Cricket was an inevitability. All through our school years, come what may, the evening game of cricket was not to be missed. I'd have loved to say 365 days a year, but the swamp that our ground turned into during the rainy season negated that possibility. Nonetheless, if there was a ghost of a chance to bring bat to ball, we'd take it. Our arenas on most days would be restricted to within the compounds of our society, Gayatri Flats encircled by not high enough walls and the almost as good as not being there barb-wired fences. We had to spend a lot of time recovering balls hit out of our domain but it was inside that our sporting season flourished.
Then once in a while, someone or the other would feel the itch of competition and propose playing a 'match'. Every local contest was a technically a match on paper, but for us a 'match' meant teaming up against an outside adversary. This was serious business with every team member of our team coughing up 10 bucks (the price of a rubber ball), pooling it and putting it up on the line against the opposing team that did the same. The air was different on those days, and the feeling of a contest really intense. Our arch-enemies so to speak were Sarvesh's team which lived just beyond the boundaries of our society.
Behind our Flats was a mosque with a huge ground in front of it. We never played on it because it was too huge to cover even with 22 players on the field. But match-day always brought out the tiger in us and we'd decide to prowl this ground. Adjacent to the mosque lay Sarvesh's (or more accurately his dad's) convenience store and the semi-slum area where it was housed in. The core of Sarvesh's team was drawn from these houses. Back then, we just looked upon them as available adversaries, not the way their social and economic status would cause us to judge them now.
The funny thing about the whole deal was that it was always their team which had the stumps for the game. We, the supposedly richer kids on the block never had anything more a couple of suspiciously wobbly bats. There was a raw thrill about taking on these guys, as they had in their ranks a posse of fearsome 'chutti' (chuckers) bowlers who'd send the balls hurtling down at a much greater pace than our traditional round-arm action could. We feared being taken to the cleaners by their 'hoodjudiya' (pinch hitters) batsmen as much we enjoyed the feeling of claiming their wickets.
More importantly, we never got to finish a single challenge match. Minutes away from sure defeat, we'd find a striking example of biased umpiring so unbearable that we'd stage a walk-out. The other team would do so likewise in a near-death situation for them and waltz away with their stumps. We were probably too naive back then to know the right swear words to use anyway so every abandoned match just saw a flurry of angry words and looks, but it never really got serious. None of the teams wanted to part with the monumental 110 rupees, money that was worth a month's supply of rubber balls. We'd disperse vowing to never answer/throw a challenge from/to our unsporting opponents ever again. Then on a bright, summer evening usually within a month of the last altercation marred encounter, we'd on the pitch again tossing a coin and finding out who was gonna play chicken this time around on match day.