Fast bowlers don’t eat ice-cream

17 12 2010

(or why Amir did it)


Amir was training hard before the must-win Test at The Oval. He put in extra time in the nets with Waqar, to get closer to the stumps for his inswinger (and with Aaqib, to get closer to the optimum frequency of hair bounce per delivery). He couldn’t wait to call the girl as soon as he got on the team bus. But he got distracted: Pakistan’s new keeper wanted to take pictures, and nobody else was in the mood to humour him, so Amir felt bad and obliged him with enough poses to keep him busy for the bus ride back to the hotel.

 

When he finally got to his room and pulled out his phone, there were 25 missed calls from her, and this final text message:

 "You have no balls. Don't call me again. P.S. My brother says you’re 24."

92 ignored phone calls, 24 spurned texts and 18 unread emails later, he gave in and used the team’s getaway identity of choice: Asif’s cook, Sheeda.  She didn’t recognize Sheeda’s Pakistan number, but still hung up when she heard Amir say hey. He was crushed – but he hadn’t been with the team long enough to surrender without a fight. He went to his big brother in the team, Salman, for advice.

“You’ve come to the right guy. After all, I’m the first smooth-talking Pakistan captain in ages. Even all the English journalists are saying it. The most urbane cricketer since Imran Khan…”

Cue commotion in the bathroom, where Asif was taking a leak. He stumbled out, stifled smirk on face, but when he saw Salman in his sleeveless Pakistan jersey, poking at the flab under which he always complained his biceps were hiding, Asif’s muffled guffaws broke into hysterical laughter.

"At least they're bigger than Fawad Alam's"

Salman raised a single luscious, aristocratic eyebrow.

“Sorry, man. Every time someone compares a player to Imran Bhai, this happens. It’s just one of the nasty side-effects of my vitamin supplements.”

“You mean those goat-milk extra-strength pills your village doc gave you? The ones that make you pee every 21 minutes, and especially at the end of your spells?”

Luckily, Salman was a gentleman (read: not Shoaib), so no bats were raised and Asif emerged from the bathroom with his own words of advice on relationships. Citing his tremendous experience in the matter, Asif told Amir that it was ridiculous to waste his tears on a girl who didn’t read her email.

“Dude, my ex would even check my email!”

The thorough Ms Malik displays details of Asif's communications

He urged Amir to get his fix of intricate beauty from bowling instead and launched into a tireless lecture on setting batsmen up. All Amir could make of it was “mindfuck” and “KP”, so he went back to sulking with his unresponsive phone. Salman saw the need for leadership and seized the opportunity:

“Why don’t you tell me what really happened in the nets today?”

“She’s crazy. She was watching us practice with her friends and wanted to show off every delivery I’ve got.”

“Well, that’s kind of cute.”

“Anyway, I told her there wasn’t time because Wiqi Bhai was only supervising one over per bowler, and I only had 2 balls left. She got on my case to bowl no-balls! To prolong my spell!”

(Asif snorted a laugh but was immediately shut up by another raised-eyebrow glare from Salman).

“No, he’s right. She thought a no-ball would mean an extra ball. In the nets! And she won’t let me explain – what am I supposed to do!”

“Look, it’s just a couple of no-balls. Let’s just have you bowl them in the match. As a gift for her. Pick a meaningful number, like, your anniversary and bowl your promised delivery of love in that over. It’s genius!”

“Anniversary? I met her 2 weeks ago, with you, at that ice-cream parlour opening you dragged us to.”

“Oh, right, this is the girl who’s a steward at Lord’s…”

“Hasn’t discovered email, doesn’t give a fuck about cricket yet works for one of its most esteemed institutions. Reminds me of Uncle,” Asif chimed in, putting an arm around Salman.

Ijaz Butt discovers the news. © AFP

“Asif, you’re testing my patience again. He is not related to me. Anyway, ignore him, kiddo. So, how many times?”

“Well, this would’ve been our third date, but our first *special* one.”

