by Rupa Rani Sinha
Today Akhshaj woke up early after his afternoon nap. He quickly washed his face and wore his cricket uniform in less than five minutes. He stood in front of the long mirror that was hanged on his bedroom wall. He had an unusual glow on his face. It was not due to talcum powder but because of the confidence that he had gained suddenly after winning the 'Man of the Match' trophy in school. He never imagined himself because everyone used to tease him. Other children in school used to call him "Dumbo". His ears used to echo voice "Oh shit! Dumbo will be balling now. We are definitely going to lose this match". Even Harsh, his neighbour who was also in the same class started calling him "Dumbo" with other children. Akshaj used to feel very low and usually returned home with teary eyes. His Mom Ananya tried all kinds of tricks to cheer him up. She used to prepare his favourite delicacies. She brought his favourite video game. She tried every possible attempt but all in vain. Akshaj was totally disappointed. Only a miracle could bring a change in him... And the day did come.
One evening, when Ananya was reading a recipe magazine. She got a call from Dr Komal Dhuria, who was their family doctor and turned to be a very good friend of hers. She told her about a Sports Academy which recently opened near the Petrol Pump. Akshaj was reluctant to go at first, but when he heard that Dhoni had inaugurated the Academy, he agreed to go there. After all, he was a die heart fan of Mahendra Singh Dhoni! How could he ever deny!
Next day at 3 pm, Ananya and Akshaj were both ready to visit the Academy. Ananya, as usual, put the key in the ignition, turned on the music system and started driving. While Akshaj was sitting quietly in his front seat. He had put a paper too in his cricket bag. The paper had a list of all questions that tickled his mind over the whole night. He was calm and composed. After crossing the Petrol Pump, they reached the place. Being driving for past five years, it was not a troublesome task for Ananya to park the car. They stepped down and entered the main gate. The security guard gave them an entry slip. Akshaj saw children who were even younger than him practising in the net. There were other coaches too. Ananya never saw the main coach. She called up a child and asked "Beta, do you know where can I find Mr Raj?". He turned his hand towards the left side and said 'There is our Raj Sir standing, Aunty". Ananya thanked him and held Akhshaj hand to take him to Raj Sir. Raj Sir saw them and asked for another five minutes by waiving his hand in the air. Ananya nodded her head and turned back to sit on a bench with Akshaj. He took his question paper out from the bag and then saw Raj Sir again. He was afraid what if Raj Sir scolded him and quickly put back the paper back in his bag. He roared to other children "Boys, you can relax for five minutes and can drink water". He then turned and started walking towards the bench where Ananya and Akshaj were sitting. He greeted them with his gentle smile. Ananya introduced Akhaj to Raj Sir. Raj Sir looked at him and said "So Akshaj, what do you like the most in cricket?" Akshaj looked at him blankly and thought "What's this! I had a list of questions to put in front of him; now he is throwing back questions on me". He was totally dumbfounded and spoke softly "I like wicket keeping, but I do not get a chance in school". He sighed. Raj Sir liked his honest opinion and padded his right shoulder “That's great! You know when I was of your age, I used to stand only as a fielder and saw others batting and balling". On hearing this, Akshaj sat upright as someone gave him confidence dose. He felt himself better. He kept on listening to him. Raj sir then asked him to come tomorrow for starting his class. Ananya agreed, and they started walking towards the main gate. Akshaj suddenly turned back and yelled, " Raj Sir, bye!" Raj sir also waived his hand from a distance.
Next day was Sunday. All children started coming five mins to seven though Akshaj was sitting there from half-past six. He did his known warmup exercises and then sat on a tree stump. Raj Sir was wearing a blue coloured sports dress. He was bleeding blue with blue sunglass on top of his white cap. Akshaj liked his attitude. Other children were looking alike because of same coloured uniform. He looked at himself. He was dressed in white. How will he face other children? Raj Sir saw him and called him " Hey! Akshaj, come here". He ran towards him. Raj sir told him that you start with wicket keeping as you like it the most. Akshaj nodded his head in agreement. He went back where he kept his cricket kit, took out his gloves and wore them quickly. Raj sir told him to stand behind Satya, the batsman. He ran to that place like a horse. Satya looked at him and said "Hi". Akshaj too greeted him with a smile. On the other side of the pitch, a tall boy was ready to bounce his ball. He started running towards the batsman. Everyone's eye was just on the ball's movement. It merely hit Satya's bat, and Akshaj hopped in front and caught it. There was an utter silence. No one could believe this. How can a boy who joined just a few minutes back do such a maverick job! Who cares what's his name was? They roared like lions and ran towards their victory keeper. They all congratulated him and went back to their previous positions. The aura had changed. Akshaj was changed. There was a winning chance that was coming true. Slowly and steadily their team got all batsmen out at 88 in 15 overs. Now Akshaj was not alone. His team was walking with him and discussing strategies for batting lineup. Raj Sir asked the boys to sit down at one place and relax for five minutes. Viraaj, the captain, announced while sitting "Friends, we will follow the same sequence only with a small change that Akshaj will go batting before me." Everyone agreed to him showing good sportsmanship.
Defending team had already landed on the field. They made a big circle and started doing warm-up exercises with Raj Sir. In the meanwhile, Naman and Rohan already wore their pads and started marching towards the crease. Naman was the striker. The opponent team as planned took their positions and escalated like a spider web. The bowler started throwing two wide balls consecutively. At the third ball, Naman pushed the ball straight up in the sky. Unfortunately, the ball was caught, and he was declared out. All the batsman couldn't believe it as Naman was known only for hitting maximum sixes. Everyone was in a dilemma as to what the next batsman will do. They looked at Akshaj with great hope. Viraaj padded his shoulder and said "Look, friend, no need to get frightened. Play your natural game." It worked on him like a bandage. His team started cheering for their unknown striker. Akshaj was calm and composed yet motivated. He couldn't get a run in the first ball. Then suddenly very unexpected happened. Akshaj hit a six. Everyone started cheering even louder. Raj sir gave thumps up to Akshaj. After a stretch of 10 overs, his team score landed at 89 with just one wicket loss! This was stupendous. Akshaj score itself was 53. How did he do this? From where did he gain so much charisma? He surprised himself! ***