“They can’t win it now!”, “It is over!”, “They’ve no other good bowler in the team!”
These were the comments being made in the stands of Bandipora’s SK Stadium on Wednesday afternoon. Ganderbal had gone off to a good start in response to Bandipora’s 197-run first innings total. They were 43 for none in 4 overs with both the opening bowlers of Bandipora looking ordinary.
The target was a challenging one but the wicket was good to bat on and more importantly, Bandipora’s bowling didn’t look threatening enough– no spinners and only three mainstream seamers in the team. Ganderbal, on the other hand, had quite some depth in their batting line-up.
But before the match could go on to become a one-sided affair, Saleem Jahangir– the captain of Bandipora– started marking his run-up. A young Saleem might have sent down a stare towards the batter while handing his cap to the umpire before coming to bowl! But being in his mid-forties and having rarely bowled in recent times, he looked rather quiet!
He had his cap on even after reaching the start of his run-up– which either meant he was too much involved in the game or too busy planning what to bowl! Nonetheless, he did finally hand over his cap to someone in the field or the umpire!
Although Saleem would frighten even the best of the batters during his prime days, there was no excitement in the field or in the crowd of him coming to bowl! “He rarely bowls these days!” a spectator sitting next to me said– probably meaning he won’t make much difference.
Came the first ball: bowled on a good length and the batter tried to heave it towards the midwicket boundary but missed the line of the ball! However, how slow Saleem ran in his run-up was the more noticeable thing about this first delivery.
After this ball though things suddenly started looking different– Saleem walked rather fast towards his run-up and started setting up the field! It seemed as if someone turned on the switch that activated the bowler in him.
The Saleem that delivered the first ball looked like an old man trying to roll his arms quite forcibly. But the Saleem of the second ball was an entirely different person– someone who desperately wanted to do well for his team. Although it was a wide ball, there was that sparkle in his eyes; the effort too as it was an attempted bouncer.
He also finally tied his shoelaces that were hanging for quite a while. This made it more evident that he was now completely focused on the game. He soon started unleashing his plan: attacking the batters with bouncers. Ask any cricket-knowing person and he would tell you what it means to bowl a bouncer on a local turf that hosts a match or two daily without proper maintenance!
Now, when you are seemingly old and way past your prime, bowling constant bouncers is the last thing you would think to do. But Saleem is a different character; he always has been!
He decided to play cricket at the professional level when probably the people in his hometown thought cricket was a movie that occasionally played on television sets! He said no to what could have been the lavish life of a renowned doctor’s son and rather opted to spend his life in open fields under the scorching sun.
He is over 42– the age where even highly successful former international cricketers ignore touching the bat and ball. But here he was: putting his body and soul on the line for his district in front of a huge crowd– a chunk of whom had come just to taunt the home team, especially him.
“He is too old now!”, “He should retire!”, “Who plays at this age?” “Isn’t he taking the place of a youngster in the team?,”: Many people say things on similar lines about him every day but like he has conquered everything in life so far, he remains unbothered and makes his bat and ball do all the talking.
Meanwhile, from 43-0 in 4 overs, Ganderbal was now 78/5 in 9 overs! And guess what? It was the legend Saleem Jahangir himself who rescued Bandipora’s drowning boat like a titanic but without even unleashing a bit of celebration or sense of pride on his face. He took all these five wickets in his three overs and almost pulled the match in Bandipora’s favour.
But again he did what a true legend does: he didn’t bowl the last over with 13 needed off 6 despite his figures reading 3-0-19-5, but rather gave it to a youngster. When he was asked why he didn’t complete his quota of four overs at the post-match presentation, he said, “I don’t bowl at my best due to the injury that I faced some 8-10 years ago; I bowl a few overs upfront but then I am not able to bowl well enough!” he admitted!
I bet, you indeed need to be a legend to say something like this after having pulled off a heist! But then he is Saleem Jahangir, who people mostly refer to as Raja Saleem and he keeps on proving why he indeed is a Raja (the King)! And as some king in the past had said “age is just a number”, Saleem ensures this saying lives on!