Karan Sharma looked at the scoreboard. Sixteen runs were required for victory in the last over of the innings. It was the finals of the Sunny Trophy Championship between Karan's State Haryana and the reigning champions Maharashtra. As Karan watched Venkat, the fastest bowler in the opposition, taking his run up he started sweating.....
* * *
Two months ago, just after his twelfth class exam, as Karan was practicing at the nets, he saw his neighbor's son Nitish coming towards him.
"What happened Nitish? You look worried?"
"Karan, your mother has had a heart attack. Dad and Mum have taken her to the Nehru Hospital...."
Karan had informed his captain Peter Diwakar and rushed to the hospital. By the time he reached she had already been admitted to ICU. Two hours later Dr. M.Waghre, the Cardiac Specialist who was treating his mother, told him it was a mild stroke and her condition was now stable. She was discharged after two days but the verdict was worrying.
"Karan, one of your mother's arteries is blocked. She needs a bypass surgery as quickly as possible," Dr. Waghre told him.
Karan didn't know what to say. He was utterly confused.
"H..how much will it cost?"
"Around Rs 1.5 lakhs."
Karan didn't tell his mother about his conversation with Dr. Waghre. But his started worrying himself sick. From where was he going to get one and a half lakh rupees? Karan's father had died when Karan was still a toddler. His mother had brought him up. She had deftly managed the household expenses on her school teacher's salary. His father and mother had married against their parents' wishes. As a result they had been completely cut off from their respective families. He knew his mother hardly had any savings. By asking his friends' parents, his teachers and his mother's colleagues he might be able to scrounge forty to forty five thousand rupees. From his mother's school he would be able to get thirty thousand or so. That would still leave him short by around seventy five thousand rupees. There was no way he could fill that gap. The more Karan thought about it the more frustrated and helpless he felt.
A week after he brought his mother home, Peter told him that he had been chosen to play for Haryana. Karan had been performing well in the Junior League. Under his captaincy his school had bagged the North Zone Inter-school Cricket Championship. He had not expected the call to represent the State this soon. To his good fortune the West Indies tour had come up and four players from the State team had been picked to represent the country.
In the very first match against the unfancied Goa Karan scored a blistering 85 and bagged the Man of the Match award of Rs 2000.
"Seventy three thousand more to go," he thought to himself as he received the award.
In the next two games Karan was out rather cheaply but in the quarter-finals he scored a sedate 68. In the semi-finals he bagged the second Man of the Match award by scoring a match winning 94.
The final was against the formidable Maharashtra which boasted of three former test players and quite a few talented cricketers who were knocking on the doors of international cricket.
Two days before the final Karan was sitting in the players' dressing room worrying about his mother.
"Karan, thinking about the final?"
Karan turned around. It was Kirti Handa. Kirti had been Karan's senior in school and had been the skipper of the School team before Karan took over. He had been a dashing all rounder and had even made it to the reserves of the State Team. However, all of a sudden his form had started faltering and he had been dropped from the Haryana team.
"Maharashtra has a terrific team and we have a tough fight on our hands."
"You bet. But our team too is at an advantage since it is playing on home ground. By the way, how is your mother?"
"Not so fine."
"When is the bypass surgery?"
"How do you know about the surgery?"
"I keep track of my friends you know," Kirti said.
"I... am not so sure. I have to talk to the Doctor...," Karan tried being evasive.
"Have you managed to arrange Rs 1.5 lakhs required for the surgery?"
This time Karan was truly surprised. Before he could ask Kirti raised his hand and said, "Relax Karan, take me as your well wisher. After all we have played together. Don't forget we have many common friends. I know the whole story. You are still short of around seventy five thousand bucks. I know how you can get this money."
"It is quite simple really. All you have to do is ensure that Haryana loses the final."
"What? I don't understand."
"Let me explain. You know in cricket today there is a lot of betting involved. One of the leading bookies is a very good friend of mine. He is willing to pay seventy five thousand rupees to anyone who will ensure that Maharashtra wins the championship. He has placed all his money on Maharashtra and if it wins he stands to gain around four lakh rupees. When he told me this I immediately thought of you. You need the money very badly. Moreover, because of your terrific form, you have been the mainstay of the Haryana team in the last few games. Our team depends on you very heavily. If you are out cheaply the game is as good as Maharashtra's."
Karan stared at him for a few moments, too horrified to speak. His face turned red with anger and he spat out, "Kirti, you rascal. How could you even imagine such a thing. How can I....."
"Easy Karan," Kirti interrupted him. "Don't get so excited. After all your mother's life is at stake. What is one match after all? And no one will be able to blame you. You have been performing so consistently, even if you fail once no one will be able to point a finger at you. They will simply assume it is the law of averages. And remember if you refuse my offer and something happens to your mother you will never be able to forgive yourself. It will be almost as if for your false prestige you have taken her life. I am leaving you now to consider my offer. Tomorrow morning I'll meet you here at around eleven."
* * *
The whole night Karan couldn't sleep. Kirti's words kept echoing in his ears. He didn't know what to do. He didn't want to let his team down. At the same time how could he let his mother die. He knew on his own he would never be able to raise that much money.
Next morning when Kirti met him he was ready with his answer.
"Kirti, I have made up my mind. I accept your offer. But I want the money immediately after the match. I have admitted mother in the hospital and made arrangements for the operation to be performed the day after tomorrow."
"That's the spirit Karan. I will you give you an advance of ten thousand rupees tomorrow and the rest as soon as Haryana loses."
"There is one thing I want to cross check - suppose after Maharashtra wins the bookie backtracks."
"No way Karan. In this trade one has to keep his word. Have you not heard of the Hindi proverb -'Even thieves have their principles'."
"What about you Kirti? How are you involved in this?"
"I'll get my cut for playing the role of a middleman."
