Victor Hugo, Chris Rogers and Chester le Street

The French poet, novelist and dramatist Victor Hugo bestowed upon the world an epochal quote when he remarked that “no one can stop an idea whose time has come”.

On an intriguing second day of the 4th Ashes Test at the picturesque Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground in the staid town of Chester Le Street, the time was preordained for an idea unraveled by a battling Australian southpaw, an idea the stirrings of which was felt a decade and a half ago when it was decreed to be still born and deemed appropriate for a nondescript burial.

When Chris Rogers came striding to the crease after a Jackson Bird master class on setting up a tail-ender-for-the-kill had flummoxed James Anderson, few could have had an inkling of the noble idea that was being formed, fermented and fostered in his mind. An idea that was in all probability even older and frayed than the uncouth arm guard which has now become synonymous with the left hander’s identity at the crease.

A concrete and tangible glimpse of the idea peeped out at the world in general and at the English in particular, when with a minimum of fuss and an even more minimal back-lift, Rogers began his inimitable and unpretentious negotiation of various variations of deliveries being hurled at him by an egregious unit of humankind boasting a fine pedigree of swing and spin. But Chris Rogers had an unwritten tripartite contract involving his body, mind and heart. A contract which required him to be sensible, yet not susceptible, stationary, yet not a saviour and sagacious, yet not serene. Rogers in executing his part of the bargain was delectably immaculate.

As Australia’s tormenter-in-chief, Stuart Broad ran rings around a trio of baffled batsmen before snaring them with the sympathy displayed by one eradicating an endangered species, Rogers stood as firm as an ancient relic, scarred by time but never surrendering to circumstances. With splayed legs and ungainly prods he pushed, nudged and pinched every run that was on offer. The occasional poking, fishing and lunging constituted mere aberrations. With the score at 34-2, Rogers got a bizarre and confusing reprieve when after a successful appeal by England for a caught behind decision, he decided to seek the succour of the dreaded DRS. While the replays clearly showed the ball missing the bat, they also revealed that Rogers could have been declared out leg before on the basis of the umpire’s call as the ball brushed the pad.

At a time when the modest score of 238 posted by England was being made to look like a total of ominous proportions, Rogers supplanted lingering doubts with an enduring idea. Warner’s demise, Khawaja’s departure and Clarke’s doom were all episodes that were to be relegated to the periphery as minor and even unavoidable bumps in an otherwise smooth virtual highway. The stray full tosses were still ripe for the plucking and the odd ball pitched at the legs were begging to be flicked away. When 49-3 read 76-4, Rogers knew that his idea was in desperate need of an ally, a perpetrator in crime who could both understand and relate to its broad and ambitious contours. Enter the out-of-form Shane Watson, a temporary human euphemism for a terminal disease which was symbolically ravaging the Australian team from deep within – apparently.

With Watson after a quiet bout of settling in, playing the relative role of an aggressor, Rogers meticulously donned the mantle of an accumulator. His courage was ably supported by the proverbial fortune when inside edges viewed the stumps as untouchables and the English slip cordon metamorphosed into Good Samaritans with Graeme Swann showing the road to be taken. An edge was grassed by the brilliant off-spinner and the idea now began to take a full bodied shape.

A mixture of sustained caution, substantial gumption and selective aggression brought Chris Rogers to 96. Just when the idea seemed to have reached the brink of its culmination, at the point of manifestation into a beautiful outline, it seemed to have lost momentum, direction and focus. Buffeted by the guile of Graeme Swann and the bracing against the banter of an extremely vocal Matt Prior, the idea slackened, swerved, and shuddered as Rogers spent an agonising 20 deliveries trying to calm his nerves and collect his bearing. The faithful accomplice in the form of Watson also departed for a crisp 66 that was punctuated by some strokes that could only be described as “Watsonesque”.

