I was out with friends celebrating the victory of our match in the quarter finals. It began to rain heavily and we were just driving our bikes to wherever the road would take us. If I knew I would have to pay a heavy price for it the next day, I would never have done it.
That night, I became super-hot, I mean literally, I had fever of 102 degrees. I cursed myself for being so careless the night before. My family doc came to diagnose me and he said something about a flu spread throughout the city, and it was common in the monsoon. The only thing I heard in that conversation was that âI couldn’t play the semi-finals matchâ. I hadn’t cried the day since Manchester lost Ronaldo to Real Madrid, but the streak was meant to be broken. Before I knew tears were forming in my eyes. I tried hard to control my tears but to no avail. With the little energy left in me I use my weak voice to ask if I could play football match and then rest, for which he replied âCOMPLETE BED RESTâ. Another tear left my eye. Then I had to call up my team mates and tell them about my misfortune. My voice was breaking up when I talked, they had already reached the ground where the match was to be played, I knew they had next to zero chance to win as they were playing against an over-age team. They knew the organizers and so no appeals would even be considered against them. But I was the trump card of our team, I played for the district team and could play on any position needed.
“Sk could you just pass the phone to Nandu so he can tell me what’s going on during the match?”
“Bro don’t worry we will make it to the finals for you and we will win the tournament with you.”
“Ohk dude I gotta go. The match is about to start.”
“Ali. I heard about you. I am sorry.”
“Well we opted for the start and looks like Sk is going to take a direct kick from the center line. But its way of the target. The keeper passes to their defence who kicked it in our defense, wow that was some shoot, the forward shot but hit the pole and the ball went outside for a side kick. Shafin is taking it and he cleared the center line, and passed to Naren, he dribbled past one guy and passed to Sk, who took a shot andâŚoooohhh, saved. ”
“The saint Maryâs lost to this team, they were the favorites to win this but well, they were our toughest competitors, and they lost 4-0, losers, ohhh. Near miss, that was some shot. Looks like Shujaat has his work cut out for him in this match. The match has gone only 5 mins but I think they had way more chances, and they looked pretty menacing, wish u were here.”
My heart was beating louder than liberty bell. This was one of those time when I knew I could do it, but was completely helpless. I had promised myself I would never allow that to happen unless I was dead, which I am afraid I wasn’t so I decided to at least go there and encourage them, I kept the phone on connected the headphones and kept listening while I struggle to get up and got on my bike and drove to the ground;
“Dude the ref gave a free kick to them for a foul that shafin did. Their star striker rajnish is taking it. Ohh, well done shujaat, he saved us once more. Dude I am sorry to say this but I think we may lose this game. I don’t think shujaat has got more left to give. Dude SK is asking what substitutions to be made.
“Ask Amar to be ready to be substituted instantly.”
“But we have no other player for that position. We had only u and him.”
“Just trust me and fill in the formalities.”
*Around another 3 mins later
“Dude all the formalities done now tell me the player who should be sent in and fast”
“Excuse me dude r u serious, when are u cumin?”
And there I was, mad, totally mad, but I had some energy inside of me to do it. I borrowed kits from nandu changed, grabbed studs from him too, I called for the substitution at the next throw in. waited for him to come out.
I brushed my hands on the line and stepped in and ran to take the throw in, kicked the ball up in my hand kissed it and threw it to the opponents keeper. That was sort of my rule, I always did a bad thing just at the start of the match so I knew I couldn’t go wrong after that, I was super hyped, adrenaline was flooding in my veins, I started out in the centre but after seeing we were struggling in the defence I moved to midfield and told raj to take my place and run at every chance he get and I will provide. I had to keep 3 of their best strikers from entering the d. I did good for a few mins before my body started taking its toll, I started feeling dizzy, I asked a friend to bring water to the side line near my position and at a throw in a drank a bottle and poured a bottle on my head, but still I was feeling dizzy, I knew I wouldnât last long in such a state and had to do something about it urgently. We still had 5 mins before halftime. And I had to do to stay concentrated in that time.
I asked one of my strongest defence to slap me, hardest he could, he refused at first, but I calling him a pussy might have encourage him to do so. And he slapped me so hard that I was thrown back a bit, the ref heard the noise and stopped the game and removed a card, but then he saw the truth of what had happened and was confused on whether to present the card or no. then I had to explain I had told him to do so and it was mutual when he kept the card back in. I had got enough jolt to keep me alive for the next 5 mins and they were keeping it easy for the ending mins as they knew the attack would lead to no use.
I used that chance to take the ball and dribble it past a few players and be caught by a left out defence, who later sniggered at me. That got me pissed SO I decide to get even. I ran to the mid got the ball back and ran straight towards him, I passed him the ball, he stopped it but was still shocked at what I had done, I took the advantage and did a perfectly legal sliding tackle, my one leg was bent and only one was out with it clearing the ball away as far as his goal keeper, but my slide didn’t end there, it was purely by âmistakeâ that I then went to slide into the defence and the bottom studs of my sneakers clashed with his legs and shin pads and there was a cracking noise of the shin guards, his guard had broken, I think he got the message. Then the ref blew the half time whistle, I lifted him up and whispered âPlay fairâ.
My head was still spinning, but in the good sense, I squeezed a whole lemon into my mouth and I knew that would keep me awake for the other half.
“Alright huddle up everyone, what the fuck is wrong with u guys, girls play better than u, they may be bigger than us, and maybe also better than us, but they are playing without a plan and a plan is what I can give u, so listen up very carefully.”
