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DFW Lions

“I’ve got to be honest, you probably won’t get batting.” That was my first introduction to Lions. I was filling in an empty spot in the 11 just before the day of the game.

On the way to the ground Prasad told me his template for winning and Lions have been winning that season. Win toss, bat first, score 200. The opposition will cave under chasing pressure.

“What if we lose the toss?”

“Well we just have to out bat them.” He smiled.

That first game Lions scored 192 runs. The other team made 139. The game was done before the opposition walked into bat.

This is a team that no one will write about. None of these players will be remembered for their on field heroics except for the players themselves when they reminisce in old age. But they will keep playing until they can’t. They will bat until their hands grow slower, their eyes grow weaker and the ball seems to rush them just a little bit. A few more loose balls than they used to bowl, few more mishits and misfields. They will play until their bodies are worn down and they know deep in their hearts what their mind knew years before that their body cannot take it anymore. Until then they will come to the field to play for four hours, stretch a little, take some catches, set up the cones. For four hours they forget the daily grind of their jobs, the responsibilities. Four hours just being that young boy who got excited by the crack of the ball hitting the middle of his bat as it raced to the boundary, the sight of the stumps splayed when they bowled that one perfect ball that nipped back in and snuck between the bat and pad.

This is my ode to those boys, to my friends that I miss playing with.

I did get to bat that game. The first game I played for Lions. I went in 4th down and made 6 off 3 balls, hit a four off the second ball I faced before being bowled to full straight delivery right at the stumps. A weakness that accounted for over 50% of my dismissals throughout league cricket. To this day I struggle with that shot trying to nudge the ball to mid-wicket rather than presenting a straight bat and hitting it straight.

League cricket is like that. The players are decent in the leagues, they aren’t great, they aren’t good, they are just decent. An arrogant young player might even call them rubbish. When you judge them, keep in mind they are not playing first class or international cricket. They are not professionals. They have their strengths and their flaws. Some of them mental, most of them technical. They are just amateurs playing on the weekend.

Pradeep Prabhu - The Senior

And the oldest amateur player playing that day took a fifer. He bowled 4 overs for 24 runs and 5 wickets. He was not the fastest bowler. He was not tall, he couldn’t hit the deck, he didn’t have to, cause he had swing. He could swing the ball from Gulbarga to Shivmogga and back again. He knew the opposition had a target to chase, they had no option but to go after him. So he used his wile to pitch the ball up, make the batsman come forward and play. He took the old ball, swung it in to the batsman and then when they thought they got the hang of it, he swung it away from them. He lorded over them his mastery of swing. And just like that three batsman fell to his cunning in the same over. Before the others could pad up he had two more wickets.

Pradeep Prabhu was not unplayable. He had his challenges. His balls came at a gentle pace when the ball didn’t swing. And he usually opened bowling when the ball was at its hardest. This meant he was consistently bowling to the best opposition batsman who went hard at the ball. They would try to hit him over the top into the stands and out of the attack. He might take a couple of punches, but on most days he would come on top and nip the top order. He would get most of his wickets either bowled, caught behind by the keeper. If that’s not quality bowling, what is?

Bolar - The Champ

The second oldest player in that game hit 63 off 36 balls with 50 of those runs in boundaries. He was Achilles with a cricket bat. Some are born with such innate athletic ability that they’d excel in any sport they play. Pradeep Bolar is such an athlete. I’ve seen numerous innings of his where he doesn’t just hit the ball, he destroys it. VVS Laxman once wrote, a good innings for him is when he doesn’t hit a ball in anger and I’ve never seen Bolar bat angry. He is calm, composed, he knows he belongs on the pitch.. Nothing frays him, not the run rate, nor the quality of the bowling. It’s just the ball and him and where it needs to go. He has the skill to play all day if he wants to, unfortunately there’s only 20 overs to see him bat. Once in Russell Creek, he hit a spinner for for a six that it took a whole minute for the bowler to get the ball back only for his next ball to go to the same place.

I always wondered what I’d bowl to him if I were facing him in a game but never found out. I loved bowling to him in the nets though. While others would struggle trying to hit me out, Bolar would calmly hit the ball straight over my head if it was a little full or whip it to the leg side if it was short, if I hit that in between length that’d frustrate other batsman, he’d calmly push the ball to mid-on or mid-off for a single. I hate not being able to even trouble him.

Even Achilles had his heel to contend with but I could never figure out what’d stop Bolar. That was until I saw him face pace. Red hot pace. Pace that added 10ks when played in the closed confines of EICA. I wonder if he played the same pace in the ground, he’d have hit that deep over square leg into the boundary too.

