As the great ball of sun was swept down the ground by the winter darkness in a glorious scene, the same was tried in the playground which had only the light of twilight.
A small dot of scarlet light just got swept to me and I couldn't even catch it, because I was not a fielder - I was a mere umpire. I was knocked down by the great fury of the hard red ball - which looked exactly like the sun now - a red dot.
Others come rushing as the ball did really hit me hard on the forehead and I fell down on my back. My forehead grew really red and I felt like Harry Potter, so I was rushed to the stands and a pack of ice. I was laid on one of the wooden benches - yes, "the stands" - by Nitish and Priya and I could surely hear their "Hey Abhi! You alright? Hey! Answer, bud! Hey!..." et cetera, but I chose not to answer.
It was the final match of our so-called "TT" match series - no, it doesn't stand for "twenty-twenty" or "ten-ten" (we are kids, we are not idiots), it stands for "three-three" (or maybe we are?) We usually play these matches in Winter as the sunlight scatters away early in the season. Our "cricket ground" was just as big as a real cricket stadium - only that it was half the half of its size. But, that was enough to us fourteen-year-olds. We usually played a series of three or five matches, depending on the match format and the position of the sun that day.
So, today, we were playing a series of just three TT matches as I, Priya and Sohail had tuition after an hour. There were four players in each team - Priya, me, Nitish and Manisha in one team, and Akash, Sohail, Sara and Tamal in the other. Manisha was the captain of our team and Sara was the captain of theirs.
Our ground was circular and the usual rules of cricket were followed - except powerplays and umpires. In case of powerplays, because, eh, that doesn't really matter here. But in the case of umpiring, our version of it varies wildly from the standard form. We don't have a fixed umpire. Instead, in each innings, the bowling side selects an umpire from the batting side, someone who is not at the crease at the moment (for obvious reasons). And, whenever someone gets out and the time came for the batsman-in-rest-who-was-selected-for-umpiring, the umpire is changed. Surely, we do have chaotic decisions sometimes, but, as the teams are not fixed and we are all friends, it is alright most of the time. (This is called foreshadowing...) And, we don't do a coin toss to decide the batting and fielding sides - we just play stone, paper, scissors.
The first match was won by Sara's team. Nitish just wanted to impress Sara by his batting, but he couldn't even touch Sara's knuckle ball and he became a duck. So Priya and I roasted him for five minutes and ate him (this is a joke, we are kids, not cannibals!) The second match was won by our team. This time I hit five sixes and Nitish made up for his mistake by hitting a four on the last ball of the match and we won, and he also got his reward in the form of a short compliment from Sara.
This match, after winning the toss, Manisha and I went out for batting first. She was on strike. She called me and said, "Abhi, run the moment I start running. We have to win this match. The series is on a tie..."
"Don't worry, we will win this,
Manisha, no shot am I gonna miss,
And for this, I won't need a kiss,
What kind of stupid poem is this?"
I smirked, everybody laughed, and Nitish literally rolled in the ground. (You see, I am the clown of our group.)
Then Manisha asked Sara to choose an umpire, she chose Nitish. In the previous two matches, she chose Priya, and she is her usual choice whenever Priya is in the opposite team of hers. So, this decision came as a slight surprise to all of us. Though none of us really remarked, it was hard for us teenagers to hide our mind from showing itself on our eyes, brows, nose, mouth and muscles - especially because we didn't really try to hide it.
Without wasting a second though, Manisha got ready for the first ball, as the light had already listened to darkness about lessenning. Sara, with her round-the-wicket bowling action, had started her runup when Manisha's bat double-tapped the ground - signalling that she was ready. The ball spun drifted and spun fast in the air as it swirled and whirled to the ground and turned by fourty-five degrees towards the wicket before getting smacked down the ground towards Mid-On by Manisha's bat. She immediately started to run and shouted, "Abhi run! Abhi run! RUN!"
And so did I. I immediately started running and I had already covered half of the pitch when Tamal caught the ball and shot it directly towards the wicketkeeping wicket (Manisha had already reached the runners' crease). The ball hit the stumps directly but by then I had already got my bat inside the crease, at least by six inches. So I thought I was safe.
Being the musical muser I am, I just stood and hummed for a couple of seconds in front of the fallen stumps, looking towards the amusing sunset in the west. I have a peculiar habit of closing my eyes whenever I hum or sing, so imagine my bewilderment when I suddenly heard a sudden shout of ecstasy. I was startled as I saw Nitish with his single finger pointing towards the sky and Sara, literally shouting, "OUUUUUUUUUUUUUT!"
Priya and Manisha literally swore at Nitish - "Nitish, you stupid douchebag!"; "Dumbass, he was already inside the crease!" - they said together. Manisha was about to pack a punch in Nitish's pretty face when I told her to calm down because pitting one's own teammate against oneself is painstakingly stupid. Despite knowing that I was not out, I had to hand over my bat to Priya, who was next in the line, as the umpire is unquestionable. The over ended with a wicket, a four, and four dot balls in total - a painstakingly pitiful situation in a TT match (why am I using "p" so much?) Thankfullly, Manisha was still not out yet, she's the best batsman among the eight of us, while Sara's the best bowler. I am a bit of an all-rounder, not bad at either of them, but, eh.