“Let’s make it the first ball of the third over, then? I’ll write it down in my strategy notebook too, so we won’t forget. By the way, you guys should really read these notes sometime. Did you know the English media calls me an Anglophile?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Anyway, this plan is golden. You will literally bowl her over – ha! See what I did?”

“I guess it’s worth a shot.”

And so it was. Amir crossed his fingers and thumbed a text to the girl to deliver this promise of enduring love. Unfortunately for him and Pakistan, Mazhar Majeed joined the boys in Butt’s room soon after the plan was finalised. He sneaked a look at Butt’s open notebook, which gave him all the information he needed for a perfect spot-fix, as long as he got to make the call on which ball in which over would demonstrate his ‘influence’ (a task made easier by the compliant News of the World staff who showed no interest in picking the timing themselves).

However, holding up his promise would prove to be a handful for Majeed.

He had not anticipated that Asif would proceed to share stories of his ups and downs with the ladies. Somewhere between the village vamp who spiked his lassi with HGH and the B-grade Lollywood actress who framed him in the theft of her red-hot Ferrari (a tale that never failed to elicit a curious yelp from Yasir Hameed), Amir started to question whether a girlfriend was even a good idea. Besides, every night after dinner, Shoaib Malik emailed the team a new YouTube clip from the extensive media trial Asif’s ex put him through.

Asif-Veena press conference. Photo: Express Tribune

“It was brutal, like bowling to Sehwag on a Faisalabad road,” Asif admitted.

This was starting to make Amir want to flee, all the way back to the border-town near the Taliban-infested Swat Valley where Geoff Lawson thought he grew up. He was so scarred by the tales of Asif’s trials, you would think he had developed antibodies against women: he didn’t bowl a single no-ball in what ended up being a match-winning spell at the Oval.

Majeed had failed to deliver on his promise to NOTW and it was time for him to be proactive. He had to ensure Amir delivered the no-goods come Lord’s. It took some key strategy documents from the top-ranked side and a Bank Holiday weekend special of high school rom-coms like Clueless, but he finally managed to convince this 18-year-old that girlfriends were good.

Or so he thought.The night before the day of the planned no-ball, Amir texted him:

“Shall I do it or not..?”

Majeed almost had a nervous breakdown, but there was little he could do except warn NOTW it might not happen.

Amir didn’t hear from Majeed but it didn’t matter. He told himself this was it: this was going to be his day. He could feel it. And so could anybody watching. He bowled with fire and heart, and had four wickets before anybody knew it was time for his third full over.

Except he knew it. He wasn’t nervous, but he wanted to make sure he got it right. He turned to Salman one last time. The long discussion that followed had many keen observers of the game guessing (and one Pakistani in South London throwing his white BlackBerry at his TV).

“This is it, Salman Bhai. This is the right decision, right?”

"Are you sure I should do this?" Photo: News of the World

A delivery of promised love © Sky Sports

After one final review of the positive externalities of loving on fast bowling, Amir walked back to his mark. He bowled that no-ball. The girl was at the ground. She smiled, he sensed it, and everyone else saw it all in his bowling – relief, freedom, love. That sajda after the 5-fer was not just for God and cricket. Rob Smyth was right: It was not a kiss of betrayal, it was the kiss of a boy who loved his cricket. And his girl.

Ah, to be young and and free and in love © PA Photos

The kiss of betrayal?                    © News of the World

(Originally published in the Alternative Cricket Almanack 2010, which is full of honest, fun writing on all things cricket. Proceeds go towards a scholarship for Afghan youth cricket that aims to find the first Afghan cricket superstar. Buy here, read excerpts, etc. here).

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7 responses

18 12 2010
Tazeen

You go girl 🙂

20 12 2010
Danish

For a second there, in the beginning, I thought I was reading a narration of true events!

24 12 2010
Ahsan

Brilliant.

15 01 2011
Ahsan

ROFL, this is awesome.

19 01 2011
Faizan Lakhani

wow, chaah gayee !!!
why don’t you join my team 😉 😛

5 03 2011
madeehahassan

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! seriously awesome =D *LIKES*

25 03 2011
Waqas Lone

Salman, Asif and Aamir should be hanged till death!

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