Is this the part where I start doubting myself? What would happen if I fail? This looks very unrealistic!???? All eyes are set on me, try imagining the burden of letting them down at this stage. Why did I leave it to this stage? Of all the places and instances, it just had to be today. The universe just loves to test my nerves. Is that Arham sitting in the stands? Aghhhhhhh! I always lose when my brother is watching me, the omens aren’t good at all. Well I have nothing to lose so it doesn’t matter, but wait the whole school is looking at you as the last hope, YOU CANNOT THINK YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE!!!!!!
ParaKnight, the biggest sports event of Lahore, happens to be hosted by the school I’ve been going to since grade 6 and in my last school year, it was time for redemption as the urge to repay the school for all their love and support became a responsibility rather than a wish. With forty-two teams competing for the much sought out Gold Medal in Cricket, the stakes couldn’t be higher as teams from all over Punjab had arrived, gleaming talent not seen before. As the hosts, with the crowd behind along with the familiarity with the playing conditions accompanied by our reputation as one of the best teams in Lahore, a sense of complacency ran amongst the team as half of the student body was convinced that the Gold Medal is already in our pocket. But the boys from Sialkot were here to spoil the party.
The very first match, which was expected to be a casual walk in the park, was the most demanding match where the RED STAR players caught the hosts’ off-guard with their superior skill-set, dedication, and discipline as they posted a mammoth total of 79 runs in 5 overs with the last over going for 32 runs. During the break, while most often you would expect teams to devise plans for chasing down the target, on that day, the silence was daunting as the team were mentally prepared to bow out of the competition and had a major fight over the decision of the Captain regarding awarding the last over to a personal friend rather than deciding based on merit. Nevertheless, Faaiz and Faizan Sethi went out to bat, facing the near-impossible task of snatching away victory from the jaws of defeat.
The team fought gallantly against the potent bowling attack as slowly, but surely we cruised towards the target. Ahmed Bilal and Shahzaib Ansar in particular came up with blistering cameos, scoring much-needed runs, capitalizing every delivery. However, our progress was halted by the regular fall of wickets as the visitors pegged back in the match, leaving the equation to 26 runs needed from 6 balls. To scrub more salt on our wounds, it is important to point out the opposition only needed one wicket to claim their first win of the tournament. But the glimmer of hope we had was the inexperience of the bowler coming up to bowl as they had used up all of their better bowlers to subdue our earlier onslaught. With no strings attached to hold me back, it was time to unleash my “Vehshi” side, the mode where I ignore what everyone has to say, roll my sleeves up, lower my socks, shoes removed, viewing the bowler with such ferocity and anger that it rattles him. With every six, the batsman would roar at the top of his voice, getting the crowd behind who would serve as the extra player. Sitting at the very end of the ground, near the boundary, Roshan shouted, “Faaiz Gilani love you!!!!!!” As I earlier mentioned, this model is way different than the regular introvert, shy and gentleman Faaiz as I shouted, “I love you too!!!!!” Full Nawaz Sharif vibes.
Eventually, the situation ended up with six required on the very last ball of the match. The “Vehshi” mode suddenly vanished, replaced by self-doubt and the pessimistic approach I generally carried during those days. The opposition was involved in a long debate amongst themselves, devising their strategy for the very last ball. With the unofficial strategic time-out, I glanced at our dug-out and identified Ahmed Bilal and Shahzaib Ansar, requesting them to come out towards me.
Me: Yar I can’t do it…….
Ahmed: Ajeeb bachon walli baat kar rahay ho Faaiz. Teri leg hay araam say chuk day. Naaila bowler hay.
Shahzaib: Is innings main 5 chakkay maar bethay ho abhi. Kitni Baar pehlay bhi tum nay yeh Kiya Hua hay? Tension na lo jaani, we all trust you.
Ahmed: Haar jeet hoti rehti hay……bus khud full mehnat karna
Shahzaib: Soocho yeh bowler main hoon aur hum aam match Khel rahay hain, crowd ko miss karwao they won’t even remember days later.
While we were having this conversation, the umpire asked them to leave as the bowler was ready to bowl. Reluctantly, the two lads left while wishing me luck. The bowler, with a slight grin, changed the starting point of his run-up, indicating he wants to increase the pace. With the ball gripped in his right arm, the pacer started his excessively long run-up, approaching the crease with a sense of crookedness, something not seen before. The crowd, on the other hand, halted their slogans and cheers as the moment of truth was about to arrive. A quick-paced bouncer aimed at the ribs is definitely on the cards as the extra height in the leap before delivering the ball was fairly noticeable. Once past the umpire, it was time for the two lads in between the wickets to determine the fate of their sides.
At one point I could hardly breathe as the air around me seemed to vanish. My bones felt as if they were about to be crushed. The burden was proving to be unbearable. Didn’t know I was going to be ‘punished’ like this. I didn’t know Shahzaib and Ahmed would tackle me after the ball, bringing me down, with them on top. The whole team followed the two. Well, at least I did get the chance to flex with the ‘drop the bat’ celebration I admired when Grant Elliot won a match for Lahore Qalandars with a massive six. You see, the basic rule of playing cricket is hiding your real intentions and emotions before acting out. The extra-high jump and the excessively long run-up were meant as bluffs as the bowler rolled his fingers before delivering the last bowl, turning it into an unexpected slow ball. While the bowler was confident of deceiving the batsman, the bitter truth was that the batsman knew this was coming even before he started walking towards the cemented pitch. The reason? You don’t grin before bowling a ball while changing your style. As Imran Khan once said, “Cricket is 10% talent and 90% intelligence…..”
With the bowler releasing the ball, what followed was fairly simple. With the element of surprise almost non-existent, I patiently waited, readjusting my body position to generate the maximum possible energy I had for the single swing I had to make. With the ball being a half-volley, I heaved the ball towards long-on, with enough legs to carry it till middle-school. The two-second window before realizing you have won and made others proud, adrenaline levels rise in your body as you are eagerly waiting for the result. That is the time you face an unfamiliar churning in your stomach, your blood runs cold with legs immovable as you’re petrified, waiting to see if it’s what you wanted. Once the outcome is evident, that sensation quickly disappears and is not to be found unless you’re in another stressful situation with all eyes fixed at you.
Anyways, the celebrations that followed were uncomparable as the whole school erupted in delight especially those sitting near the ground or under the shed. Tales of my ‘heroics’ spread like wild-fire as within minutes everyone from the custodians, guards to the teachers were aware of what unfolded. One particular student compared this event to the heroics of Javed Miandad at Sharjah Cricket Ground against India, praising me by calling me “Javed Miandad of Paragon”.
This particular scare proved to be the turning point as the team picked themselves up, producing much better performances, eventually winning the medal we all dreamt of having since our first day at school. After years of being knocked out before reaching the final, finishing on the podium felt self-satisfying and indescribable.