"But Kirti your father is a prosperous businessman. Why do you need this money?"
"Come on Karan? Who doesn't need money? The monthly pocket money my father gives me can't meet my expenses even for a day. You know I like the good things in life and they all cost money."
* * *
The wicket prepared for the finals was a perfect batting track. Maharashtra won the toss and elected to bat. They scored 252 in the allotted 50 overs. Haryana began disastrously losing their first two wickets in the third over of the innings. Karan, who came two down, survived a couple of very hostile overs from Venkat and then started the process of consolidation. As each minute went by only one thought kept nagging him -'I have to lose my wicket or else I might end up losing my mother'. He kept rationalizing - 'Let me play a couple of overs more. Haryana is anyway going to lose. Why should it lose cheaply? If I help Haryana put up a good fight it will lessen my guilt. As soon as we get close to the target I'll get out. That way atleast my team will not accuse me of not trying."
As the innings progressed the supporters of the home team, who were clearly in a majority in the packed stadium, became more and more vociferous in their support. Every run scored by Karan got a thunderous applause and every boundary a standing ovation.
When the second drinks break was taken after 30 overs the score was 152 for 6 with Karan unbeaten on 69. During the break he got a chit from Peter - 'Keep it up Karan. You can do it. Just hang on and the championship is ours.'
* * *
As Venkat came hurtling down to bowl the last over, with the score card reading 237 for nine, Karan knew he had to take a decision quickly.
The very fast ball was outside the off stump and Karan dispatched it to the mid wicket boundary. The second was a beauty which kept low and rapped Karan on the pads. Since the ball was going down the leg side the appeal for LBW was turned down by the Umpire. On the third ball too Karan failed to score. Only three balls were now left with 12 runs required for a win. The tension was steadily mounting.
For Karan the task was now a lot easier. All he had to do was to not score a boundary in any one of the balls. This would give Maharashtra the trophy and Karan his seventy five thousand rupees.
The fourth ball was short pitched and Karan had no difficulty in cracking it to mid-on for a four. The next ball he managed to play it to square leg for two runs. As Venkat turned to bowl the last ball of the innings there was a hush in the stadium. One ball and six runs required - the situation seemed straight out of a Bollywood thriller. As the ball left Venakat's hand Karan had made his decision. It was an attempted yorker. Karan took it on the full and lifted it straight over the bowler's head. He saw a fielder getting under it. He closed his eyes. 'My God I have betrayed my team,' he thought and sank to his knees. Next instant he could hear the crowd screaming wildly and his partner Tyagi shaking him.
"You have done it Karan."
"Wha....did he drop the catch."
"What catch. The ball cleared the ropes and went for a six. We are the champions, Karan."
* * *
After receiving the man of the match trophy when Karan entered the dressing room, he found Kirti waiting for him.
"You fool. What have you done? Do you realize your heroics are going to cost your mother her life?"
Karan took the envelope carrying the bundle of notes from his locker and gave it to Kirti.
" I just couldn't betray my team or let my State down. Had I listened to you, Kirti I would have been tortured by shame and guilt for the rest of my life."
Kirti snatched the packet from his hands and stomped off.
Karan sat down and started crying.
"Hey, Karan! What happened. You are everyone's hero today and here you are sitting and crying like a sissy. Has all this excitement been too much for you?"
Karan looked up at the sympathetic face of his captain. He couldn't control himself and between sobs told Peter the whole story.
"I can't believe it," Peter exclaimed. "That scoundrel Kirti - I'll tear him to pieces."
"What is the use, Peter? My life anyway is ruined. If anything happens to my mother I'll never forgive myself."
"Nothing is going to happen to your mother, son."
Surprised, Karan looked up. A tall, well built man of around fifty, wearing an expensively cut suit, was standing.
"I am J.J. Khadeer, Chairman of J.J. Industries. I am very fond of cricket. When I was a youngster I played for my school. Even now, inspite of my rather hectic schedule I never miss a good match. I overheard your conversation with your Captain. Your batting today was superb and in the light of the dilemma your were facing your performance was nothing short of outstanding. I think your team and the entire State should be proud of you."
"Thank you sir, but..."
"I know son that you are concerned about your mother. But don't worry I'll loan you the amount for the operation."
"But sir, I don't know when I'll be able to repay."
"Don't worry about that. While you were batting I made enquiries about you. You have had good record. I am introducing my team - J.J. Stars in the next season. It will be playing in the Senior League. I want you to be a part of the team. I will be paying you a monthly stipend. You will be able to pursue your academics too. With the stipend you will be getting you can repay the loan of seventy five thousand rupees gradually. What I would expect from you is it to show the same loyalty and determination which you displayed today."
"I..I don't know how to thank you sir...."
"Please don't. Just rush to the hospital and finalize the arrangements for the surgery tomorrow. My man will give you the money, this evening.
* * *
A week later Karan brought his mother home. The operation had been successful. That evening Mr. J.J. Khadeer sent a bouquet of flowers and a get well card for Karan's mother. On the card, written, in a neat hand were the following words:
"Dear, Mrs. Sharma,
Karan might have told you about me. That day while your son was fighting to save your life and fulfill the aspirations of his team , my misguided son Rehman, the bookie, and his friend Kirti were selling the honor of the State for money. I have personally handed over Rehman and Kirti to the Police. I have requested the Police not to show any mercy to the rascals because they happen to be the sons of affluent fathers. While you should feel proud of your courageous and loyal son my head hangs in shame when I think of Rehman. I think my wife and I have faulted somewhere in the upbringing of our son.
My younger son Rahmat is ten years old. I would be grateful if you take him under your wings. Being a teacher you will be able to instill the right values in him. When he grows up I want him to become a Karan not a Rehman.
Wishing you a speed recovery,
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