It was only their second season in Mumbais famous school-cricket tournament,Giles Shield,and their first semi-final ever. However,the boys of Al Barkaat Malik Islam English School,located in the slum neighbourhoods of Kurla,prayed fervently for one thing: that none of them gets injured. Their substitutes hadnt turned up,as their parents saw little point to them waiting out as others played.
The boys would eventually win,entering the final and capping a remarkable journey that began just a season ago,when they were knocked out in the first round.
Belonging to middle-class and lower-middle-class families,for the boys from Al Barkaat School,getting to play itself has been a luxury so far. When they played their counterparts from Dhirubhai Ambani International School earlier this year,it was the first time they had played on a ground of the scale of Azad Maidan,and their first encounter with leather balls and competitors wielding English willow bats and elaborate kits.
Coach Pankaj Ojha remembers going to the houses of each of his boys to convince their parents of their potential and to let them explore the same.
When they took on the Dhirubhai Ambani team,Ojha faced another problem. His boys were used to playing cricket with a tennis ball and none had ever tackled a leather one before. The first time they played in the U-14 Giles Shield tournament,the batsmen even rotated the strike despite not having taken a single since they had played their cricket with bowling done from just one side.
They thought that they had to similarly rotate strike each over, Ojha said.
Ahead of the final,to be held on January 3 against Lokmanya Tilak School,the boys have been promised three new English bats. Ojha said it was important that the batting side lasted 110 overs. Next year, he added,they will be playing three-day games.