least my team and I tried to win. Often the victors and vanquished relived the good performances of the day over drinks. Gone are those days… sigh.”
The two men sat and pondered for some time. With a pensive look on their faces, they both sat in silence and reminisced.
Then the bearded man spoke again. “Jardine stared the rot. A cocky fellow, I must, say. He injected pride and arrogance into the game. Due to his passion for the game, he made his team aggressive. Spectators too became emotional. His tactics to win the game at all costs was the beginning of the end. Cricket has changed since the Great Depression.”
The bald man stares into the distance. A draught of cool summer breeze sweeps the balcony. The bald man takes a deep breath and turns to face his friend.
“Cricket has lost its freshness. Organisers want more money, so do the players. Corporate bosses and advertising agencies now drive the game. The game is one big sales pitch and the media, too, broadcasts this deplorable circus.”
“Cannot stop this slide, brother,” says the bearded man. “Sell the game hard and make money is the modern mantra. Look at the number of television channels competing for rights to broadcast the profitable soap opera that international cricket has become.”
“Yeah, pity our era did not have many television channels. They would have filmed us in action and preserved videotapes in library for cricketers from the next generation to watch.
“I doubt it. Who would bother to watch us play?” says the bearded man.
“Many would,” the bald man snaps.
“I don’t think we were good players.”
“You under estimated yourself. You had a complex. You considered yourself inferior to others. This has affected your mind.”
This angers the bearded man. “You fast bowlers never think rationally,” he hisses. “All you guys know is how to bowl fast. Accept the reality—we were not good cricketers. Accept this indisputable fact.”
“Oh shut up you strokeless grafter,” shouts the bald man. “You were always slow. You struggled to score runs. I was different. I was not only good, but a great fast bowler.”
“We were not good,” says the bearded man sternly.
“You were not good, but I was great.”
“No we were not good.”
“I was GREAT,” screams the bald man and throws down the steel glass he is holding. The glass goes bouncing, noisily to the edge of the balcony.
Upon hearing the commotion, two men dressed in blue uniforms enter the balcony.
“Gentlemen your break is over,” the blue man says. “You have to take medicines and go to bed. You two have had enough cricket for the day.
“Oh no, please, it’s not cricket! We’ve hardly talked today,” protests the bald man.
“Leave some issues for another day,” says the younger man as he grips the handles of the bald man’s wheelchair.
The bearded batsman and bald bowler do not speak as their wheelchairs roll along the corridor past the recreation Room. The cricket match is still on. There are fewer people watching. The television blares with the roar of the spectators from the stadium. The commentator exclaims, “That was a super shot!” but there is no applause, not in the recreation room.
The men in blue move the wheelchairs past the room and past the dining hall. Then they turn and enter the corridor leading to the dormitory. On the wall above the swinging doors, a signboard says, Duke Edward Memorial Dormitory, the Royal Mental Health Hospital. v