While growing up, grass (the green kind) was a luxury. It was a priviledge to play on it. If you worked hard and your team made the finals of a cricket tournament, you could play at Sharjah Stadium. Otherwise, you remained in the boondocks of sand, pebbles, and concrete pitches. It was a kind of hell. The kind of thing people say "builds character". But there was nothing remotely glorious about facing a leather ball on concrete.
And then, if you weren't batting, you were fielding. Captains would screech and wave their arms about from first slip (a position that does not require much motion), beseeching you to dive, dammit, dive across stones, shards of glass, rought grains of sand, and pick up and throw the ball back to him with what was left of your arm.
So recently, when a few friends and I headed to Churchgate one morning to play cricket, I wondered what playing on grass at last would be like. In my dreams, I played on freshly-mowed grass and attacked the world's best bowlers. Would I do the same here, too? On Indian soil? In real life? The train rattled towards our destination while former visions of glory readjusted themselves to the present.
On arrival we staked our claim on a strip of land, erected protective netting, and finally got down to playing. There were no crowds cheering us on, no talent hunters emerging from bushes to tell us we'd play for India in February, and definitely no groupies. But I did bowl one batsman who appeared suitably bamboozled. He grinned. I scowled.
The rest of the session was hard work. We kept bowling, kept getting things right, kept doing things from memory until the entire act of playing felt comfortable again. I practiced faces of all sorts. Scowls, glee, angst, smirks. To get the international cricketer thing going again. Gradually the preconceived expressions became automatic, and the ball felt familiar.
Even then, I got whacked plenty. All over the place. It must have been the dew. The ball just wouldn't come out right. I suppose it's time to bring out the mystery ball.