Spirit of the game September 14, 2012

Candid camera: losing my head

In the last year (ie, the 12th grade) of my high school years, a good friend of mine decided to put together a photographic record of our class' escapades

In the last year (ie, the 12th grade) of my high school years, a good friend of mine decided to put together a photographic record of our class' escapades. For several weeks he brought a camera to school and put together a rather amazing portfolio of candid shots taken at various times during the school day. There were photographs of schoolboys working on math problems on blackboards, ogling girls as they walked by, lounging about at lunch break, engaged in passionate discussions about a book they might have read, and so on. A few weeks later, a mini-photo exhibition was staged in our school, and most agreed my friend had done a wonderful job of composing a candid document of 12th-graders engaged in the little moments that make up a school day, many of which add up to make a school year.

But because (most of) these photographs were not staged, they retained the capacity to embarrass as well. Which brings me to the subject of this post.

One of the photographs my friend took showed a bunch of schoolboys standing around on a cricket pitch, much as spectators cluster around the scene of a car crash. In the foreground of the photo, a young man is being led away by another boy, who has his arms around him, as if to restrain and repress. It seems a fight has broken out and one of the participants is being dragged away against his will, in an effort to induce peace into hostilities. That young man was me.

While I have, at times, engaged in some verbal jousting on a cricket ground, this occasion remains the only one in which I spectacularly lost the plot and descended into fisticuffs on the pitch. All I can say by way of exculpation was that I was young, hot-headed, and, I did it because I was reacting to the perceived selfishness of a team-mate.

Earlier that day, my classmates and I had set up a limited-overs game during our so-called 'Games' period. Time was limited, so we settled on a 10-overs per side game. We quickly appointed captains, tossed, and the action commenced. I was captain of one of the teams. We batted first, hoping to set a challenging target for our opponents. I do not remember whether I had gone in, batted and been dismissed, but be that as it may, as the ninth over approached its end, we lost another wicket, and our side sent out our next batsman. Perhaps because the previous batsmen had crossed over, he found himself standing at the non-striker's end for the last delivery of the ninth over. The batsman facing hit the ball down towards the boundary, and the pair were off, running between the wickets. There was an easy three there for the taking.

This calculation, however, had not reckoned on the greed of new batsman for a share of the strike. If three runs were scored off the last ball, he would find himself at the non-striker's end again for the last over, and possibly denied a delivery or two of the strike. So, in front of an incredulous group of fielders (and his team-mates) he decided to call a halt after two.

Standing on the sidelines, I saw red. Not only had we lost out on a run, but the established batsman had been denied the strike; the new batsman was not a particularly distinguished bat, so there was a chance we would not score too many runs in the last over. This traitor was happy to sacrifice his team's score at the altar of his desire to bat.

What happened next was a bit of a blur. Screaming obscenities (in true North Indian fashion, incest was in the air), I sprinted out to the pitch, collared him, and a scuffle began.

Shortly thereafter, we were pulled apart, and I was led off the pitch, still protesting and still affirming my desire to use my team-mate as a stump for the second innings. (My photographer friend, who had shown up to record us engaged in the pleasures of cricket, was busy capturing this conflagration on his camera.)

Needless to say, nothing like that ever happened again in my short cricket playing career.

Some 28 years later, I remain convinced that my team-mate was a selfish jerk. We all wanted to bat, but I wanted to win even more. Still, I also remain profoundly embarrassed at the memory of that spectacular losing of the plot, captured forever on that black and white photograph (I have no idea where it is now), showing an intemperate cricketer who clearly had not internalised the appropriate decorum for a cricket ground.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here