Finally, the Paper Team comes of age
Our desire to give our best stemmed from no grand sense of duty or purpose, but simply from there being no option. The truth was that we were bad players and while the good players could play for any team, we could play only for ‘our’ team. It was this shutting out that bound us together. All outcasts are similarly empowered because closing of options makes determination natural.
We lost to deserving opponents. They were good. To our credit, we came back to be defeated over and over again. They wanted to win, we wanted to play. And in the end the difference turned out to be decisive.
The Code was in place. All on-field decisions were to be Captain’s while the rest had to be taken by the team through a democratic process. The Captain strongly recommended daily practice in the evening hours, and the rule to that effect was made.
It might be noted that the rules under the Code could be passed by a simple majority just like the laws are enacted, but the Code could not itself be changed, particularly the democratic form of decision-making in off-field matters. Even the Captain was answerable to the team for his on-field decisions. So, the Code operated as the constitution under which other rules could be passed and decisions arrived at.
The Captain knew fully well that his team was not really a bunch of supremely talented cricketers. And if the ability is not gifted, it has to be inculcated. Practice, it had to be. Now, it might be a warped way of thinking, but the Captain was convinced that batting and bowling were both athletic abilities and could be automatically improved if one practiced fielding well enough. He did not share it with anyone, but in his mind he was working with the basics – the eye-limbs coordination, fundamentally. Also, he was aiming at the raising the field confidence. So, the entire team began practicing fielding two hours every day.
One of us would take the bat and hit the ball randomly around while the rest of the team fielded. The Captain himself never took the bat and always fielded with other players encouraging every attempt, failed or successful, and also admonished over lousy motions of attempting. The small collective gestures of encouragement improved performance a great deal. Soon enough, from three regular bowlers we went to six regular and occasional, which allowed enormous room to experiment with the ball.
Honesty was another strict rule the Captain made. We were to play with integrity and honour and accept defeat, if it comes our way. Conventionally, the umpires came from the batting team because only the batting team had players to spare for the purpose, and, generally, in close cases the umpires took the side of their own team. Not so with our team. The players sent to umpire the match had clear instructions to be impartial. A strict watch was kept by the Captain on his umpires, and erroneous umpiring decisions were promptly recalled on the instructions of the Captain. The Captain clearly meant business when it came to honesty and sportsmanship. The opposition reciprocated, and the matches turned into non-acrimonious sporting tussles instead of no-holds-barred approach to winning.
After each match the Captain had to write a report on the match detailing the particulars of the match together with his opinion on the performance. The Vice-Captain was also required pen his own viewpoint. The Report would be submitted to the team in the next meeting. The Report was read out to the players with each player signing the Report. Players were also free to their opinion on record in the same notebook, if they so desired. The Report Book was kept for future reference. It was all this paper work that made some of our conventional opponents to mockingly call us the ‘Paper Team’. But the Reports made every match significant because the praise and criticism, being in writing, was there to stay. We were writing our own history, concretizing every match in the frozen drops of time. So, we tried harder to perform better.
Soon enough we were winning. And then came a month in which we played some nine matches – five more than our monthly four – against all three of our conventional opponents and won all of them! Every single match was convincingly won. The Paper Team had grown decisively formidable. When we played the last of these nine matches, many players from the other two of our regular opponents came over to watch us play. That was indeed a significant compliment with all three of our opponent teams – including the one that lost – congratulating us on our transition from puny challengers to sizeable opponents.
We won consistently enough for our kitty to swell with win money. And we organized our annual party with the surplus funds, in which our star performers as per our statistics were honoured with certificates of appreciation signed by all team members.
I resigned from the Captaincy thrice to allow other players to take over, but was recalled as Captain every time within one month or so. My Captaincy finally ended when I left for Allahabad to pursue Graduation. For some reason Starline Cricket Club did not survive my departure and disintegrated soon after. I owe quite a lot to my experience as SCC Captain. Even after witnessing it at such close quarters, I still find it incredible that 12-year-olds could demonstrate such a degree of grit, determination and unrelenting perseverance.
Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [July 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 7]