Finally a full blooded sweep, uncharacteristic in its selection and ungainly in its execution saw the ball make blissful contact with the square leg boundary. 96 was history and 100 was the present. As Chris Rogers, without displaying even the faintest signs of euphoria or exultation, and with just a trace of smile adorning his lips smeared with zinc cream, calmly proceeded to lift his bat up, remove his helmet and acknowledge the rapturous applause of the crowd, colleagues and competitors alike, he knew that in achieving his maiden Test hundred after notching more than 20,000 first class runs, the time had finally arrived for his idea, an idea whose sweeping wake was too powerful to be stopped either by the contrivance of fate or by the machinations of an aggressive bunch of Englishmen.

The Atonality of Virender Sehwag

Watching Virender Sehwag bat is more akin to getting to grips with the atonality of a rebellious Igor Stravinsky, than being soothed by the mellifluous temperateness of a sedate Chopin. Yet there are few batsmen in the world who can bestow upon their audience Proustean bursts of ‘moments bienheureux’.

Possessing a style of batting that is more apt to be described as ‘speculative cavort’, Sehwag is more audacious than assiduous, substitutes sagaciousness with savagery and prefers the phenomenal over the prosaic. Sehwag seems to possess an unswerving belief which espouses that in addition to line and length, a bowler’s mind is also malleable to suit the hedonistic needs of a batsman. An impetuous repertoire of stroke making is ably assisted by an incredible hand eye co-ordination. As delectable wrists combine with powerful forearms to send seemingly good deliveries soaring over the third man boundary, screaming through covers and searing the blades of grass abounding the on-side, the destruction of many an egregious ego is accomplished with a precision that can only be termed surgical. This devastatingly unique style of batting was best summarized by the candid Ian Chappell when he remarked “Sehwag can change the course of a match with the ease of Moses parting the Red Sea”.

The unassuming may be forgiven in concluding that Virender Sehwag is more a fan of Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” than Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. But beware; Virender’s is a beguiling ‘Charge’ with a very significant difference. It is more a “Charge of the Light Brigade – Redefined” than redux. In this Charge, it is the opposition who wilt under the remorseless rage of the sword or rather the willow; a charge which embodies a philosophy that is fundamental yet fascinating – the philosophy that when it comes to batting, there are no philosophies. Profound and sage theories considered sacrosanct by acclaimed Pundits are debunked as being merely puerile. While bad deliveries need to be necessarily put away, good deliveries ought not to be accorded discriminatory treatment. Swing and spin are treated in an impeccably impartial vein. The distinction between the longer and shorter formats of the game is considered irrelevant and inconsequential. The first ball of a Test Match as well as the final ball of the 50thover in a One Day International is treated with equal equanimity, impeccable impartiality and absolute irreverence.

While Sehwag in scintillating form is an intolerable headache for a bludgeoned opposition, it is an unbridled delight for his own team. A Sehwag blitzkrieg not only ups the morale of the Indian team but the pace at which he goes about his business also provides ample time for his side to have a dig at the opposition batting twice, if not bowl them out. This results in more opportunities to win a Test Match than would otherwise have been possible.  A classic case in point being the memorable triple hundred in Multan which enabled India to win the game comfortably. Even though this particular encounter would be famously or rather infamously be remembered for the declaration made by Rahul Dravid with Sachin left a mere 6 runs short of a double hundred, the most indelible feature of this game was the savage decimation of the Pakistani pacemen by Virender Sehwag. Sehwag driving, cutting, pulling, slashing and flicking with aplomb and extraordinary disdain was a rapturous delight to his fans neutrals alike. This was an innings that would have received wholesome approval and warm accord from the likes of Gilbert Jessop and Victor Trumper.

This boisterousness of Sehwag is incidentally exemplified by this famous quote attributed to the mercurial talent himself – “It doesn’t matter if you have one billion rupees in your bank account or one rupee. This is one life you get, and you’d rather spend it enjoying whatever you have, rather than thinking, ‘Oh, I should have scored seven more runs, or I should get more money.” More often than not when Sehwag succeeds in going about his merry ways, it is money in the bank for the team that he is representing.

