The Ball Boy
A cool breeze was persistently blowing from the pavilion end of this small cricket stadium built on the outskirts of a suburban town. I was taking my stance and getting ready to face the first ball of the day. Rajesh, the captain of the home team gave me a wry smile. I know him for quite a long time now, on the field he is a fierce competitor but after the day’s play, he is quite friendly. A few spectators were scattered here and there throughout this stadium to watch this inter-district semi-final test match.
As the umpire signaled the start of the day’s play, I was feeling butterflies in my stomach since I was the skipper of my team and had the responsibility to give my team a solid start. I negotiated the first ball. The ball was seaming a bit and I made subtle changes in my stance to withstand the seam of the new ball. Gradually after a few over, I and my partner were feeling comfortable with the pace and bounce of the pitch. We started playing some attacking shots. I was hitting some boundaries and I was feeling quite satisfied since the ball was comfortably coming to the bat.
I realized that I can build a big inning if I could hold my nerves and continue to bat through the day. But suddenly my opening partner played an outrageous stroke and got out. However, I continued to bat without losing my concentration, as the wickets started to tumble in the other end. But after lunch, I was able to stitch a long partnership with a rookie southpaw. And we soon started to tire out the opponent bowlers and fielders.
We were unbeaten till the tea break and just after tea, I completed my ton with a boundary. I was applauded by my team members in the dressing room and the few spectators who were still present. Rakesh also came up and congratulated me. I then regathered my concentration and resumed my batting. We continued piling on runs. We even started hitting few lengthy sixes and the balls got dispersed in the nooks and corners of the stadium. Most of the balls could not be retrieved and we had to resume play with new balls.
It was getting a bit dark and the umpire informed us, that this was the last over of the day. All the fielders were now encircling me, they knew I will just defend the last over without taking any risks. I negotiated five balls consecutively but then I stepped out to the last ball of the day and deposited the ball towards the pavilion end of the stadium. Everyone was startled including my partner since nobody expected this to happen.
The umpire took the bells off and we started to head towards the dressing room. Rakesh came near me to have a chat. But then suddenly I noticed that the ball which I had hit for a six was suddenly falling down the steps of the stadium and it properly made its way and descended just near the boundary lines along with six other balls. I then quickly remembered that barring this last six, I and my partner had hit eight sixes in total. The ball could be retrieved in only two cases but how could all the remaining balls be retrieved so fast? I knew that the groundstaff usually searches for the balls after the day’s play.
I was gazing at the balls and noticing this, Rakesh said with a smile, “Don’t think that we have a very efficient ground staff over here. But we do have an exceptionally devoted ball boy.”I replied, “But I noticed that all the ball boys were sitting along the boundary lines throughout the day. When did they collect all the balls?”Rakesh replied, “It’s a long story, brother. If you are curious, I will tell you. Get fresh and come near my dressing room.”
I was quite inquisitive to know about these strange happenings and quickly came near Rakesh’s dressing room and knocked on the door. Rakesh was also ready and we went out for a walk. Rakesh began, “I don’t know whether you will believe it or not. But we witness this every match day. It has become quite normal for us. But the visiting teams have never noticed this. You are the first one who has realized this, I guess. This stadium has witnessed a tragic incident, brother.’’
Rakesh paused a bit and then resumed, “I was quite young then and had just joined the district team. I still clearly remember the day. I was on the non-striker’s end. My partner was an experienced batsman and he was batting quite fluently. He was frequently hitting sixes and then he hit an aerial cut shot which went straight over the boundary lines, hit the head of a ball boy on the full and the boy instantly died! That batsman was quite distraught and he decided not to hold the cricket bat again in his life. The state cricket board immediately intervened and made sure that this incident receives minimum media coverage.
However, things started to settle down as the family of the boy was given a hefty compensation by the board. After a month or so, we resumed playing in the stadium. But then our ground staff started witnessing these incredible incidents. At first, we were all terrified. But soon we realized that the little ball boy is just continuing his job and won’t cause any harm to us. His love for the game is still keeping him attached to the stadium. So we decided not to bother about this matter. I must say that he has curtailed the duties of the ground staff.’’ Rakesh stopped and looked at me in the hope of a reply.