“Tell me the truth”
“I swear… I didn’t”
“Don’t lie to me”
“But I didn’t”
“You are still lying… still lying…why won’t you admit it…why won’t you tell me the truth”
“If you know the truth so much then why are you badgering me?”
“Because I want to hear it from you… I want to hear you say it”
“That you took money to fix this match; that you were paid thousands of rupees to bat poorly and throw this game; that you are a match fixer. I heard you talking to that bookie Khurana, and I know everything…don’t even try to deny it”
Pratap looked at his coach in shock. His eyes moved around tensely for a while, trying to find some part of the room that he could look at so that he could avoid his coach’s angry and disappointed gaze.
After what seemed like eternity he finally summoned the courage to hold his head up and look at his coach again. But his coach snorted and turned his back to him in disgust.
“I didn’t… I didn’t…. take the.. m.. m.. money”
His coach snorted in anger, again.
“Really, is that why you scored ten runs in hundred balls, when you could so easily have scored a hundred and fifty?”
Pratap had no answer and he remained quiet. His coach turned around, glared at him and continued talking. But now his angry tone turned to one of anguish and despair.
“If you had not taken any money then would you bat so slowly? That too when you know quite well, we need to score quickly to win this match. Pratap, how could you? You are our star batsman, the best player in our team, you have won so many matches single handedly, and you can do so again. Yet, you choose to play so poorly on a day when a win could take us to the semi-finals. If this is not match fixing then I do not know what is”
The coach closed his eyes. Apparently the hurt was too much for him to bear.
“Tell me Pratap how much did Khurana offer you?” he asked slowly. “How much did he offer you to turn traitor”
Pratap looked shamefully down at the floor for a long moment. Then he finally answered with great hesitation.
“One lakh.. a measly one lakh” exclaimed his coach
“Yes, but I did not take it… not yet anyway”
” What does that mean?”
“Khurana will only give me the money once the match is over and we have lost. We still have half a day to go. I guess he is afraid that I could still win it”
His coach looked at him perplexed.
“Pratap! Why are you throwing your life away over such a lousy deal? And why are you even in the company of such people?”
Pratap looked forlornly out the window.
“Coach, you know where I come from. The small tenements on the edge of the city, where getting two square meals a day is a miracle; the hungry nights that my brothers and sisters and I had to endure because my parents did not have money to buy us food; the torn clothes that I had to wear every day; and the long painful walks on bare feet to that run down government school; I still remember that. I am grateful for my talent and the opportunity that you gave me, but that is nothing compared to the money that my family needs so badly”
The coach’s anger subsided a bit. Visions of the first time that he saw Pratap clouded his mind; a thin, scrawny kid with seemingly no hope in life. But from the first time that he picked up a cricket bat at that charity cricket camp, Pratap had proven to everyone that he had unusual cricketing talent.
The coach had taken Pratap under his wing and groomed him. Pratap’s rise through the ranks had been meteoric. He was climbing the pinnacle of success very quickly. But now the coach was witnessing a moment when the ladder looked like breaking, and his ward very much looked like falling down, maybe never to get up again.
“I know it is wrong, coach.” Pratap spoke again, hesitatingly “But I really don’t know any other way”
The coach glared at Pratap again.
“If you know it is wrong then why are you doing it? And don’t tell me there is no other way. There is always a way. You could have come to me. I would have helped you. If you took the trouble to go to a bookie like Khurana, then surely you could have come to me”
“Really coach, what would you have done?”
“I know people, Pratap, rich businessmen who would have given you a job, sponsored your cricket. I would have helped you improve your cricket so that you could rise through the ranks faster. There are always ways, Pratap.”
“But they take so much time, and the money is not quite so much”
“It is still enough. Is that what is motivating you to deal with people like that bookie? My God! So it is not just your family problems that you want to solve, part of you is motivated by greed as well”
Pratap’s head fell on hearing his coach’s words. He now felt truly ashamed of himself. That shame made him literally mute, unable to come up with a response.
The coach sighed heavily. His ward was still so young, so immature. He still had so much to learn about the world. But who else could teach him. The coach was the only responsible and educated man that Pratap saw in his life. Everyone else in his world was either too greedy or too illiterate. No, the coach would have to be the one to make sure that Pratap stayed on the path of righteousness.
“Pratap look out the window”
Pratap looked out.
“What do you see?”
“I see a cricket stadium coach, stumps, umpires, and kids from the local schools”
“Yes, those kids, Pratap; those kids, who came all this way to see you play. Those kids, who hero worship you like you were a God. They are young and impressionable. They will do everything you do. You score centuries; they will want to score centuries. You work hard; they will want to work hard. And if you fix matches; they will want to fix matches. Some of them will not be so lucky. They will not have a coach to advise them like I do. They could get into trouble, serious trouble, and probably their lives could be over. Some of those kids come from the same background as you. What do you want to tell them? Work hard and succeed in life or cheat and possibly not only fail, but also face shame in society. Tell me Pratap, what do you want to tell them?”
Pratap was now almost on the verge of tears. The sight of the school children, some of them poor and desperate like he was broke his heart. His mind was caught in a whirlpool of pain, sadness and confusion. His soul was asking questions that he did not have answers to. Finally, he turned to the one man who had given him hope, his future, and in many ways his life.
“What should I do coach, I don’t know what to do”
The coach smiled gently. Yes, this was his Pratap, his student, the person that he looked upon almost as his own son. He put an arm around his young ward’s shoulders.
“We still have much time left in the game. You can still win it for us. Go out there, try your best, and play like you always do.”
“And Khurana, what about him?”
“Don’t you worry about him; I know how to deal with his kind. You just focus on the match. Tomorrow, I will take you to a kind benefactor that I know. He is well known for sponsoring talented sports people. He will help you financially. Pratap, I always want you to remember one thing. There are no excuses for shortcuts. Someone always gets hurt in the end. Think reasonably and you will understand that problems can always be solved through honest ways”