Yet it is this atonality that has made this wonderful batsman cricket’s Auguste Escoffier. The delights that he serves up are undoubtedly original and undisputedly breathtaking. The sight of Sehwag carting Shoaib Akthar down the ground with an effortless swing of the bat or sashaying down the track to dispatch Murali over cover with a glorious inside out shot is one which has a lure that can only be termed ‘lambent’.

As Stravisnky himself said “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it”.

Very few batsmen feel the art of batting more than Virender Sehwag.

Gentleman’s Game or a Middleman’s Playground?

“XXX”; “Murky”; “Sleazy”; “Sexual Favours”……No this is not a concise review of an online pornographic release. Yet these are not words that one usually attaches to a game of cricket either – normally. But we are not living in placid or normal times. The former New Zealand international Lou Vincent’s damning confessions before the Anti Corruption and Security Unit (“ACSU) bear ample testimony to the fact that the gentleman’s game is now a middleman’s playground. A boiling cauldron where webs of deceit are woven, dainty damsels rule the roost and dollar bills decide overstepping the popping crease and the outcome of a game. Cricket, once pure and unadulterated is now firmly trapped in a miasma of rot and ruffians.

The innocuous colours of bat handles and ingenious rotation of strikes are now perverse symbols of rancid undercover dealings. A mow towards cow corner or a misdirected delivery represents not indiscriminate or indignant follies, but discreet and unrepentant acts of greed. The vice like grip of vulturine bookmakers on the game is now complete. It is time to act before such a deadly clutch totally asphyxiates and annihilates this beautiful gift to the world of sport. The time for instituting token probes and timid investigations are long past. An iron hand has to be wielded and wielded without care or concern. The prostitution of cricket at the altar of rapacious middlemen ought to be nipped in the bud.

We are at a crucial cross road that would determine the future of cricket. The untrammeled commercialization and unashamed bastardisation threaten to unhinge the game of its very sanctity. “Fixers” and betting syndicates have permeated every level of the game and patiently abide their time in the form of unsuspecting Trojan horses. The ICC needs to step in and step in urgently. However the indications provided by world cricket’s governing body are far from comforting. A proposal has been instituted to review the functioning of the ACSU by cricket’s three ‘big daddies’ with the watchdog being possibly asked to report directly to the chairman of the board rather than the chief executive of the ICC. This astonishingly means that the ACSU might find itself reporting to a powerful individual who has been severely chastised by the Supreme Court of his own nation in addition to being ordered to relinquish his position as the President of the Controlling Body for Cricket!  A laughable and damning proposition if ever there was one!

The ICC instead would do well to identify an internationally acclaimed independent body capable of possessing the requisite resources and boasting a proven record of handling cases of financial racketeering and corruption. By a charter, this body may be bestowed with independent powers to handle all investigations and issue a final report. It may even be constituted as a Company for the limited purposes of conducting a probe, and to be dissolved after its purpose has been fulfilled. The ICC’s tentacles ought not to be an interfering irritant in the functioning of this entity. The officers constituting this body need to be provided with all relevant assistance including immunity from prosecution. Based on the findings of this independent body, the action to prosecute the guilty may be taken and given effect to by the appropriate Courts under the relevant statutes and legislations.

The Vincents’ and the XXX’s of the cricketing world are undeserving of either sympathy or forgiveness. Their dangerous dalliances with the worshipper’s of Mammon have brought cricket down on to its haunches. Revelations and confessions do not detract from the damage and disrepute that have wreaked havoc. Only firm measures of deterrent would restore confidence and resurrect belief. Until such time a seemingly bland signal by a batsman towards his dressing room could mean just that – a signal of moral decay, ignoble decadence and dissipation of faith.