I closed my eyes:
âNow we have the kick off , sk and matin u both kick off, pass the ball behind to shafin in the left flank, and he will cover some distance and meanwhile Rehbar and Naren switch places and the defenders are marking so make them collide, then rehbar will run from center and get inside the D from the right, he is a bit aggressive so he will come marking u so donât worry about getting offside , then Naren use your speed and get to the left corner of the d and wait for a pass, shafin u pass on the ball to me and me and sk one on one pass dribble it across one defender and then one dummy to mat and a back pass, then the ball will be with me and then itâs my turn, a fake shot, a fake pass, dribble past the guy and a through pass, Naren u will have the ball then attempt to score. All right guys we have just one chance of scoring, do it right. If we score then Rehbar and Sk out and karan Arjun in. if not then send in for raol and aditya. I will move to goal keeping and they will take my place. Guys remember one thing, the sides have changed and the wind will be across in their favor and slightly swinging to the right, judge the ball accordingly. All right guy letâs do it.â
Everyone together said”Ganpati baapa moriya.” Which is like saying “Break” in India
Sk asked me why had I selected Naren to shoot as I knew he was a klutz and couldn’t perform under pressure, we dint call him torres for nothing. I told him to trust me.
I brushed my hand on the lines and then went and kissed the ball, did a single juggle and then it was on. It worked like a perfect orchestra and everything went as planned and in the end Naren had the ball he tried to shoot but I knew the defender was aggressive he tackled him on the ground, the ref blew his whistle for a free kick. Naren came to me to apologies. I told him not to worry and the things worked out just as I had planned. The ref was in their favor and instead of giving a penalty as he clearly was inside the box he gave a free kick just outside the box. But that too worked for me.
I was a little bit famous for my spot kicks, I had a perfect record of penalties in matches and a pretty good record for free kicks too. I was 17/17 in penalties and 19/39 for free kicks. I placed the ball the nozzle of which was facing me, I knew this was the only chance we were ever getting to score in this match as they had now seen our strategy and now nothing else could possibly work, as they were planning to sub in new players. I double checked my footsteps and it was just a minute into the second half. I looked at the sky, did the forehead to lips. And then waited for the refereeâs whistle that was taking so long for me. I could see and hear all the people shouting and supporters screaming. I stared at the post in my Ronaldo stance. The supporters started screaming âconventâ. Then the whistle blew. Then I calmed my heartbeat, and waited a second too long perhaps, I had aimed for above the wall of defense and straight in the bottom part of the goal post and inside the goal area, what I didn’t know was that the post was a bit loose, I kicked it with perfect execution, my heart was pumping and I literally was seeing things in slow mo. The ball went cleanly above the wall and smashed right into the postâs bottom part, the keeper was nowhere near it to get to it, it was supposed to brush in but in got reflected back towards the bottom part, my heart stopped,
I saw helplessly as the ball was falling towards the ground, I felt like I was falling, the audience stopped the cheers and jeers. At that moment I saw what silence meant. I felt guilty then, I had let down my team, we had a perfect record of 16 years of winning everything in the city and I was going to be the one captain who broke this record, I was the one who had let my school down. I was the one who was beat in the team who were called the unbeatable since the last 16 years. We had won everything this year but without this they all would be considered useless. I was the one who broke the streak. I had let my team down, I knew the ball would back spin on touching the ground but I wasn’t sure of the speed as the goal keeper would reach the ball, it was a mere 2 % chance, and I didn’t like those odds.
The ball didn’t touch the ground, but it fell on the leg of sk, who was just merely standing there. The ball just rolled grounded inside the goal line from his legs, one of the defenders was covering the corners, so no chance of an offside. The ref had no choice but to allow that goal, the ref blew the whistle but I didn’t hear it, the audience roar was louder, my team was celebrating, I knew the work was just half done so I kept my calm, no matter how much I wanted to tear off the jersey I was wearing. I shouted at every one of my team members to get their shit straight as the match wasn’t over and to make the substitutions I had told to, now it was everything about defense, I was the last defense, and we were now playing 5-4-1 flank, I was always an optimist. They kicked off, we worked really hard in the defense and when all failed the coach of their team called on of their offence and told him something and then signaled something to the referee. I knew something was going to happen but there are no timeouts in football. I just shouted be careful guys, they are up to no good. The forward then took the ball and ran towards one of our defenders, he ran towards him kicked the ball ahead, way ahead where he would never be able to reach it, he was then in a sprint with the defender, he then ran himself into my player and then faked a jump, it was very lame and not worthy of an Oscar. The ref pointed towards the penalty spot,
I then knew what was going on, they knew our GK was injured from the past few dives and would not be able to save it, he was only 13 but playing good enough of our team. He was then walking towards the center line to save the penalty and then he fell down and faked an ankle twist, pretty convincing. I then went to check on him, he told me now they would have to allow a change of keepers as a player was injured and then I could save it, I was awestruck by the brilliance of this 13 year old kid. But I knew I was in no condition to save anything let alone I penalty, my lemon effect was wearing off. I told him I trust u, go ahead and save the penalty, just keep an eye on me. The players got in position for the kick. The referees blew the whistle, shujaat was looking at me, and after taking the judgement from his legs I told him to jump to the right. He nodded.
The player then started his run up. Shujaat was staring straight in the forwards eye. The forward took the kick to the left side, and I was cursing myself for telling shujaat to dive at the right, but to my surprise shujaat had jumped to the left and caught the ball and slept on it and waited for everyone to clear out of the D.
After that I was in a trance for the rest of the match. I just remember vague cheers at every clearance. the refs whistle,The team lifting me,starting the victory lap, falling on the ground, arrival of an ambulance, then I must have blacked out.