This article was originally written in 2011.
As a youngster, I was never a good player of spin bowling. That, of course, doesn’t imply that I was any good at handling pace either. I considered myself to be a fairly nippy left-arm bowler who could swing the ball both ways. For a brief period in the early 1990s, I was even considered a find by my neighbourhood club until they realised that I was a Madan Lal in Wasim Akram’s clothing.
But hold on, I don’t like the direction this article is taking. I have been here before and am familiar with this journalistic terrain where a writer tries to punch way beyond his league and ends up making an absolute fool of him.
Over the years, I have been made to eat dust by kids in go-karts and been checkmated in a shameful 48 seconds by a chess grandmaster. So let me get this over with as quickly as possible and take you straight to the action on a muggy evening at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium where Shane Warne is about to bowl the first of his promised six balls to me.
I have already considered the many possibilities and the inevitable nature of things. I would get out, once, twice, maybe thrice… bowled, leg before wicket, whatever…but I have also decided that I would never get Mike-Gatting-ed. Some thirty years on I don’t want know-it-all grandchild to watch the video clip of my contest with Warne, and lisp, a puff of air escaping through the gap between his/her shaky milk teeth, “Come on, Appupa, you should have just paddle-swept the guy.” More importantly, was this the kind of legacy I would leave behind, a stigma that would forever impact the Menon family’s cricketing potential?
The first ball is a typical Warnie loosener, a leg break that lands outside the off-stump and swims away rapidly. If I had been a better batsman I would have punched it through cover point but in an effort to languidly pat it towards short mid-off I end up dragging the delivery perilously close to my stumps. Warnie tosses the second ball up. It’s a donkey drop, short and wide, but all I do is displace a huge amount of air with my bat. “You should have hit that, mate,” says Warnie. I reply that I am out of form and also wonder whether he is indulging me. “Warnie, I’m not Gatting! Come on, you can do better than that,” I shout out.
The third ball is a signature Shane Warne delivery. It is a beautiful, flighted ball that hangs in the still air like a wistful thought. It draws me forward, lands between middle and off, treacherously darts in towards my citadel at an astonishing pace.
The googly! This is the delivery that has bamboozled many batting greats of modern day cricket, from Brian Lara to Rahul Dravid. But have I been done in? I turn around only to find that the ball has missed the stumps by a whisker. Warne moans in mock frustration. He play-acts so well I feel like I am this rock denying Australia a hard-fought win.
The next delivery is another stock leg break and I elegantly stroke it towards cover, my first legit cricketing shot. Warne applauds. Later that day I would watch the video clip of my innings and reflect on how late I played that shot. Warnie rolls his arm again. It is yet another googly but a misdirected one and I’m spared its viciousness.
Warne signals it’s the last ball of the over and proceeds to toss up another stock leg break. I meet it a couple of yards down the pitch, pick it from roundabouts leg stump and slam it over cover. The inside-out nature of the shot reminds me of Richards back in the ’70s, against Thommo and Lillee.
“That was intentional from Murali,” Ravi Shastri would have said. Oh no, Ravi, I was actually ambling towards square leg to meet my insurance agent when I suddenly find this thing made of cork whirling like a dervish and plunging towards my feet. So I gave it a solid whack and it went to the boundary like a tracer bullet.
The shot I hit is an uppish one but I can see Steve Waugh at cover leaping up in vain and then, the ball beating a panting Merv Hughes to the boundary. The spectators at the Gabba rise and applaud. Up there in the commentary box Richie Benaud flicks a poignant tear off his face.
Never before in his life has he seen a more potent alloy of grace and destructiveness. The ever gracious Warne smiles and pats my back.
“Was that a four, Warnie?”
“Oh yes, that was a four and the earlier one was a two. So, you’ve scored six runs against me and I haven’t managed to get you out.”
I grin like an idiot. We do the ‘Thanks, and Cheers mate’ bit and then the world’s greatest leg spinner jogs back towards the pavilion.
(Main image credit: Getty)