There comes a moment in everyone’s life when you know that you cannot and will not lose, when that feeling of invincibility and incredible energy becomes such a force that it cannot be denied.
Time stood still. The 12′o’clock sun beat down with vengeance. An eagle called out and took flight. A sparkling drop of sweat perched tantalizingly on my brow carved a rivulet down my chin dripping off to quench the bone dry earth. I knew that I could do it. Only the wall stood between me and the net. I blanked my mind, believed in myself, took a deep breath and let my instincts take over. What happened next…..totally changed my world.
The charade of your life
Let the flame of my heart
Your complacence tonight
I command you to rise
The decay of your life
Feel the light of your eyes
Find the way
Through the darkness tonight
Fearing no one
And, I jerked into wakefulness to the head-splitting blare of my alarm. An alarm’s sole purpose in life is to wake-up its owner in time and nothing serves that purpose better than some hardcore heavy – metal rock. I might be sleeping like a corpse but my alarm will still wake me up and what’s more, you most certainly cannot go back to sleep after that electric shock. It works, nothing else really matters.
It is 6 am, the crack of dawn and as I drag my sorry ass to the washroom, the only thing going through my mind is why would anyone in their right minds wake up at such an ungodly hour on a weekend? But today is the first day of trials for the girls’ football team and I am supposed to be the coach, in fact. So, I have got to be there. As I throw on my tracks and buckle up my Nikes, adrenalin pumps through my veins, the anticipation growing.
Many would be surprised on hearing the word ‘girls’ and ‘football’ being used together in the same sentence but you would be amazed at the sheer number of girls who totally dig soccer and have Messi or Ronaldo or Rooney posters in their rooms. But I guess, the reasons as to which they have them are kind of debatable. Anyways, why do I love football? I love football because it allows scope for creativity, for self expression like no other sport offers. It is a constant battle of wits as you incessantly try to outsmart, outwit and outplay the other guy. Often it is not the guy built like a linebacker who strikes but the one who thinks most flexibly, innovatively and creatively. Personally, I like the playmakers more than the poachers and like to think of myself as a dead ball specialist like David Beckham or Diego Forlan. Cheeky, I know.
When I first came up with this idea of having a girls’ football team, I was met with resistance all around but finally the Gymkhana guys agreed to it on a probationary basis with a promise of a more permanent solution if things work out.
As I hit the road and make my way towards the field, the cool morning breeze helps slow down my over-clocking brain and ease my apprehensions. I tell myself, “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks or feels. I want to play and I will play come what may. Bring it on!”
I reach the ground, take a deep breath, brace myself for a possibly vexing morning and step in. I see about 50 enthusiastic and over-zealous girls kicking and running around and I can already feel the beginnings of a headache starting to set in. I empty my lungs and shout hard at them to line up. I have the unenviable task of short listing 22 of them and I badly need a whistle or better still a megaphone. I am pretty sure I am going to end up with permanently damaged vocal cords by noon.
I start them out with few basic passing and dribbling drills, turn on my radar and start scouting. The first person to catch my eye is a foreign exchange student, must be 5’12. But for her height, Marine is quite agile and quick on her feet. Any guy will have trouble getting across her. She’s definitely in, considering the fact that we will be mostly playing defence against the guys. The next person I found was slightly built girl who looked like she will get blown away by the wind, but she had brilliant anticipation and an eye for the ball. Nandita will be the goalkeeper. Couple of other great finds were Prakruthi and Ananya who have great ball-control. Finally after a whole lot of chopping and hacking, I had them sorted out into two teams of 11. The main team line-up looks like a scene right out of Lagaan, girls torn away from books and calculators and stuck in a football field like an improvised, mismatched, makeshift team. The result was honestly jarring but hell yeah we were going to play football. I called it a day.
Over the next few days we had numerous practice sessions and I managed to somewhat streamline the team. Finally, it was D-Day. But as luck would have it, I had my Quantum Physics Quiz the same day, right before the match.
Me, being another one of those arrogant B.Techs started my preparation just a day before the quiz and crammed into the night. By midnight I was brain-dead and by 2 am I was starting to think I might have actually died already and it was my spirit that was trying to crack Schrodinger’s equation and the Perturbation theory. By 3 am I remembered God and by 4 am I swore to go back in time to kill Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger and on that good note, crashed. But alas, sleep was not to be, Heisenberg and Einstein and their buddies took to haunting even my dreams. I closed my eyes and all I could see were swirling fermions and bosons and muons and what not. Eventually, I gave up on sleep, washed my bloodshot eyes, jacked up on caffeine and geared up for one final round of mugging up. ‘Twas the worst kind of start anyone could have to any day. Some people would argue that you have got to be totally out of your mind to voluntarily choose a
Physics Minor being in Biotechnology. That’s true. It’s my own brand of crazy. Sometimes I feel like I have a death wish myself.
At long last the clock struck 4 pm and my pre-match ritual starts now, exactly an hour before I leave. I put on Avenged Sevenfold and turn up the volume and start my stretching routine. The heavy metal again serves two purposes. It keeps me from sleeping and puts me in an aggressive mode. It works and nothing else really matters.
It’s time now. I head to my quiz after giving necessary directions to my team. I reach my classroom 5 minutes before Sriram sir’s ETA and sit ready, poised to spring into action the minute I get the paper. The questions are as usual brilliant. It is not without reason that I keep telling my friends that Quantum Physics is my best course of the semester. I can just tell, on a scale of 10, if quantum physics ranks 10, my biotech courses rank only 5. The quality of the course is right there at the top. In the end I managed 3-3 ½ questions out of 5 and I figure I should be 10 marks above average or so and that works fine for me. As soon as I submit the paper, I rush to my team’s rescue and reach just in time before they get devoured by the hormone-crazed guys.
