The Supreme Soloists of India and Pakistan – A Collection for Time Immemorial – NUMBER 9

Saleem Malik’s caustic carnage at Calcutta (now Kolkata)

Saleem

18th February, 1987 , Eden Gardens, Kolkata

“Malik seemed in complete control of the situation. And he did it single-handed” – Ramiz Raja

Saleem Malik would be remembered as the talented, wristy right-handed batsman, who during his playing career formed the bed rock of a formidable Pakistani middle order responsible for plundering runs galore. A graceful timer of the ball, he could also be relied upon to trundle up to the wicket and unshackle a well-set partnership. For a country, historically known for consistently shoddy performances on the field, Saleem Malik was an exception as he could be an electrifying bundle of energy on the field. This talented cricketer, unfortunately would also be remembered as the first ever to be banned from all forms of the game for match fixing – a damning verdict coming on the back of the findings unearthed by the Justice Qayyum inquiry. However after a protracted legal tussle interminably lasting for 7 long years, the Supreme Court of Pakistan finally lifted his ban in the year 2008. Saleem Malik has had a few memorable encounters against India, and like most of his fellow countrymen, he seemed to reserve the best for (or rather against) his arch-rivals.

Saleem Malik chose to essay one of his finest knocks at the magnificent and imposing setting of the Eden Gardens scripting in the process a fairly tale the likes of which are infrequent, improbable and inspiring. A capacity crowd numbering over 80,000 was treated to a stunning and cavalier exhibition of batting that not only shattered the hopes of the home team, but also rendered them numb with shock. In the second ODI of Pakistan’s tour to India in 1987, India batted first in a game reduced to 40 overs, and notched up a score of 238 for 6, courtesy a brilliant 123 by the irascible Kris Srikkanth – an innings studded with 14 boundaries and a lone six. Pakistan began their run chase in an honest fashion with a 106 run opening stand between Rameez Raja and Younis Ahmed. However a flurry of wickets that resulted in the departure of both the openers, Javed Miandad, Abdul Qadir and Manzoor Elahi resulted in the wheels almost coming off the Pakistani batting. Only 55 runs were added in this melee.

With Pakistan perilously placed at 161/5, Saleem Malik strode to the crease. Although the fat lady had not yet commenced her song, she was undoubtedly at the fag end of her preparation. The required run-rate was just over 8 runs per over. The Indians and their zealous supporters were just waiting for the conclusion of the last rites. But Saleem Malik certainly had other ideas. Starting off by sweeping Maninder Singh ferociously to the deep-square boundary, he soon got into a murderous rythm by hoicking the spinner over cow-corner for a huge six. When Imran Khan was bowled by Kapil Dev after scoring a meagre couple, the score stood at 174-6. Saleem Malik was now literally bereft of all batting partners and if Pakistan needed a miracle, he was to be the sole provider. Throwing caution to the winds, he now proceeded to run rampant. One Kapil Dev over yielded 4 spectacular boundaries – shots which included a fierce pull through mid-wicket and a flawless flick. Malik was given a fortunate and what would turn out to be a telling reprieve when Chandrakanth Pandit fumbled a stumping as the batsman tried to ungainly use his feet by jumping out of his crease. Making full use of the magnanimity and generosity of his opponents, Malik proceeded to ruin the bowling figures of the talented Maninder Singh. Giving himself room and exposing his stumps he proceeded to cut the ball with precision and placement and drove elegantly through covers with utter disdain.

Overs 35 to 37 bowled by Maninder Singh, Kapil Dev and Madan Lal had the following ridiculous and maudlin run-making sequence:

  • Over No.35: 6 4 0 4 4 1
  • Over No.36: 0 4 4 4 4 0
  • Over No.37: 1 2 4 4 2 0

As a stunned and shocked crowd looked on unbelievingly with hands on their hips and heads in their hands, Saleem Malik was just tearing a befuddled Indian attack apart with a magic wand. When Wasim Akram departed at the score on 224, it was the end of a partnership that had put on 50 runs, the dismissed batsman’s contribution being a measly 3! Even though Saleem Yousuf was run out 8 runs later, the outcome of the game was sealed when a rasping cover drive hit the fence like the proverbial bullet (or rather Ravi Shastri’s tracer bullet). Pakistan had prevailed in one of the most entertaining and exotic run-chases privy to a one day international.