An Open Letter To Lou Vincent

Mr.Lou Vincent,

When you made your sparkling Test debut against Australia on the 30th of November 2001, I happened to see the match live on television. I thought that your stroke play was dazzling. Since I am entirely bereft of the gift of prescience, I had no knowledge that in due course the dazzle would be overshadowed and trumped by damage and deceit. I vividly remember seeing yet another game, a One Day International this time, wherein you were caught with your pants down – literally. In a gallant attempt to prevent the ball from making contact with the ropes, you pulled in a slide which divested you of your trousers. Now that you find yourself with your pants down metaphorically and have been reduced to a shamed cricketer sputtering out venomous confessions, I want to clarify a few things with you. I neither profess myself to be an investigator nor is this an interrogation. I am just a shell shocked, let down and angered cricket fan, who is unable to come to grips with the muck, which selfish people such as you have succeeded in pulling the game deep into.

Your transformation from a prodigious talent to a pernicious influence merits complete and undivided attention. Was the lure of cash so overarching and powerful that even the pride of representing country and club came a distant second? Or was cricket all along just a feigned pretext and a matchless opportunity to accumulate briefcases of profligate sin? While I express surprise at your asinine confidence which never bothered considering probable consequences, I am also left to ponder about the role which was being essayed by your conscience (if you possessed one) throughout the course of your devious escapades. Was it as crooked and unrepentant as your pre-decided mows toward cow corner and exquisitely enacted episodes of shambolic dismissals? Did you revel in the realization that poor Sussex had given you a nice and bright uniform with the word “Shark” unwittingly emblazoned on it? For you were undoubtedly a vicious one with your sights firmly set on wealth and your bloody jaws hooking on to every possible opportunity to accumulate it.

A more sober and moderate namesake of yours Lou Reed once said “I am in this business for too long to be half hearted about anything.”  From a gist of your now famous and grisly confessions, the notion of half heartedness never seems to have crossed your thoughts. You were certainly an accomplished player (not in the cricketing connotation) who was in the business for long. Did you find it to be a soul enriching business as well? You must have else why would you have continued on your merry way? I am not yet ready to completely believe that you pushed away a foresight which revealed you and your poor family being assailed by “cheat” taunts and “traitor” jeers. It might have taken a stupendous degree of foolish bravado for you to have relegated such thoughts to the confines of posterity.

What about all those young and aspiring children waving autograph books at you with a twinkle in their eyes? Did you have the temerity to look them in their eyes while acknowledging their requests? To quench my curiosity, what did you sign your name as? Have there been instances when racked by guilt riddled with a sense of culpability, and seeking a semblance of solace and repentance you have deliberately put down your name as Lou Vincheat, in an indecipherable scribble? Have there been times when you have wondered in Shakespearean manner: “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”

Today you stand before the Anti Corruption and Security Unit (“ACSU”), a shattered man, peeled of all pride, and with the proverbial begging bowl of mercy in his hands. Do you believe that by merely spilling the galling beans of many a sordid and despicable whodunit, you would be deserving of immunity from prosecution? Do you firmly feel that a verbal atonement detracts all your wrong doings and treachery? Your pandering to persons of disrepute and greed for money have not only eroded the confidence of your fellow team mates and colleagues in you, but has also had the most vicious and intolerable impact of bringing this glorious game down on its knees. You have betrayed the very game that made you. So long as people of your breed continue to exist, thieving bookies and unscrupulous deal makers would continue to abound and make hay. For deterring the sprouting of a multitude of more Lou Vincents’, a strong and remorseless form of punitive action by means of prosecution is an absolute necessity. And it is my sincere wish that your are prosecuted sooner rather than later.

Mr. Vincent, you have let down your family, friends and fans. You have exploited the wonderful game of cricket to satiate your ungodly pursuits. You have been a veritable Macbeth for whose good all causes have had to necessarily give way. You are undeserving of sympathy and pity and I do wish that you get none. The least bit of service which you can do as a matter of damage limitation is to come out clean and reveal each and every garish detail of the rot that has enveloped cricket. This will at least ensure that your mirror images are expeditiously taken care of by the concerned and relevant authorities.