We have a few relaxed rules –
1. The most important and also the most abused rule is that the guys cannot touch girls or else we get a spot free-kick.
2. The 2nd important rule is that the guys cannot raise the ball above our knees.
3. Lastly, the rule which kind of mocks the guys is that they can score only when they are inside the 6-yard box.
I made sure that everyone understood the rules and then it was time for my pep talk. I confess I am not really great at these things but I do try. I remember few awe-inspiring pep-talks I have had before by Sam and Aarathi before her. I am not nearly as good but I try.
I told them that just by playing today they will have proven all their detractors and critics wrong. All the hard work and effort put in by them cannot and will not go waste. All they need to do is to keep their eyes and ears open, think and play intelligently. Use the rules to our advantage. And given the fact that we will be playing against the defending champions, any result is a good result. That is the gist of it.
Our strategy was to play 5-3-2-1 and we were expecting to play mostly defence. This was the starting line-up-
1. Nandita – Goalkeeper
2. Sowmya – (LB)
3. Richa – (RB)
4. Marine – (CLB)
5. Raghavi – (CRB)
6. Malayaja – (CB)
7. Prakruthi – (RM)
8. Ananya – (LM)
9. Myself – (CM)
10. Isha – (LF) 11. Ankitha – (RF)
12. Mithali – (sub)
13. Varsha – (sub)
It was time for kick-off. We chose the possession of the ball and as the whistle blew, I made the first pass to Ankitha. I shouted, “Run! Run! Take it forward!” and sped ahead expecting a pass. We must have barely taken the ball 15m into their half when they took back possession and then started the onslaught. It was an incessant barrage of attempts-on-goal. What followed was a comedy of errors. If I hadn’t been playing in the match, I would have died of laughter.
Nandita was our saviour. Without her, the score would easily have breached the double digit frontier. She is definitely good enough to play in the guys’ team. The ball is like her baby, she literally says “Come to mamma” to the ball. It’s hilarious.
“Fall back! Fall back! Nobody should leave the the D and the defense shouldn’t leave the 6-yard box. Block them out. They shouldn’t be able to enter the 6-yard box”, I cried. That ploy seemed to work as the guys got infinitely frustrated trying to crack open our defence. They actually started pulling out their hair in exasperation. They started getting careless and we started getting lots of free-kicks due to the rule that they can’t raise the ball above our knees. So we used it to our advantage to advance the ball in their half. Malayaja is our star free-kick taker. Her kick advanced the ball to the half-line where we ended up getting another free kick. I decided to not risk losing possession and asked Ankitha and Isha to go ahead and made a pass to them. But it got intercepted yet again. I swore loudly and raced after him. And then suddenly out of the blue Ananya tackled the guy and took the ball from him. “Awesome tackle! Give it to me”, I shouted. I dunno whether she went temporarily deaf or what but she actually took the ball and sped in the wrong direction. One minute she was here and the next minute she wasn’t. She was a blur of motion, like a suicidal bullet. I screamed my throat hoarse, “Dude! Where the hell are you going? Are you freaking out of your mind?” Thankfully she seems to have heard someone shout and stopped. “Junta, you’ll get time to sleep! Buck up! C’mon, let’s kick some ass!” I bellowed. Thank heavens; the girls played a better game for the reminder of the half. So, ended the eventful first half but we still hadn’t let them score so that itself speaks volumes of us.
The second half brought more of the same treatment meted out to us. I think the only person who played every minute of the match was Nandita. There was never a dull moment around her. She was doing a really nice break dance in front of the goal in the process. That’s it, I decided. I can’t take it anymore. It’s time to use the notorious first rule to our advantage. That is its time to fall on the guys. Hell, as long as we get free-kicks and ball possession I’ll do anything. All lessons in ethics lay forgotten as we attempted contact every time possible. That strategy again clicked as the guys literally started running away scared from us. It was absolutely comical. Then came, my ‘moment of invincibility’, as I like to call it. I received the ball just beyond the half-line and took it forward myself instead of passing. I dribbled past 3 enormous players but got tackled just outside the D. So it was a free-kick just beyond the penalty area. As I took up position, I remembered each practice session we had ever had and all the effort we had put in and I believed we deserved to win. A kind of determination set in and I blanked my mind, believed in myself, took a deep breath and let my instincts take over. I took my shot, bent it just like Beckham and left the goalkeeper flabbergasted. The ball reached home.
Time stopped. There was pin-drop silence on the field.
Slowly all the tube-lights lighted and chaos ensued. My team-mates all fell on top of me one by one like nine-pins and crushed me into paper. The guys seemed to have gone into depression; some of them looked almost on the verge of tears. Their hard luck, I happen to be a cold-blooded logician. So nope, no lee-way here, sorry. There were just 5 minutes left on the clock now and we fought tooth and nail to hold onto our lead.
When the final whistle blew we were still one up and things went crazy from then on. This was redemption for me. Nobody can question a girl’s football team now and what’s more we sure as hell had endless fun and bonded as a team in the process. The gymkhana guys can eat their words now.
As I tuck myself into bed later that night after being stripped naked of all my cash which is probably getting digested in everyone’s tummy right now, I say my prayers. I’ll forever be grateful to heavy metal rock for getting me through the day, to Quantum Physics for uhmm….nothing actually except maybe bloodshot eyes and sleep deprivation and of course to Steven Gerrard and Liverpool without whom I wouldn’t know half of what I know today.