Illustration by Sarah Durrani
Illustration by Sarah Durrani

My dear Dolly,

Honestly, I didn’t see that doosra coming into your life!

The news of your match-fixing with that spinner (or ginner — who cares?) has sent my romantic aspirations cartwheeling. I am feeling much like a batter at 99 being called for a run by his trusted partner only to be shown the back while he is halfway there.

Stranded mid-pitch like this often shakes your faith in humanity and leaves you with a lasting sense of homelessness. I feel orphaned all over again and can’t help ruing the chance to die from that concussion caused by a malicious beamer that turned me forever into a twelfth man and my concussion-substitute into a cocky superstar, sporting peroxide hair at my expense. But that’s another story.

My sneaking suspicion tells me that you were coerced and even clubbed to cross this boundary while I was touring, delivering drinks and magic sprays to the playing eleven. It is most certainly the doing of your cunning old man who couldn’t stand my furtive visits to your ‘gully’, thinking you’d make a run at night on my call. He has no-balled our entire future. For too long you’ve been his golden duck, spending all your salary on imagined illnesses of this hypochondriac. I mean, who can have 100 ailments and still go on living?

Darling, don’t consign me to the level of a third man — the third man is the loneliest on the field. The poor chap is so distant he doesn’t even get to appeal or swear to vent his frustration. This is the privilege of the men in slips only.

A cricketer laments being jilted by his beloved, and plots to woo her back, in a letter written in his language of love — cricket, of course

To be honest, after that crucial last meeting with your father (where, to my horror he finally disclosed he was a notorious former umpire), it was plain that he would not give me the green light. All that while I sat before him, he kept wagging his finger in my face, criticizing my views on love marriage.

To be honest, my heart had sunk right then. The sight of a raised finger to a cricketer like me facing the axe is what beheading is to an ISIS hostage. Remaining sanguine in the face of such repeated finger-raising was thus impossible. It was psychological manslaughter. After stepping out of his house, his finger kept appearing in a series of nightmares for weeks.

When I had first met your father, he seemed like an innocuous Chinaman, with a small pointed beard. A man full of gestures, he was making odd movements — apparently light exercise prescribed by his physiotherapist — stretching his arms or touching his shoulder peculiarly with his hand as if signaling ‘One short.’

This I took as a personal affront since, as you know, I am a few inches shorter than you.

Once when he flung his right arm straight up in the air and started circling his hand, I was almost tempted to interpret it as an invitation for a free hit. Till then, he had not made his rogue intentions clear so there was no reason for getting physical. In hindsight, I should have availed the offer. A nice punch on his nose would have been gratifying to the howling pinch hitter that lurks deep inside me since childhood, scarring his face for good.

Come to think of it, my life is full of missed chances.

For instance, when my cousin in New York sent me tips for a new yorker he claimed to have invented by closely observing baseball, I ignored the suggestion when it could possibly have changed the course of my career. And then, there were issues with my comprehension, too. When the courteous foreign coach would shyly whisper during team huddles that my underarms needed attention, I assumed he wanted me to attempt Jonty Rhodes-style run outs. When he informed me that I was throwing like no other, I took it as praise, failing to realize he was calling me a chucker. Not being on the same wavelength with an English-speaking coach can literally end careers. I can vouch for that.

Coming back to your father, the pitch of his voice was placid on that last day. I tried my level best to hook him but he only drove his own agenda. At tea, he crouched oddly like a committed wicketkeeper to a spinner, legs on either side of the chair and palms open as if expecting to be fed via throws. Did your father have a deprived, famished childhood perhaps with some Darwinism thrown in for good measure? Or was that simply an eccentric way of praying before meals?

All along we were building an unsavoury bit of history amongst us (your father and I) which you might not be aware of. One day I accosted him at a wedding and inadvertently had my leg before him just as he began his greedy sprint towards the food table the moment dinner was announced.

Naturally, he fell flat and started abusing me for keeping my long leg in the way. The incident was recorded by the wedding videographer and the replay suggested that my leg was probably not in front. He made the man play the recording repeatedly without picking any conclusive evidence. However, he refused to give me the benefit of doubt and asked other guests if they had mobile recordings of it, taken from different angles. While I got away with it eventually, now I feel what a fine leg I possess that can make its own smart decisions.

