By a run.

Every last cell in my body froze. My blood stream turned to steel. My back slipped and I fell back onto the couch, my hand still over my maw. I got up, shaking my head vigorously, ambled in a lost fashion and threw myself onto the bed with a frustration that was inexistent till a few minutes back. I bit my lips as the tears spilled, just nearly, over the brim. 

Sport can be hard.

****

My status read ‘impossibly tough ol’ fickle fragile sport, which is why I’m awake. Any bizzare crap still possible’ at half past ten. I have never been truer about my love interest. 

Right then, the Supergiants were lazing in a nest, encased luxuriously by a small target, fed with a drop that shoved them further into a high trance and enrobed in endless folds of legendary stories of legends to come. They scrambled around, picking up singles and couples, harnessing energies for the maximums that never really came, and sat caressing themselves, dreaming of the immense soup cup waiting in the ranks. They were safe and protected, and were ready for the giant party-sorry, Supergiant party later in the night.

Until.

A complacency set off a falling pack of dismal dismissals. A confidence triggered a needless glamour when staid ol’ Miss. Plain would’ve done the trick. And finally, an urgency ruined their own nest. They saw it fall, the twigs break off, the dry leaves wither and fly away, the soft puff drift into the new day like an elusive dandelion and they could do a little less than nothing about it.

My status now read ‘absolutely hellish crap’. I have never been more worried about the stubborn and perilous whereabouts of my sweetheart.

Sport can be nightmarish.

****

They’re all in the stands. Every Hyderbadi of the city. They’re screaming, laughing, cheering, waving, rallying. It’s a hot and sour violent dish of the best biryani discovered as yet. Every last condiment, every last cheer is special. And as I slurp it all up, straight off the Sony woofer, Ravi Shastri booms. The silver disc flies off Rohit Sharma’s thumb and goes sailing into the shimmering stars, before embracing the grandeur of the occasion and returning. It rolls on its edge and falls flat. It loves that thumb – that thumb which has lazily redefined elegancy, and gifts the first victory to it. Rohit has won the toss and his team’ll swing those big fat bats before they can come in storming with that white sphere. Steve Smith is feeling the tension and his pinkish cheeks bleed in a little red – the red of an impending finale. The two hands slide past, and the Sweat of pressure seeps into either. The Shastri scholar booms again, with that signature sweep of the back of the hand into my television screen.

Every last bit of sport can be lovely.

****

The track is holding up. It’s sticky and slow. And it is swallowing up the fast savage runs that the Indians are used to. Parthiv Patel, the pocket rocket can no longer stick to the earth. He swings his blade with all the strength, putting those hard-wired muscles to use. A billion eyes fall on the televison screen, with a billion different prayers. The eyes are earnest, hopeful and already annoyed, as the ball travels a small journey in the clouds, in a fraction of time, before flopping rather ungracefully into paws sleeved in deep magenta. The pocket rocket has launched itself into the sky, and won’t return for the paparazzi for a year. Pune have drawn first blood. 

A few moments later, when the eyes have dropped just a little to a quieter oblivion, a moment of madness seizes. Lendl Simmons has a blind go, and the ball avenges, travelling its own drunk voyage, running astray on the 22, before a palm reaches out and snaps it. There’s a small fight there, as the ball tries an elopement, but this is madness befitting of a finale, and it caves in. As the palm has just registered its brilliance, the elbow lands hard and scrapes past. It might have bled, pained and hurt, but the seizures were overwhelming and he yells in a symphony of surprise and exaltation. Jaydev Unadkat is a star. A new born shimmering star. 

He’s in a dome of indecisive blur. He doesn’t know if that one run is worth a risk. Oh, he doesn’t. And so he does. He runs. Saunters. Ambles. Sprints. But halfway, he knows he’s a done deal. He knows those Kangaroo paws are as best as they can get. He realises and gives up, nearly. And before he can give it one final shot of work, the ball crashes onto the stumps and the red flashes- flashes ruthlessly, with a hint of smug. He’s out. Out. Yeah, run out, without the big dramatic dive into the dust that would’ve​ discoloured his blue jersey. Yeah, Ambati Rayudu, out, with a frustrated risky relaxed scramble. Hell yeah, Mumbai are three down.

His shoulders are heavy. With every magenta huddle, they get heavier. With the world on his shoulders, expectations on his head, anticipations crawling over his feet and criticism itching his palms, he pulls, with meaning and intent. The ball screams with joy as it flies with freedom, but it has a snare on the ropes. Shardul Thakur is standing there like a hawk, eyes on it all along. He reaches for it and plucks with a smile, before his toes betray him just the little and he stumbles. His teammates watch his little stunt with bated breath as he does a tap dance to no rhythm before running in with open arms, welcoming glory. Rohit Sharma is angry. No- super angry. Wait no- he is annoyed, disappointed and angry. He thuds the bat against his pad violently and it silences the cheers for a short while, before it erupts again. The dust off his pad dissipates quietly into the night sky and settles on his lacklustre IPL campaign. For all the flounces, Mumbai are wading knee deep. In trouble.

Pune rule the roost like cocky brats, with an air of supremacy, with a whiff of skill and a smidgen of Risen bloody brilliance. Unstoppable, insufferable creatures of awesomeness are loved, maybe momentarily, and loved universally.