I sat on the benches humming Ode to Joy to myself, just to get my mood up, and still stared at the stunning scene of sunset. (Why "s" this time?) But, at the end of the first over, I saw Sara going to Nitish and telling him something I was too far to catch, and Nitish nodded back at her. And nobody else had really noticed it. This is the point when I realized that something was stinking in the kitchen. Ntiish has been acting weird since yesterday and so is Sara. We three usually chat with each other a lot, but none of them have texted me back after I sent them memes and voice messages - which seemed like a prank to me at first. But now, it seems like something is really wrong.
However, the second over saw initial success with Manisha hitting three sixes in a row at Tamal's balls - I felt like she was taking vengeance as she smiled back to me after each six. On the fourth ball however, she took a single and Priya came to strike. Tamal, now really thinking of getting Priya out, bowled an off-cutter which got a little edge from Priya's bat and went straight to wicketkeeper Sohail and up went Nitish's finger. Priya - out. And now, I really doubt if we have got a route to win this series.
But now, this was Nitish's time for coming to strike. Sara chose me as the next umpire and so I went. I was afraid that Nitish would go out intentionally on this ball and we would not be able to complete even three overs. But, thankfully, he unintentionally hit a four by the edge of his bat and the over ended.
Though I am the umpire currently, I could still advise my teammates. I whispered to Manisha, "Hit whatever and wherever you can, Akash isn't a good bowler. And do not give strike to Nitish at any cost, unless you really have to, okay?" She nodded before she went to take the strike.
Nitish came back to the runner's crease, just in front of me and this time too, Sara came to him. But unlike the previous unlucky time, I could undoubtedly hear them. She said, "Nitish, you have done your job perfectly. Just do one more thing this innings, start to run whenever Manisha hits - no matter if she runs or not. And then, we will run out you and we will have an easy chase in our hands. And while fielding, do not catch or chase the ball, aight?"
"Of course," he said and nodded.
"And will you be mine after that?"
"Um-uh-eh," she stuttered a little and then she said, "yeah definitely." And I saw a smile on Nitish's face, but he didn't really see mine. As I had got hold of it all.
I handed the ball to Akash before he started his runup. He tried to bowl a yorker but he was smacked back by Manisha. The sun had almost gone down, and my bespectacled eyes could barely see anything. And that was when the ball came straight to my forehead.
Nitish said, "Hey Abhi! You alright?"
Priya shouted, "Hey! Answer, bud! Hey!"
Manisha, Sara, Akash, Sohail and Tamal too were around the wooden bench I was lying on.
Manisha shook me hard while she shouted, "Abhi!! I didn't want to hit you! I am so sorry! Hey Abhi, wake up! Nitish, immediately bring a water bottle! Abhi is unconscious!"
I am the best in acting - no matter if it's a Puja drama or The Annual School Function, I always get the first prize in acting. So, this time, I had no difficulty in acting like an unconscious man. But I was fairly afraid if I could handle a whole bottle of water being poured on my face and still keep on the prank. Well, I didn't have to worry about it though...
Immediately after Manisha told him to get a water bottle, Nitish said, "Yes, Manisha. Just wait a minute, my bottle is in the carrier of my bicycle outside the ground. I am getting.
But Sara suddenly said, "But what about the match?"
Nitish said, "You still care about the match?! Abhi has literally passed away, how will he even play? The match is cancelled."
I was a little touched by Nitish's concern for me.
Sara said, "What? No way! The game must go on! Or, or," she stuttered, evidently thinking of an excuse to get her victory, "or you ain't gettin' me!"
Nitish said, "What! No way! I literally did all you told me to do! I got you a hoodie! I got you a cadbury celebration pack! I even cheated my own team! And you are now saying THIS?"
Manisha said, "What the bloody hell are you talking about? Nitish, you intentionally cheated us?"
Sara ignored Manisha, but paused for a couple of seconds, thinking of something to blame Nitish on, perhaps, and then she shouted, "I KNEW IT! I knew you were gonna desert me in the end, Nitish! And you say that you love me! What kind of love is this, where you can't even support me! You said yesterday in chats that you will support me ALL THE TIME and - and - and, we chatted till midnight! This is your support!"
I was a little taken aback by Sara's and Nitish's sudden proclamations, I expected these proclamations, but not THIS much. But, I did feel sad for Nitish though. He really did a lot.
Now, everyone was going mad at Ntiish and Sara after these, and everyone seemed to forget about me (teenagers, eh), so I myself sat up. Everyone was stunned. I said, "Do you people even care about me?" (Oh, I forgot, I am a teenager too.)
As the sky slowly got sprinkled with stars and the final shades of scarlet scattered, two discontent minds - one more than the other - and six irritated teenagers went home as they packed up in pairs, as all of them wanted to chat, to soothe their nerves and mind. I chatted with Nitish to get his mood back, before we got home.