“Hey bro, you down for cricket today?” I asked my best friend.
“Right after school?” He turns around to face me and answers back, eyebrows aware.
“Alright, perfect,” I respond with a smile, heading to my first class of the day.
It was seven A.M., just fifteen minutes prior to class, but throughout the day, it had already been deemed that my mind was to be on the cricket field.
The cricket field we played at was a rather peculiar one. It was just a large area of grass enclosed by apartments on three sides and a parking lot right behind the batting end (therefore, meaning no runs to be scored behind).
There is another unique feature of this ground which isn’t clear by the picture. The left side of the ground was much higher than the right. Hence the name Hill Cricket Ground (Or The Hill, we would say for short). The pitch was made on the highest part of the left side of the field, meaning no off-side boundary either.
We would play, sometimes just four of us in a 2v2 game, sometimes on a good day, ten of us in a 5v5 game, after school ’till sunset. After some time, it seemed that a crowd just as diverse as us players, some Pakistani, some Indians, Bengalis, Mexicans, Americans, enjoyed watching us from their balconies (either that or they weren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes in their homes).
Despite shorter boundaries and the pitch being elevated above the boundaries, it wasn’t as easy to bat here as one would think. The uneven grass made the ball move early on in the innings and assist spinners, later on, making batting a real scary task. This lead to some interesting results. I can remember on multiple occasions teams being bowled out for under 20. But I can also remember the more courageous and brave batting innings which the ground has provided.
If a batsman can manage to see out the new ball, scoring, later on, becomes much easier here and it’s the bowlers who end up having to worry. I still remember very vividly, scoring a half-century from 163 deliveries, perhaps making the scorer more tired than myself. Deciding not to open in another game, coming in later after the ball moved around less made batting a bit easier. My only ever century was a result of that game, that too coming in no time from just 86 deliveries (Ben Stokes, anyone?).
However, perhaps my favorite ever match here came late in March one year, when our team won by a very close and nerve-wracking margin of just 25 runs (a fairly small margin in test cricket).
We were sent in to bat first by the opponent and it seemed early on we were going to struggle. After losing two early wickets, we defensively kept the wickets steady and by the end of the day’s nearly 40 overs (we’re high schoolers who have assignments, so 90 overs was improbable), our side managed to be steady at 130-3.
The next day, after completing my half-century, I decided to declare at 166-4, hoping to bowl out the opponent within the 30-or-so overs left in the day. And exactly that happened. The pitch was spinning too much and they made a mere 40-or-so runs. By the end of Day 3, we would’ve thought the match was in our hands, especially when we put up 88-2dec., setting a target of 255 with just a little over a day left.
Early into Day 5, the match was exactly how we wanted it. They were down 40-3, still needed 215 with just two batsmen left. But when their captain had grabbed the bat and came to the crease, everything was to change. Although in person, he was quite the comedian, this was one game he didn’t take as a joke. With a gritty and determined half-century, they shockingly passed the 200-mark, setting up a 100+-run partnership. Now the tables had truly turned and we needed some magic if we were to win this game. And then I saw the moment.
At 225-3, the captain mistimed a defensive block against one of my deliveries, sending the ball straight up in the air. Despite how tired I was trying to get this wicket for the past few hours, this wicket would’ve been too valuable for me to neglect. I quickly ran to my left and seized the catch, as if nothing else had mattered in this world.
With 30 more runs to win with one wicket left, the sun setting, all three results were possible. At this point, although I’d prefer to have won, I would’ve accepted a draw after the innings I had just witnessed. But when the next batsman hit the ball down to fine leg for four, fears of losing were re-ignited.
The next ball was a single, 25 runs left to win. I’m sure the batsman knew as well that the sun was setting and a draw seemed imminent. The bowler bowled a full-length ball on middle-stump and feeling confident, the batsman-on-strike went for six but I came underneath the ball, praying I could manage this catch. And the next thing I remember, I heard the bowler celebrate and saw the batsman fall on his knees, failing to comprehend how they could’ve lost.
It’s been two years since I’ve last played at The Hill, but the memories are alive as if I am still in the moment. Everything so simple, yet perfect. Cricket being the most unforgiving yet giving game.