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Stories. 
A True Sportsman
by Ramendra Kumar
The final of the inter-school cricket tournament was in progress for the glittering Crystal Cup. The host Udayam High School was pitted against the reigning champions – Saint Patrick’s High School. Saint Patrick’s Captain Javed had won the toss and elected to bat. The team had got off to a good start and was now 82 for four at the end of seventeen overs, in the thirty over match. Udayam’s skipper Narender was bowling to Jaaved. Narender, who was quick, intelligent and dangerous, was the team’s star bowler. This was his second spell.

Imran who was fielding at second slip watched Narender charging in. The ball pitched just outside the off stamp and Jaaved, without moving his feet attempted a cover drive. The ball took the edge and flew to Imran’s right. He dived full length and grabbed it. As he fell down the home crowd leapt up in ecstasy. Narender, the wicket keeper Gurbhej, the other slip fielder Veeru, all rushed towards Imran and grabbed him. Back thumping, ‘high- fives’ and hugs followed.
Suddenly there was a shout.

“Wait Jaaved, you are not out.”

Jaaved who was walking away glumly stopped and stared at Imran.

“What are you talking Imran? Of course he is out. You took a great catch, and the delivery wasn’t a no-ball,” Narender said.

“The ball touched the ground when I fell. I didn’t take the catch cleanly. Jaaved is not out.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Imran. No one saw this. Even the umpire has given him out. You know how important this wicket is to us. With Jaaved gone the match is in our pockets. Why don’t you just shut up?”

Imran shook his head.

“Sorry, Narender. I have never cheated in my life and I can’t cheat now.”

He walked up to the umpire and talked to him. Narender’s face turned red with anger and he stomped off for the next delivery.

After this ‘life’, Jaaved got into his stride and began belting the bowlers. Even Narender seemed to be making no impact on him. During the drinks break Narender charged Imran. “I know why you allowed Jaaved to get away? It has nothing to do with honesty or any such lofty ideal?”

“Then what does it have to do with?” Imran asked quietly, not liking Narender’s tone. “It is because like you he is a Muslim. You want Imran and his team to win,”

Imran’s face turned red. “Narender we have been together since class five. How can you even say such a thing about me? I have always been a team player. How can you accuse me of letting down my team and supporting a rival captain just because he happens to share my religion? That’s really mean.”

Narender just glared at him and walked off.

Jaaved scored an unbeaten fifty-eight and his team notched up a daunting 178 for eight.

Imran opened the innings with Veeru. After playing cautiously for the first few overs the pair started cutting loose. Charles Kindo the leg spinner was brought on at this stage. He was quick and sharp. The very second ball spun viciously and hit Imran on his jaw. Imran fell down doubling up in pain. Play was stopped and the school physician Dr. Pritam Das rushed to the field. He examined Imran.

“The cut is quite vicious. It will have to be stitched up. We have to take him to the hospital immediately.”

~*~

The hospital was close by and an hour later Imran was back in the pavilion. His team was reeling at 101 for six in the 20th over.

“Doctor can I go out and have a go?” Imran asked.

“Are you crazy? You think the injury, your visit to the hospital and the surgery was some kind of a picnic?”

“Please doc our team will lose. I am not saying I can go and win the match but at least I can try?”

“So what if the team loses? Winning and losing is part of the game. You can’t risk further injury to save your team.”

“Doctor there is much more at stake than winning or losing. Please, please let me have a go. I promise I shall be very careful.”

Dr. Das looked at Imran’s pleading face and imploring eyes and nodded very reluctantly.

Two overs later the seventh wicket fell and Imran walked into the middle. The score was 112 and the third delivery of the 22nd over was to be bowled. Narender, who was at the other end, was surprised to see Imran, with his jaw bandaged, in the field.

Imran played the first two deliveries carefully and took a single in the last ball to retain the strike.

Jaaved brought on Kindo to put psychological pressure on Imran. The first two balls Imran was on the defence, the third he just stepped out and hoisted it over long on for a huge six. The stands erupted in applause. Imran struck the next two balls for two fours on the on side.

In the next over Narender took a single and gave the strike to his partner. Mixing aggression with caution, Imran kept the scoreboard ticking, with Narender giving him good support. At the twenty-five over mark Udayam needed 38 to win with three wickets in hand. Imran was now feeling very tired. The pain too was becoming unbearable. Every time he played a stroke he would wince. But he gritted his teeth and stuck on. He knew that his team now had a fair chance of winning.

The very first ball of the next over Narender fell to a rash stroke. He was caught in the deep but Imran managed to cross over and take the strike. The new batsman was Gurbhej, mentally a tough customer, but not a recognised batsman. Imran kept the target within reach with some powerful hitting.

In the last over eleven runs were required. Burman their fastest bowler was to bowl with Gurbhej on strike. He wasted two deliveries and then managed to scramble for a single. Three balls and ten runs – everyone in the stadium were on the edges of their seats. Narender had started praying like never before. The fourth ball was pitched outside the off stump and Imran stepped back and an executed a classic square cut sending the ball past the ropes. Six runs in two balls the equation looked healthier. Burman bowled a beauty bang in the block hole. Imran just managed to dig his bat in at the last minute. Now the task seemed really cut out for Imran. He had to hit a six of the last ball. A really daunting task considering that the bowler at the other end was one of the quickest in the circuit and also very accurate.

As Burman began his run up Imran felt himself growing weak with anxiety. He then thought about Narender’s comment and steeled himself.

Burman put everything into his last delivery. It was well pitched up, Imran ducked and hooked it. As it struck the meat of the bat Imran knew it would travel far. But would it clear the ropes? That was the million-dollar question! The entire stadium was on its feet, waiting with bated breath for the ball to land. Finally the ball landed and as the Umpire raised both his hands pandemonium broke loose. The students of Udayam invaded the field and carrying Imran on their shoulders did a victory lap. He was drenched in sweat, his jaws ached but his face was wreathed in smiles.
Imran was the obvious choice for the man of the match award. Narender was invited to receive the Crystal Cup. He took the mike and said, “Normally, I hate speaking in public, but today I thought I should. I have done gross injustice to my friend and team-mate Imran and I feel I must apologise for it publicly.” He then narrated his conversation with Imran.

“Imran’s innings today was heroic. He braved my humiliation and bitterness and the physical pain of the injury to display a batting performance, which I for one will never forget. He also taught me a lesson, which I shall, and I hope you will too, remember forever. A true sportsman can never be bound in the narrow confines of religion and language or the parameters of victory and defeat. Real sportsman spirit will always triumph. Thank you, Imran.” 

Image under license witth Gettyimages.com

10-Jan-2010
 
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