The death overs are here, and although the fat lady isn’t singing yet, she sure is clearing her throat.
Seven down, reads the scoreboard for whoever can dare take a look. There is a mountain of runs left to score but not a whole lot of wickets left. The required run-rate and tensions — both are rising.
The captain stands at the crease, clutching his famous but battered bat, taking stock of the field, the situation and what’s left behind.
He’s not quite the last man standing — not just yet at least. But if it keeps on raining toe-crushing yorkers, head bashing bouncers or outrightly illegal gut-busting beamers, will he retire to the pavilion too? It’s a straight choice after all between surrendering your wicket or being left bloodied and bruised. Most surrender.
To be honest, the signs of implosion in the captain’s dressing room had been there for a while but it wasn’t anything alarming. At first, a few wickets fell here and there but no one was really bothered. Those who fell were second-stringers and B-teamers at best anyway. Them falling would have caused no impact on the outcome of the game. Some even said they were all parchis, who showed their true colours when push came to shove.
What happened in the last over, however, cannot be ignored. A flurry of wickets, including that of a reliable member of the captain’s inner circle, may break the team’s back and could possibly open floodgates.
Her dismissal was ruthlessly masterminded. As soon as she stepped out of the crease to free up her arms, fielders closed in, forcing her to retreat. This went on for five straight deliveries before the usually feisty but now weary batter finally lost her patience and decided to sacrifice her wicket.
Not much later, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a weasel of a teammate, someone with a twisted philosophy and a poisonous tongue, also went back to the pavilion.
Such was the meltdown that the captain’s team was bracing itself to lose more. And not just anyone but the vice-captain of all the people. Somehow though, the wily old number two found enough resistance in him to block out the deceptive googlys and sharp turning legbreaks. He hangs in tough for now, refusing to leave the team.
Bad lights … very bad lights … the worst lights actually … ensured no more damage was possible as play was called off for the day. The captain, his understudy, and what’s left of the team live to die another day but the writing is still on the wall. It’s a losing battle the team’s been fighting ever since the captain started a war of words with the third umpire.
The umpire strikes back
He was reminded numerous times that it’s a lose-lose situation to take on the third umpire and that many a skippers have tried and failed before him. Like Marcianos and Mayweathers, the third umpire remains undefeated with an infinite and zero record. Sure, the captain may have managed to slip in a few this time, buzzed the champion for a bit but the outcome was always in doubt.
To win a battle on this ground, you have to have the third umpire on your side so the finger goes up whenever needed. The captain forgot that age-old lesson, which is strange because he himself was a great preacher of that very lesson. In fact, it’s an open secret that the captain’s now depleted roster was once assembled by the green light of the third umpire.
That was when the captain and the umpire were on the same team. Back then, it was the captain who was allowed to tamper the ball, bowl beamers, get away with plumb lbws, and whatnot. That team has since split. The fallout of the falling out means now it’s the captain’s turn to face the fury.
Only this time, the fury is much more ferocious. The rule book has been ripped to shreds. The third umpire demands only one result: the captain and Co’s defeat by hook or by crook. And the bowlers, at the behest of the umpires, are delivering just that.
At this point, only a captain’s knock can erase his own cockup. Without it, the captain and his team would lose, the third umpire would win, but will there be any real winners? Not when those in the stands can see how the rules are being bent against the batting side. And not when it’s clear that the umpires have given the bowlers free hand to apply all the dark arts in the book.
For 75 odd years, pundits of the game have advised the third umpire to stay neutral and let the game be played by those in the field. It must remain a battle between the batters and bowlers. The umpire still can’t help but intervene. What it fails to understand is that this meddling benefits no one. The game gets weaker this way, and the audience feels more and more disillusioned.