Eight Ali reached practice twenty minutes late. Every delayed minute made Ish more pissed. 'You are wearing kurta pajama, where is your kit?' Ish screamed as Ali walked in at 7.20 a.m. 'Sorry, woke up late. I didn't get time and...' 'Do your rounds,' Ish said and stood in the centre of the bank's courtyard. When Ali finished his rounds, Ish unwrapped a new bat for him. 'For you, brand new from Kashmir. Like it?' Ali nodded without interest. 'Can I leave early today?' 'Why?' Ish snapped. 'There is a marble competition in my pol.' 'And what about cricket?' Ali shrugged. 'First you come late, then you want to go early. What is the point of marbles?' Ish said as he signalled him to take the crease. One of the three other boys became the bowler. 'We will start with catching practice. Ali, no shots, give them catches.' Ali's self-control had become better after training for a few months. Ish had taught him to play defensive and avoid getting out. With better diet and exercise, Ali's stamina had improved. He gained the strength to hit the ball rather than rely on momentum. Once Ali faced five balls in a restrained manner, he could sharpen his focus to use his gift. The trick was to use his ability at a lever that scored yet sustained him at the crease. One ball an over worked well. Ish now wanted him to get to two balls an over. 'Switch. Paras to bat, Ali to field,' Ish shouted after three overs. Ali didn't hit any big shots. Disappointed, he threw the bat on| the crease. 'Hey, watch it. It is a new bat,' Ish said. Paras batted a catch towards Ali, whose hands were busy tightening the cords of his pajama. The ball thunked down on the ground. 'You sleeping or what?' Ish said but Ali ignored him. Three balls later, Paras set up a catch for Ali again. 'Hey, Ali, catch,' Ish screamed from his position at the umpire. Ali had one hand in his pocket. He noticed Ish staring at him and lifted up his hand in a cursory manner. Two steps and he could have caught the ball. He didn't, and the ball landed on the ground. 'Hey,' Ish shook Ali's shoulder hard. 'You dreaming?' 'I want to leave early,' Ali said, rubbing his shoulder. 'Finish practice first.' 'Here Ali, bat,' Paras said as he came close to Ali. 'No he has to field,' Ish said. 'It is ok, Ish bhaiya. I know he wants to bat,' Paras said and gave Ali the bat. And I want to practice more catches. I need to get good before my school match.' Ali took the bat, walked to the crease without looking up. Disconcerted by this insolence, Ish rued spoiling the boy with gifts - sometimes kits, sometimes bats. Ish allowed Ali to bat again upon Paras' insistence. 'Lift it for I'aras, gentle to the left.' The ball arrived, Ali whacked it hard. Like his spirit, the ball Hew out of the bank. 'I want to go.' Ali stared at Ish with his green eyes.
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