It wasn't hard to understand how Yuvraj must have felt during his short but catastrophically not short enough innings against Sri Lanka yesterday: it was one of those experiences common to professional and amateur alike. The stage and the standard may differ, but the emotions - and the clammy, creeping dread - are all too universal.
I don't have to think very far back for an example. Last season, and a game we had in the bag but that had somehow crept down to the last couple of overs with twelve needed, me on strike having been in long enough for not many. Nine deliveries left and the bowler sends down a short one wide of off stump, a ball that I probably would have paid him for, given the chance. There was a backward point, a man at slip and a great green gap between them to a boundary that sloped helpfully downhill. When I'm playing the cut shot well, I hit it late - get it past that fielder and it's four, no problem.
I swung hard and waited for the feel of ball on bat. It didn't come. Instead it was in the keeper's gloves. I couldn't even say whether it had gone under or over the bat. There were a few shouts of encouragement from the pavilion. The fourth ball came down, shorter and wider. I swung again, missed again. More shouts, this time exhorting some kind of contact, any kind of run. I tried to work out how the hell I'd missed two such easy shots. Seven balls left and still twelve needed. The last delivery was again short and wide. 'Just hit it,' I thought. I missed.
I was gripped by the fear. I felt the dread and the shame. I felt the uselessness. I was like the over-the-hill boxer who can't get his shots off any more. First ball of the last over was a single. I was back on strike. I eyed the impossibly distant boundaries, surveyed the packed field. Were there really only nine of them? I heaved at one and it went straight up in the air. I felt my pad come loose. The fielder dropped it. Pad flapping, humiliation from the terrible slog and the three missed cut shots burning, I got about halfway down before the wicket was broken.
'Don't worry,' said the skipper, in a way that made it clear I should worry. We lost. I knew that my innings had cost us the match. Even as it was happening, I understood that I should have got out and walked off but I just couldn't do it. I thought about it for days.
I'll never hit Stuart Broad for six sixes. I'll never strike a ball with the imperiousness of Yuvi, never know how it feels to have such mastery of a difficult game, but his struggle to do something he has done hundreds of times before but just can't summon at a moment of need?
Ah yeah, I've been there, and so I suspect have you.
NB: I wonder how long before players in circumstances like Yuvraj's, with just a few deliveries to go and many wickets in hand, will simply retire themselves: it's not against the laws, and would have implications only in a Duckworth Lewis game. I should have done it. I will next time.
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