Sport is a killer. 

****

Fireworks are set off, harmless as they might be, the red carpet laid, and we await. 13 of then walk the ramp. Everyone with a swagger, some quiet, some flashy, some solemn, some excited, everyone cricketers. My big golden soup cup sits like a boss, right in the middle, teasing, ragging and bullying. This is it. The final 120, or even less. The Giant sits pretty upon the beanstalk and not even Jack Sharma-Bumrah is shaking it off. It is winning. And winning 15 crores. Rich thing.

The Giant – no, Supergiant sits on the couch, smoking a weed, leg over another, knocking the sphere in the odd moment, in a trance of glory, to the fence, the clock and the scoreboard safely out the way. When it sees the wicket hold up the sphere and release it in slow-mo, mutating it all along, it’s no longer the party animal. It starts sweating and sees the sweat fall onto the track and slowly seep in. Into the wretched cracks and into the Andhra soil. It perseveres. With reverence for the ‘impossibly tough ol’ fickle fragile sport.’ It may have sweated, but it’s still running the run, prim and proper, staid and steady.

Until.

All hell breaks loose and the number of balls has magically sunk into nothingness. Pune need to press on the gas and rush. Rush with madness and magnificence. Pune need to kick the accelerator and run the car on seventh gear. Kick and run without looking back. They feel the urgency and even with the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious finisher in the house, they were suffocated. Stuffed and shoved, choked and pressed. 

Arms spread open wide before swinging with fervor and the Jaffa is sailing through the air, after a pleasant visit to the 22. MSD needs to breathe and he cuts ferociously. The Jaffa, on a serious temper tantrum, assaults the edge of Spartan and anchors itself in the pocket rocket’s fluffy gloves. Yes. Nice and cosy. He walks back, swinging the bat just mildly, in a hint of submission, his grey hair suddenly prominent in the bright arena. The man is ageing, out of nowhere, apparently.

Steve Smith fidgets before turning a southpaw, doing a special ballet twist and swings it into the stands, with New Balance, breaking through the shackles and putting a toe over the threshold.

Those tattooed arms. That bouncy lock of shiny black hair. That creepy moustache. That unforgettably unforgiving jumpy run up. That wild untamed bouncer slicing past the helmet with lunatic speed. That once-in-nine-lives soul. Those muscles will swing over another half a dozen times to sign off a special tenth lap. Mitchell Johnson, savage man of awesomeness to salvage ruins, in the house. Hell yeah. This is real.

11 off 6.

India breathes.

Inhale.

Exhale.

He runs in and releases it. The ball lands on the feet of Manoj, now a obliged toddler dancing to tunes with no fuss. He shuffles across and swipes it off his limbs into the field. Or rather, into the outside, after one bounce, two bounces. The sword has stabbed through. Mitchell is down, but not out.

7 off 5.

India pants.

InhaleExhaleInhaleExhale.

The white cherry is in the middle, and Manoj in the quest of heroism, dances down and hoicks it into the open air, where it is snared with enormously pronounced desperation. The palms reach into the sky, the fingers pointing to the seam, and as the ball lands, it patiently grabs it and pulls it towards the chest, holding it closer than ever. Bust, that quest.

7 off 4. 

India has stopped breathing.

The plump ol’ ball lands smack, a few feet away from the shoes which now hold nervous, shaky toes. A blade sweeps it off its feet and into the clouds. On another day, when India was still breathing, it would’ve gone into another pair of hands- maybe a pair of hands in the crowd, that had traversed to the stadium in a car, after a cup of biryani. Fortune or misfortune, straight down the throat of a fielder clothed in a blue t-shirt. Ambati Rayudu uses the spatula with a small fumble and cleans off the butter before snapping it carefully. A blue blur on the sweeper cover, screaming and smiling. Steve Smith is paralysed with shock. He’s walking slower than ever. He sees the door on triumph crash down. He sees the cave close around him. The world turn dark. Dim. And dingy with doom. The white shirt is drenched in sweat and his head buries into his hands. Oh, for the superstition of a football manager costume! 

7 off 3. 

India has its stomach in. No, no signs of breathing.

The young lad is dying of pressure right there at the stumps. And so he pulls up a poker face. The ball vaults into him and runs past on tiptoes to the keeper. He starts running, does Sundar. One leg after another, shoes thudding sharply on the ground, the helmet jingling, as he dives. The bat kisses the white strip of paint and he is back alive. He has made it.

6 off 2.

India steals a breath.

A flick. Into the air. Flat. Fast. And mistimed. It stabs right through, vertically into the Hardik hands. It bleeds but it has let go of the ball. It falls onto the green grass, and he collects it in a mess, but Dan the Man is back to where Pune needs him the most – on strike. Mumbai smell a teasing scent of failure.

4 off 1.

Mhm-hmm. No. No oxygen in.

Dan swats it violently onto the legisde. He knows three is the magic number. For the minute, he is running fast and furious but he’s fated by Suchith. One wild throw right near the blue sticks pierced into the ground and he knows it’s all over. Nearly. And before he can run just that one, the ball bounces on, and a bloody red flashes. He crouches and cries. 

Mumbai win.

By a run.

India’s breathing, but it’s laboured.

Sport is hell.

****

And heaven. No, hellish heaven. Or heavenly hell. Screw it, we’ll never really know.

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