My dear, only last night, I had the final premonition of the tragedy that has befallen us. I saw you prancing merrily on some practice pitches surrounded by a lush green outfield. Above us were clouds and down below, an enormous swing. Upon it you sat and flung yourself higher and higher.

Suddenly a loose shot is fired by a random carjacker on the street. The thief resembles your brother (though identities in dreams are often misleading), you panic and start falling from the highest point where the swing had reached. I kept my eyes on that little red part of your dress all the time and did my best to come underneath. It looked like a simple catch, a ‘dolly’ as they say in cricket. But the sun was directly in my eyes and in the end, I misjudged my Dolly’s fall. I dropped, baby, a sitter.

They say catches win matches and our dream match was over. Alas now in reality too. In this doomed first-class match of ours, I was to be the man of the match. I could’ve proudly boasted before my envious friends that I had acquired the best match figure in your shape. However, your scheming father had the last laugh and, like umpire Shakoor Rana, adamantly refused to start play. I tell you he is the wrong ‘un in your family.

Is the quest to finalize you as my chosen maiden over?

‘No, I mustn’t give up,’ says the voice inside.

I must rise from the Ashes and start rebuilding my life’s innings as a resolute tailender.

While I might have ended up as the 12th man in my cricketing world, I have the DNA of my grandfather, a valorous night-watchman known for his bulldog tenacity. On his watch, no one ever dared to penetrate the owner’s house. Once, he even shot a man in the leg with whom the houseowner’s wife was conveniently eloping. The leg had to be amputated later and it earned grandpa the appellation ‘Leg cutter’ bestowed by other frightened paramours of the second and third wives. My grandfather was also credited with shooting at least two stray cats who were stealthily decamping with family heirlooms. He finally fell victim to the ‘nervous nineties’ when, after bowling a maiden over, he succumbed to the frenzy during his wedding night, to perish agonizingly close to a 100. May God bless his dreaded soul. The good news is that his traits are safe with me.

In a rearguard action, I must show the world that my tail can wag. I would make your father taste defeat and win this greatest test of my life in one day.

Ah, the plan is brewing in my mind...

Covered from head to toe in my full protective gear, I’ll ring the bell. Once he will appear, I will start rolling up my sleeves, still humbly requesting him one last time to eschew his attempt to separate two lovebirds. On this occasion, baby, you must provide me extra cover by standing close by like a fearless forward short leg to a wily carom-ball specialist. And if he stays obdurate, the feints will begin.

With the bat in my hand, I’ll start practicing all shots in my repertoire in front of him without making contact. My bat will do the talking as I will brandish it like a sword. Beyond breaking his crooked finger that he is so fond of flaunting, I plan not to inflict any physical damage. In retaliation, if he launches a ‘below the belt’ assault via his golf ball, I will let my protective guard handle the ball. A mild heart attack might result from my threatening moves but, trust me, it will be a welcome and curative outcome for him. Once his haggard face falls like a dead rubber, triumph will be ours.

You see, a 12th man has nothing to lose in life. I also know that in normal course, he would never reverse his decision. Hence this death-overs treatment. The coward in him would soon be brought to his knees. Love always wins, I am told on good authority.

Don’t consider this plan a mere silly point but a masterstroke. I can’t wait to warm up, to cut, to smash, to slog-sweep. Don’t worry. Your father will be fine. It’s just a ruse to scare him and beat the evil out of him. I have never middled anything and my strike rate is miserly.

After your father declares his menacing plans, we will run out of this present and build a solid partnership away from home where matters won’t spin out of control. We do not need sponsors like your father who are injurious to health. Soon, after a quick delivery, our team’s balance is bound to strengthen. Converting singles into doubles is our destiny.

Soon, we will be three without loss, bye excluded.

Yours truly,
Duckworth Lewis

The writer is the award-winning novelist of Melody of a Tear and The Liar’s Truth.

He tweets @Haroontheauthor

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 3rd, 2022

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