I was welcomed.
I was taken in.
The children with whom I played with were no more than twelve old. Some were much younger. They wore no shoes. Such items are often a luxury in the slums of Bombay that few can afford. The children were many and the ground was hard. It was uneven. The wickets were sticks planted in the hard dirt. The sticks were fragile. The bat was beaten and so was the ball. Not the cricketers.
They were ALIVE.
They wanted to PLAY.
We contrasted we cricketers. Here I was - a tall, white and well-fed guy amongst the small, brown and skinny kids. I was thrown the ball. It was baptism of fire. An instant test. I opted for fast. An opening ball of fire and bounce.
I was Dennis Lillee.
From the top of my run I could see Rajesh. He was the opening batsman. He looked serious. He was CONFIDENT. For that moment he was SACHIN TENDULKAR.
My ball pitched a little outside the off stump. It was somewhat short of a good length. Rajesh neatly stepped inside the line and clipped the ball hard. He guided the ball away - on the off side. For four! The crowd erupted.
I glared at the batsman.
He slipped me a wry smile.
My second ball was all guile. I was a leg spinner. I was THE leg spinner.
I was Shane Warne.
I flipped the ball from hand to hand in my crease, waiting for the batsman to ready himself. I tried to stare him down. I realized then that he was a formidable opponent. This kid was all business. He was in the moment. I didn't have a chance.
He was still Sachin.
He was still TENDULKAR.
I threw the ball up. I gave it arc. I gave it air. Rajesh took a step down the pitch. He was on the front foot. He hit the ball full face. I heard the thwack. The ball sailed high above my head way beyond all who were fielding.
It was a six.
There was no question about it.