Sankirth - The Prodigy

Most league bowlers aren’t 6’2. Most league bowlers don’t bowl over 120ks. They don’t scare you into submission and they definitely don’t threaten you to give them the wicket or they’ll knock your head off. Most bowlers aren’t Sankirth. Sankirth coming to bowl at you is all arms and limbs. He hunches over at the start of his run up as if that makes him look any smaller and as he picks up pace he straightens up fully to unleash that 6’2 frame on you. And before you realize the ball is out of his hands, it’s at your throat threatening to knock you over if you don’t get out of the way. If you managed to survive that without gloving through to the keeper or top edging to short fine leg, you either got hit or god was on your side and saved your life. If you are still there after the first ball, your audacity to exist at the crease knowing you don’t belong there will be corrected with a sharp yorker that’ll either knock down the stumps or crush your toes before the umpire puts you out of your misery for an LBW.

There’s more to Sankirth than just pace. Reducing him to just pace is unfair to how much thought he puts into his cricket. He’s smart, has the patience to set up the batsman and the skill to execute what he thinks. For a long limbed fast bowler he can either field at the boundary never dropping a catch or take diving catches fielding at short cover and point. And we haven’t even come to his batting yet. His long arms give him reach that changes a length ball to a full one. He can sweep, slog sweep and reverse sweep the same ball. He can hit you through covers, over mid off or out over mid wicket. He doesn’t mind running his runs even though he can score at will in boundaries.

Fani - The Fire

While Lions have red hot pace in Sankirth, we also have just red hot. If aggression had a face it’d be Fani. I have seen Fani’s batting improve from good to phenomenal. He sees the length early and pounces on it if it’s short. There are no half hearted shots in Fani’s batting. He swings the bat with all his might. While Laxman recommends not hitting the ball in anger, that is all Fani does. I remember the first good Fani innings. He hit 68 off 38 balls while chasing 221. We lost that game. An opposition player I was friends with told me after the game “Fani doesn’t know how to play spin”. True. Fani doesn’t know how to play spin. He doesn’t know how to hit the perfect cover drive, he doesn’t know his elbow needs to be straight and extended when he finishes the shot. There are a lot of things he doesn’t know. What he does know is how to score runs and score them fast. His shots may not be correct or beautiful to the eye. His batting is workman like. It’s ugly, it’s hurried, it’s batting that wouldn’t look out of place in a ring. He will hook your short balls, punch the back of length balls and jab at the full ones. What he won’t do is stop fighting.

As effective as Fani’s batting has been in the past two years, it’s been his bowling performance that stands out to me. Fani’s bowling is rubbish on bad days. He hits the deck hard, bowls short, bowls wide, mixes in a slow delivery you can see coming from a mile away and flings down half volleys that deserved to be hit for sixes. On good days he’s unstoppable.

I want to tell you about this game in Oct 2019. We were relegated to Division B on the back of a terrible Spring and Summer seasons. Fani took over the captaincy and our aim was to get back to Div A by the end of the season. It was morning game in Russell Creek G7. Chilly October morning, little bit of cloud cover and we were put into bat. We forgot to get the stumps, so I drove down to Rama’s house to pick them up. By the time I got back half our batting was back in the pavilion. We were at 29/6 after 8 overs with 8 of those runs coming in extras. That was the first time I top scored for Lions with a 22 off 22 balls. With some handy hits from Nithin and Srikanth Anna we dragged the score to 87. 87 is a nothing score. It’s a score where teams just pack up their kit bags to leave early. This was a score we had to defend with just one dependable bowler in Pradeep. We’ve seen the opposition beat us with pace. We didn’t have pace. All we had was Nithin, who was was brilliant for three balls and pedestrian the rest of the time. And we had Fani. That 87 was a score that pushed us into a corner. It pushed Fani into a corner. And that’s when Fani is the most dangerous. That day Fani bowled 3 overs and gave away 6 runs and took 4 wickets. He only bowled 3 overs coz he didn’t have to bowl a fourth. He inspired the other bowlers, marshaled the fielders, set up aggressive fields and gave no inch. Ever dependable Pradeep Prabhu took 3 wickets for 10 runs off his 4 overs. Nithin, the most wayward of the pace bowlers, got the other three wickets in 3 overs at 23. The opposition was all out for 49 in 12 overs. Nithin bowled 16 wides that day. If not for his 3 wickets Fani would have killed him on the field that day.

That is what Fani is. He leads by example and doesn’t ask of you what he himself doesn’t do.

Vinny - The Grace

When Vinny bats, he does so with an elegance that reminds you of a perfectly orchestrated symphony. His stance at the crease is tall and lanky, his long arms allowing a reach that is at once graceful and menacing for the bowler. He always wants to bat one down, and why shouldn’t he? His batting is fluid, smooth as silk in the wind, with strokes that are breathtaking in their simplicity and execution. His sixes, particularly, are a thing of beauty. There’s no violence, no brute force; just languid arms and a smooth follow-through, as the ball sails past the boundary, its flight akin to silk billowing in a gentle breeze on a warm sunny day. Bowl too full, and he’ll strike you straight down the ground with an elegant drive; too short, and his pull shot to mid-wicket will leave you regretting the error. Bowlers find that there’s a very small margin of error when bowling to Vinny.