Even though a simmering and raging part of me wishes for you and your unholy ilk to be damned to perdition, a more humane and logical side wishes for you to lead the rest of your life with honesty. While such an act might not necessarily have the bright effect of obliterating the pejoratives being heaped upon you, it might at least bestow upon your conscience a feeling of redemption!

Without even a semblance of regard,

Venkataraman Ganesan

Thou Art IPL

  1. Thou art IPL, the very agonizing death of cricket

The Faustian fiend who in bargains proceeds to revel;

Offering nothing genuine between the wickets

Alas! In you every cricketer desires to unabashedly bejewel

2.Thou art IPL, the remorseless butcher of the genuine

A throwback to the times of Bacchanalian greed

Beguilingly deceptive from what is actually seen

You accumulate victims by the dozen, slaves to your creed

3,Thou art IPL, instant gratification’s ruthless and remorseless purveyor

Four hours of unabated festering and unheeded lunacy

Sacrificing aesthetics and character at the altar of glamour

To see succumb to your contrived devices is an unrivaled pity

4.  Thou art IPL, a cauldron of nubile nymphs and foreign flesh

With dances prevailing over drives and playboys snubbing players

Leering spectators and salivating adults in unison progress to enmesh

You peel cricket of its joy in long strips and painful layers

5. Thou art IPL, the tempting Mammon’s trusted chieftain

Catching the game by the scruff of its neck and plunging it into a spiraling hole

As the lure of fame and luster of fortune firmly possesses many able men

Congratulations! To you the beautiful game of cricket has sold its pristine soul!

Rahane the Cure for Kohli’s Woes?

The contrast between the two teams preparing to take the field at the Oval this Friday could not have been starker – buoyant hosts (in spite of a fast bowling spearhead nursing a bruised nose) taking on a battered bunch of visitors boasting performances that would warm the cockles of their opponents’ hearts. What started as an impossible pipe dream for M.S.Dhoni’s men has quickly metamorphosed into a lurid nightmare.

While the batting performance has displayed a shambolic degeneration after the bright sparkle at Nottingham and Lords, floundering against pace and flummoxed by spin, the most disconcerting and disturbing aspect has been Virat Kohli’s apparent lack of form. A batsman once described by the legendary Vivian Richards as one who reminded “Viv of himself”, Kohli this series has been a pale shadow of his ebullient self.  More often than not, this free flowing, attacking and prodigious right hander has been the pivot around which India’s successes revolve. However on this tour Virat Kohli has been miserable with the willow. His mode of dismissals has been eerily consistent. An otherwise cavalier blade which meets the ball with candour and confidence is now unhesitatingly reduced to the state of a reluctant piece of wood hanging limply just waiting for a delivery to make contact with the outside edge. The rasping drives, resounding pulls and racy flicks have all but disappeared. This expletive muttering enforcer, the clichéd angry young man of Indian Cricket looks drained of ideas, devoid of passion and deserted by footwork. Poise at the wicket has been usurped by a peculiar impatience.

While it would be ludicrous to even remotely moot the possibility of Kohli being dropped from the Indian team on the basis of his most recent performances, or to ‘rest’ him – an irritating and condescending euphemism substituting ‘drop’, it is also extremely imperative in India’s interest that this champion batsman gets back into his stride sooner rather than later to bolster a middle order that has been most un-assuring on this tour. Nikita Khrushchev once said “call it what you will, incentives are what get people to work harder”. What Virat Kohli needs is precisely what Khrushchev suggests – an incentive – an incentive that will be viewed by him in an almost incendiary vein and shake him out of this inexplicable reverie.

Such an incentive can bring about by a slight alteration of India’s current batting order. Apart from Murali Vijay and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the one batsman who has been admiringly consistent in this series has for the touring side has been Ajinkya Rahane. The architect of a fascinating rear guard action at Lords, this unassuming right hander has exhibited calm, courage and composure. Looking assured and sure of himself (barring the odd momentary lapse of concentration at Headingly which made him heave wildly at a long hop from Moeen Ali thereby bringing both an untimely and ungainly end to his innings), Rahane has been a rare thorn in the flesh of the English bowling attack. For a team to put up at least a respectable total, logic dictates that the batsmen in form ought to play/face the maximum number of deliveries. More often than not in this series, Rahane has had to construct his innings in the company of the lower order (although Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s talent with the bat precludes him from being categorized under the ambit of bunnies), having to skilfully rotate the strike and lash out when necessary.

