Being a ball kid may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but for young, ambitious players, it is probably one the most exhilarating experiences in the world. Imagine standing a few feet from your heroes; handing them a water bottle or giving them a high-five, feeling like you are part of the action — there is certainly no better feeling as a kid.
May 27, 2008. Season One of the IPL — Deccan Chargers vs Chennai Super Kings at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad. All of 16, I was one of the lucky kids who got a chance to patrol the boundary with my Hyderabad Under-19 teammates, and also earn one of the best seats in the house. It was a day of much excitement and inspiration. It is a day I remember fondly, but one that passed far too quickly.
The match itself seemed irrelevant. The opportunity to be within touching distance of my heroes was enough for me. To observe and learn from the players who held almost godlike status in my life, was an opportunity I was not going to let go of.
We had practice sessions in the stadium many times before, so we knew the ground and its intricacies well, but that day, everything seemed different. The playing area seemed bigger, the groundsmen looked happier and there were advertisements everywhere. Add a jam packed stadium to that, and it was pretty surreal.
I remember being ushered into the stadium along with my teammates by one of the Hyderabad Cricket Association officials who proceeded to give us instructions along the lines of “do not cover the advertisements, sit between the boards, and do not walk in front of the sightscreen.”
Once the instructions had been handed out, I ran off with a couple of others towards the CSK dugout, where Albie Morkel and Subramaniam Badrinath were being given throw-downs. I watched Morkel in awe as he crunched his cover drives and, towards the end, gently chipped a couple of deliveries into the stands as the spectators egged him on. When he finished, he gave us all high-fives, ruffled my hair, and said “Good job!” and headed to the dressing room.
I stood there smiling dopily, transfixed, oblivious to the fact that my teammates were all gathering near the pavilion. The toss had just happened, so I thought we were being given additional instructions and sprinted towards the huddle. I managed to squeeze my way in and to my amazement, saw Adam Gilchrist standing in the middle, shaking everyone’s hand and happily chatting away.
“What age-group do you girls play?”
“How much do you reckon we need to get on this surface?”
I could not believe my eyes — I literally froze. I needed someone to pinch me.
I had an autograph book stuffed in my pocket with his picture in it, and my brain was telling me to hand it to him, like everyone else, but I just could not seem to do it.
What if he thinks I am a total dork?
I began to wonder. He turned towards me and made eye contact. The alarm bells went off in my head, but all I could do was smile and stare.
Now he definitely thinks you are a dork, genius!
He was nice enough to say good luck to everyone and ran off to get ready for the game.
We dispersed to our assigned positions and the game got underway. I was sitting at the north end of the ground (formerly the Visakha End; now the VVS Laxman Pavilion) stationed behind long-off.
At the start, I tried to focus on the game — the field placement, the angles the bowlers were creating, etc — but that did not last more than two overs. Makhaya Ntini was standing in front of me at fine-leg and had started a conversation about water and Gatorade with one of my teammates! He was soon replaced by Badrinath (at long-off) who seemed pleasantly surprised that the ball kids were all girls and said, “We should do this in Chennai!”
In the innings break, we were called (in batches of three) to a corner, behind Deccan Chargers’ dugout for our dinner break. I tried to eat as fast as possible so that I could get back to patrolling the boundary. While I was stuffing my face, Rohit Sharma, who had just walked out from the dressing room, caught a glimpse of us and said “Achchhe se khao! Jaldi nahin hai!” [Eat properly, there is no hurry.]
I quickly finished up, put my head down (wishing I was invisible) and ran back to my place.
I did not have to wait long to redeem myself. Early in CSK’s innings, an inside-edge flew down to the fine-leg boundary. I cleanly collected the ball as it bounced off the rope and looked up to see Gilchrist gesturing at me to throw the ball in. I did not want to just lob the ball back to him, so I mustered all my strength and fired the throw in. Flat and hard, one bounce into his gloves it went! He smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. Rohit, who was standing at point, showed his approval as well!
Not bad! I managed to earn the approval of some pretty awesome players!
The rest of the game just zoomed by. Herschelle Gibbs’ catch at long-off to dismiss MS Dhoni, and his general banter with the crowd stuck in my mind, but from the cricket, not much else.
After the game, we were allowed the hang around outside CSK’s dressing room, and some of the players came out to sign autographs or have a bit of a chat.
The night ended too soon, but it is one I will never forget. For a 16-year old, is was definitely the best experience — exciting, terrifying and inspirational.
Everyone has heard the stories of Sachin Tendulkar and Jhulan Goswami who watched World Cups as ball kids and were inspired to chase their dreams to play in one too. So clearly, it is not just the players who feel the buzz of the IPL, the ball kids feel one step closer to their dreams as well.