“Who the hell do you think you are, MS Dhoni?” I say to Anand when he asks for a heavier bat.
Anand is ten years old; the bat he wants to bat with is nearly as large as him. He is playing for the school under-seventeen softball team (Yes, we play organized softball in India) because there are not enough players to make the team. Because of a few excellent boys, disciplined coaching by my dad, tactics from me and some luck we make it to through to district level games and are now in Solapur playing the zone tournament semi-finals. Anand is in the outfield and does not have much to do for most of the game, which is exactly according to my plan. He is the best player among the ten year olds, but everyone else is seven years older, twice as large and four times heavier.
Anand has been taught to push the ball (called a bunt) and run like hell to first base. No one in the world thinks that he is going to hit a two time national Under-Seventeen pitcher (Who is probably lying about his age by a couple of years) throwing thunderbolts that our best players are getting out to.
In softball, three strikes is an out, you get a strike if you play and miss the ball. Anand is already on two strikes, he is going to be out the next pitch because the Solapur pitcher is accurate as hell. He has tried to bunt and has been unsuccessful.
I can see Anand, he faced up the first pitch and was scared of the pitching. He tried to bunt the second one and missed again. He is going to get out, I know it, the team knows it, everyone on the ground knows it.
The pitcher throws the third strike Anand swings at it. Somehow it hits the bat, flies over the catcher and out of the ground.
Foul ball, the third strike has to be a clean miss to be called out. Anand survives.
Anand suddenly turns around to his team mates and tells them he wants the heavy bat. The one he has difficulty holding up even. Everyone, the umpires, spectators and players do a double take.
“Who hell do you think you are, MS Dhoni?” I say, some of the spectators are laughing.
(For the ignorant, MS Dhoni is India’s cricketing hero; he also hits the ball out of the park regularly)
Anand insists while I shake my head in resignation; the little guys always seem to think they are going to hit the ball for a home run.
He is going to get out anyways so what the hell. I let him have the heavier bat.
What I see next amazes me.
The pitcher winds up and Anand is holding the bat properly his head is balanced and he is watching the ball. Pitcher pitches and he swings through with his shoulders, head perfectly still like the big hitters. He connects but not exactly and the ball sails fifty feet into the out field and lands in foul territory.
Not a strike, but not a hit either. Everyone stops laughing at him.
Anand is not being macho; he has just realized that he can hit this guy and he is backing himself to do it.
Another pitch, this time the ball hits the sweet spot of the bat and it whistles over first base and lands just outside the playing area, another foul.
That wasn’t a fluke. That was a line drive. A ten year old kid hitting a near fully grown pitcher for a line drive The crowd is cheering for him, even the opposing players are impressed.
One more pitch and he swings again, this time he only nicks it, the ball sails over the catcher for another foul. He is tiring, and the bat is heavy.
Another pitch, he connects again and hits it properly down the ground but it goes straight to the fielder at first base, unlucky. The fielder picks it up and touches base. Anand is out. His dream run is over. But the crowds are applauding.
The opposing team do not celebrate the out as they go through with the motions. No aggression, no cheering they do it like it is a formality. Maybe they were struck by this kid who not only had the guts to take them on, but knew how to.
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Greatness comes when you have the guts to seize the chance. Anand should have been scared shitless by the pitcher, but when he found out he could do it he backed himself when everyone thought it a cute moment at best, and he very nearly pulled it off.
We very nearly won the match after that, but since we were playing against Solapur in Solapur, the umpires were from Solapur too; in the end they cheated us out of the game. But that always happens in India, we were surprised that they even umpired the first innings fair.
I also helped coach the girls team from our area to win the tournament, our boys pitcher also was good enough to be selected for the state tryouts. But I will remember the games because of Anand. He got out but he showed all of us, including me, that he has what it takes to beat anyone.
That moment, when he realized he could do it, two strikes down.
It is that sort of moment the teacher inside of me lives to see. It did not happened not because I was teaching great or made some great speech to inspire the scrawny little bugger. It happened because he got a chance, realized himself what he needed to do by learning from the situation and then asked for the means to do it.
What I did was really simple and difficult at the same time. I let him have the heavy bat, easy.
It was hard because it went against all logic and coaching instincts, it hurt my ego and plan that the small kid should block the ball and run instead of going for a hit. It laid to waste all the time spent coaching him to do something else.
The only thing that mattered was that I let him do it the way he wanted to. I am grateful to my upbringing that I have been given the humility to make the right decision at that moment.
Because before he can show the world, only a Dhoni will know that he is Dhoni.