I pick up a ruined cricket ball that I had rescued from a wet clump of grass the other day. "I am thinking of bowling in the nets today," I say. "Want to join me and bowl?"
My room-mate looks up from his laptop and shakes his head. He isn't a fast-bowling fan. I am.
After bowling my heart out alone in the nets, I walk around the perimeter of it and notice the blade of a broken cricket bat. I pick up the broken blade. I swing it around while mentally picturing Viv Richards slowly windmilling his arms as he walks to his batting crease with his swagger. I walk over towards the open field to the side of the nets with the bat and ball in my hand, windmilling my arms now. I chew on my pretend gum too.
I toss the ball up, but I am too late in trying to get both hands on the broken stick. The ball hits me just below the neck. It's Rodney Hogg who has just bounced Richards. Richards isn't going to take that politely now is he? I toss the ball up, and this time around I hoick Hogg over square leg. I go to collect the ball.
I toss the ball up again, and I'm slightly late this time round too. Just as the ball is about to hit the ground, I swiftly step to the side to give myself room, bend down, connect with the 'yorker', and smack it to extra cover with a flourish of the bat. AB de Villiers, you beauty. How did you ever smoke a Dale Steyn yorker for a six in the IPL?
The furiously belted ball ricochets off a metal beam that supports the nets from the outside, and it rockets straight back to me. My eyes lit up: Shoaib Akhtar. I shift my weight slightly onto the back foot, I keep my bat straight, line it up with the ball, and just prod the ball forward. The backfoot straight push-drive of Sachin Tendulkar makes the ball speed away on the grass. A bird sitting in its path takes flight in alarm, and follows the ball while she is curving up in the air. She's slower than the ball; it's Waqar Younis chasing fruitlessly after the ball as it crosses the boundary.
I toss the ball up once more, but I throw it a little waywardly. The ball is falling to my right, a loosener by Ishant Sharma. I clear my left foot, get down on one knee and hit the ball for a flat six over extra cover. All the while Mohammad Hafeez's picture is crystal clear in my mind, with his bat flourish, face completely focused, mouth tense with the effort of holding in his breath when going through the motion. The piece of wood shatters in my hand on making contact with the ball. I am shaken up by the sharp pain in my hands. I look down surprised, not at my bleeding hands but rather why I had fantasised about Hafeez in a list that otherwise includes Richards, de Villiers and Tendulkar. I quickly blame my Hafeez-crazy friend and pretend to be irritated at her for weaseling Hafeez into my fantasy of batting giants. But I am only pretending, deep down I know the truth.
I usually don't watch Pakistan bat, I have given up on that department for a while now. I only watch them bowl. This way, I get to watch proper bowling versus a batting line-up that is better (aren't the rest of the big Test nations better?). I just get to watch better cricket. Over the past year, however, Hafeez has been the exception to my rule of no-watching-Pakistan-bat. His style immediately catches the eye. The delicate shot where he places the ball to pierce the gap between backward point and short-third man is my favourite shot from a Pakistan batsman. I realise that Hafeez made his way into my mind along with Tendulkar et al because my Pakistani heart yearns for Hafeez. I want to watch him bat, and bat consistently well at that. Caribbean Premier League, I will definitely be following you.
It's getting dark around the empty cricket field. I pick up the broken bat pieces with my throbbing hands, and start walking back to my room. "Where have you been?" my roommate asks, looking at my bloody hand and shooting me a quizzical look. "I have hope in Hafeez," I reply. Shaking his head, he turns back to his laptop; he isn't a Hafeez fan. I am.
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