Hence India would do well to promote Rahane up the order and bring Kohli down by a spot. This would not only ensure that Rahane spends more time at the crease and in the company of established batsmen (although the term ‘established’ is a misnomer for a team which does not last even a whole day), but would also have the effect of riling Kohli’s ego. This might just be the spurt required to make the star batsman regain his bearings and form. While for Rahane, who has been used to facing the new ball, this ought not to impose any insurmountable hurdle, other than the irritating niggle of being juggled around the batting order, Kohli might be bolstered to have a relook at his technical foibles and taking immediate rectification measures.

The fact that the proposed arrangement is purely a temporary one might come as a dampener to Rahane especially if he continues in his rich vein of form. He might also perceive an element of injustice if Kohli were to regain his favourite position once he bounces back into form. However since the interest of India prevails over personal preferences, this measure if proved successful would only augur well from the perspective of the prospects of Team India.

Till such time it is yet another Test Match; yet another trial by fire.

Philip Joel Hughes – In Memoriam

“Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play” – Mike Singletary

Philip Joel Hughes was given an opportunity to play, and play he did! He played the life affirming sport that he not merely loved but lived. He played, insouciant to the inherent perils, inevitable praises and the intimidating pitfalls. On the 27th of November 2014 Phil Hughes made an untimely and entirely unexpected transition – a heart wrenching transition that shocked and ravaged the very soul of this precious game. A transition that mercilessly led to this bristling talent being referred to in a past tense just when a beautiful future beckoned.

But still such time he was felled by that ominous, yet innocuous looking bouncer, the young lad played. Unorthodox in style and unconstrained in stroke making, he enthralled and enlivened friend and foe alike. The fact that he was not devoid of limitations was nullified by the fact that he played within and despite any obvious and apparent flaws. For Phil Hughes knew that he played, therefore he was there. The cold contrivance of fate and an attempted forceful stroke that was a fraction of a second late has ensured that Hughes is lost forever to the cricketing world. This was a stroke which this gifted cricketer would have essayed a million times in the ordinary course of tenure at the crease. However when he attempted the hook against Sean Abbot, after having made a solid 63, destiny had other ideas. It was a score that was reserved for posterity, permanence and preservation. Now we all realize that Philip Hughes was meant to be 63 Not Out until perpetuity, not a run more and not a run less. It is only that we will never accept the occurrence. While the inescapability of mortality is purely acceptable, in this particular instance it is the isolated manner that causes intolerable grief and uncontrolled anger.

Not since the immortal Archie Jackson was taken away in his pristine prime, has the death of a young cricketer evoked such passionate and poignant feelings (notwithstanding the absolute tragedy befalling India’s prodigious youth cricket Dhruv Pandove). Today tributes the lengths of the Nile are flowing in from all corners of the world. While some are melodramatic, others are beautifully minimalist. A most evocative one being the beautifully austere scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval displaying just the name of Philip Hughes. But they all are united in their purpose and intent – celebrating the short albeit memorable career of a cricketer, a sportsman, a colleague and a son.

Sean Anthony Abbot was also given an opportunity to play, and play he did as well! By a wretched quirk of circumstance, he has also delivered the ominous, yet innocuous looking bouncer that felled his friend and countryman. But the greatest tribute that Sean Abbot can pay to Philip Hughes would be to continue to play – to play the game that has made him what he is and to play the game that will define what he will be. Sean Abbot faces the sternest test of his character, mettle and nerves. We all hope and pray that this promising fast bowler will face the winds of change head on and succeed by resorting to the method which was the hall mark of his departed friend – PLAY ON!

Philip Joel Hughes – THANK YOU & REST IN PEACE!