But that’s just one side of Vinny. The dual threat he poses is not confined to his batting. Vinny’s bowling is a weapon that can be employed with precision, in the vein of Jadeja’s. His action is similar to throwing darts - quick, straight, and sharp. He bowls with a rhythm that doesn’t give the batsman time to breathe or think. Before you know it, the over is done, and we’re setting up a new field for the next bowler. Vinny can be an attacking option during the power play or a suffocating presence during the middle overs. His bowling can tighten the screws when required or provide breakthroughs when the team needs it most. There is an unwavering confidence in Vinny’s approach, whether with the bat or the ball. In essence, Vinny epitomizes a quality that is rare in league cricket - a complete package. A batsman who could win matches with his graceful strokes and a bowler who could do it with his unassuming yet effective spin.

Nari - The Commitment

In a team with a top order that usually goes in and hits 50s and 100s regularly, it is extremely hard for a middle order batsman to come in and make an impact. More often than not, you are in a situation where you get to face two or three overs at most and you have to go big from the first ball you face. If by chance you are going in to bat with 10 or more overs remaining, that can only mean you are now doing a rescue job with the top order collapsing. Nari balances both these roles. It’s not an easy place to bat at. And it is very hard to get credit for your contributions. Nobody notices you on easy days and you need to be exceptional on tough days. Nari can absorb pressure, steady the ship and unleash carnage at the end.

I remember this one game in the Spring of 2019, the Lions were playing against Dallas Chargers. It was another cloudy day in Russell Creek. The Lions bowled the opposition out for 146 in 19.3 overs. The target was a middling total, neither here nor there. Chasing targets between 135 and 150 is always tricky. You don’t have to go hard from the beginning because the target is always within reach, but if you go easy and lose a couple of quick wickets, even a middling target becomes imposing, which is what happened to the Lions that day.

Our top order went in and came back before we had ten runs on board. Pradeep Bolar was still there, Rama walked into bat. So it wasn’t all bad. While they steadied the ship and just as it looked like things were back on track, we lost both of them in quick succession. That’s when Nari walked into bat, in the 5th over of the innings. I joined him on the crease and left two balls later trying to hit one over long off. We were distraught in the dugout, we were out of batters, Nari started saving his wicket. The runs stopped coming, Nari started stealing a one here and a two there. The other batters kept getting out, he started farming the strike. We were worried the run rate was mounting, Nari started going for the big shots. We needed 16 off the last two overs with just one wicket in hand. Nari finished the game in the 20th over with a two, six and a single. We went crazy. He single handedly dragged the team from the jaws of defeat that day.

I’ve played many games with Nari since and he’s hit many more fantastic innings since then. But this will always be his finest knock for me. Just one guy doing what’s needed, in his own way. In a team full of super stars Nari is the workhorse that carries the heaviest load.

Ravi - The Heart

If DFW Lions has to be personified, that would be Ravi. He is the heart of this team, the glue that holds it together and the force that pushes it forward. The first ever game I played for Lions, Ravi didn’t play. He was getting engaged, but he’d call in between to Fani and Prasad and keep checking the score. His passion for this team borders on obsession. I got to meet him at the next game. I was nervous walking into a new team with people I barely knew. Ravi walked straight up to me and welcomed me to the team as if we’ve known each other for years and made me feel immediately at ease. He has immense belief in everyone he comes across and he roots for your success.

Many good players are in their own space when they are batting. When they are batting, they are solely focused inward. This is the exact opposite of how Ravi approaches batting. He’s never playing by himself. He’s always partnering with you. He’s talking to you, sharing what he’s observing, strategizing, making plans with you, pumping you up and cheering you on. It’s less me and more us. That’s the approach he takes to all aspects of the game. It’s never the individual, it’s always the team. We win or lose as a team. He carries his stature lightly and makes everyone feel at home.

I’ve seen him hit hundreds, but there’s one inconsequential innings of his that’s etched in my mind. This was a game we played against Desi Cowboyz in the summer league in 2018. The Cowboyz were on a downward spiral that season and didn’t really put up a fight. Vicky(Vikram) took a five for and we had them bundled all out for 74 runs in 18 overs. Pradeep Bolar high scored in that game hitting 25 runs in 8 balls and we chased the target in under eight overs. Ravi went into bat at one down in that game, scored 18 off 8 and was caught out. But in those 8 balls he hit a six straight over their best bowler to a short of length delivery that was about chest high. Think about it, he hit a straight six over the bowler’s head off a short of length delivery that popped up to his chest. If you are having trouble visualizing it, the closest I could think of that shot was when Virat Kohli hit Haris Rauf for six in the 2022 T20 World Cup. My jaw dropped when I saw Ravi hit that shot. He got out soon going after that bowler, but that’s the shot that comes my mind whenever I think of Ravi.

There are far too many instances to list out how good of a player Ravi is, but he’s more than just a good batter, he’s a fantastic leader.

It’s now been close to two years since I stopped playing for Lions, two years since I’ve stopped playing cricket. Maya Angelou said “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” and Ravi and his Lions made me feel at home in this foreign land. There are now others that are making the Lions proud, carrying the team forward. Some day soon, I hope to stop by a game, see some of the new faces and the old faces just be boys playing a game that we all love.