This write-up was first published here
One wintry Sunday afternoon during my childhood, I stood at the batting crease facing a left-handed fast bowler who was many years older to me. It was only my second visit to the cricket ground in Amar Singh College which is located less than half a mile from my Srinagar home, and my first tryst with the leather ball. Our team required eight runs to win when I walked towards the batting pitch. I didn’t wear a helmet, not because it wasn’t available, but I didn’t feel the need of one.
As the bowler cruised towards the bowling crease, I looked intently at the red ball in his hand and imagined hitting it out of the ground, like the fairy-tale stuff. Instead, the ball landed on my face and I crumbled on the turf, writhing in pain. All the players came rushing to me but it wasn’t a serious injury. I put on a brave face, pulled myself up and returned to the batting crease to face my tormentor. The next two balls went crashing through the cover and point regions for boundaries and in the process sealed the match.
I had my vengeance.
I will never ever know whether the bowler took pity on me and deliberately bowled two half trackers outside the off-stump, or if it was my sheer brilliance that had brought the game to the finish, but I had seemingly triumphed.
On Tuesday evening (November 25), I was shattered and pained to hear about the freak incident involving Australian batsman Phil Hughes. My childhood memory came back racing to my mind and reminded me about the inherent dangers in batting. As Phil laid comatose in the hospital battling for his life, I prayed under my breath for his wellbeing and quick return to cricketing world.
Few years ago – I don’t remember the exact year – I had the first glimpse of Phil in a domestic ODI game in Australian where he thrashed almost every bowler. He peppered the point and cover boundaries with panache. He looked a promising player for the future and so he proved only in his second international game by becoming the youngest player to smash two consecutive hundreds in a single test and that too against the likes of Steyn and Morkel.
I had developed an instant liking for him because he seemed to be a shy, introverted guy who didn’t like to be in the limelight. I could easily identify with him. Moreover, both of us shared a deep unbreakable bond of love for the glorious game of cricket.
On Thursday when the doctors confirmed Phil’s demise, I shuddered. I felt I was plunging into depression. I shed a silent tear for him. I did. Over the last 24 years of my life, I have seen so much of death and violence that I have become inured to it. Whenever anyone is killed, which is very frequent in our part of the world, it hardly affects me. It hasn’t affected me since a long time now. I sometimes want to cry for being so impervious to all the bloodshed around me. Yet I was gutted at Phil’s death. He was a tad older than me and too young to die like this. His death has hit me hard and reminded me of my own sense of mortality.
Whenever I feel depressed in my life, I take a refuge in writing. I have always felt relieved afterwards, maybe because writing has a great cathartic value. But today, I write about Phillip Hughes because I want to consign him to my subconscious forever. I want to remember him till I die and that will be my tribute to him.
In a week from his death, he would have been playing against India at Gabba cricket ground to the applause of the boisterous crowd. Yet today he lies buried under mounds of earth, leaving everyone teary-eyed and scarred for life, including me. Phil’s untimely death has put a question mark over the first test match scheduled to start from Thursday. It will be extremely difficult for the players to concentrate on the game when the pain of Phil’s separation is yet to abate.
But, for once, everyone must put on a ‘show-must-go-on’ stoicism and play the game that Phil loved so much. That would be a fitting tribute to him.