When Saleem Malik came to the crease, Pakistan required 77 runs for a win. Facing just 36 deliveries, he proceeded to rack up 72 of those runs in a spell binding display of batting. When he was finally finished, Malik had blasted 11 brilliant boundaries and a towering six! Mauling Maninder Singh, carting Kapil Dev and massacaring Madan Lal, a marauding Malik brooked no opposition. Well pitched up deliveries were driven with fierce intent and short ones pulled with fanatical determination. Saleem Malik also won the Man-of-the-Match award (and fittingly so) as his vitriolic cameo overshadowed the blistering century scored by Kris Srikkanth.

Played during the days, when IPL unfortunately was not even prescience, this marvellous and menacing performance would have had many a franchise of the IPL scrambling over one another to sign up Saleem Malik! As Pakistan finished the game with 3 deliveries to spare, all that their stunned opponents could do was to go up to the star of the day and offer him handshakes of appreciation. On the 18th of February 1987, Saleem proved that on his day, he could be the ‘Malik’ of them all!

Result: Pakistan won by 2 wickets

Scorecard: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/64302.html

(Next: Saeed Anwar’s sublime savagery at Chennai)

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Boycott, Richards and the Dilemma of an Autograph Hunter

The swagger that had etched itself as an integral part of cricketing folklore was unmistakably there. The attitude of nonchalance accompanying every step bordered around being contagious. The dark shades on the broad face hid whatever message or meaning the eyes were intending to convey. As the almost imperial figure advanced towards an elevator manned by two young men wearing jackets with the word ‘Steward’ emblazoned upon them, I clumsily ran towards him and stretching a scrap book that was tightly clenched in my fist, asked in a quivering voice “Sir can I have your autograph please?”. Much to my horror and disillusionment, the man in an attitude that could only be described as brazen, for the want of another appropriate word, refused to even acknowledge my mortal presence and with a cocky jerk of his bull neck calmly entered the elevator whose doors slowly closed upon my perplexed face.  The man in question – the legendary Sir Issac Vivian Alexander Richards and the setting of my disappointment – the hallowed Lord’s Cricket Ground, the veritable Mecca of cricket.

Unfortunately the aforementioned experience was not an isolated incidence in disappointment for yours truly. I was lent the proverbial cold shoulder by a few more masters of this pristine game, the most notable amongst the culprits being Sir Geoffrey Boycott. While I would have been thrilled to bits if the opening great had even scratched a page of my autograph book with a stick of his famous rhubarb, he was utterly disinclined to even give a peremptory look at the stationary. But unlike Sir Vivian Richards, who choose to be bereft of any words, Sir Geoffrey executed the role of a consummate liar to suave perfection, when he said “I will sign for you when I come back after my media duties”. It would not have taken a genius to figure out that a patient and interminable wait for his return would only be an exercise in abject futility.

I must have taken on a pallor of utter desolation after these refusals, for a fellow autograph seeker voluntarily made his way towards me and provided me with a few words of unsolicited but welcome consolation. I for a moment had even contemplated that contemptuousness might after all be a natural fall-out of knighthood. The Good Samaritan incidentally had also been brushed aside in his quest for a signature by Sir Geoffrey. He wryly proceeded to remark that there was a good probability that Sir Viv might have had breakfast with the English legend which resulted in the former assuming the same bearings as the latter! While this thought brought about a good laugh out of me, it also set me into thinking as to what might be a rational cause for a celebrity not obliging a signature seeking.

The practice of offering and obtaining autographs supposedly has its roots in the Greek tradition. The word autograph refers to a document transcribed in its entirety by the author. Thus the practice of collecting autographs from achievers is one that has been followed from times immemorial. The collection of autographs is also a hobby referred to as philography. The act of collecting an autograph epitomizes the adulation and admiration which a genuine seeker possesses towards the author in question. Also the fact that the same can be preserved in the vein of a precious treasure even long after the earthly sojourn of both the giver and the receiver bestows upon a signature, a special distinction. It is almost as if the person signing on an ordinary piece of paper or on his/her photograph is leaving behind a lasting legacy in his/her wake. An autograph is also not without its monetary benefits. It can be extraordinarily rewarding possessing unimaginable commercial value. As an illustration it is estimated that if any of the six original signatures of the immortal bard William Shakespeare were to come up for a miraculous auction, it would probably sell for in excess of $5 million US. But would the Bard-of-Avon himself have had any qualms in the event of such an improbable occurance? A genuine collector of autographs in general would rarely bear to part with them, excepting under dire circumstances. The intangible value in the form of happiness, prestige and pride invariably overrides the tangible and monetary aspects attached to a precocious collection. And even if an autograph is sought in anticipation of a commercial sale in the distant or near future, any paranoia on the part of the giver is hard to fathom. In the current world of cricket, that is characterized by an explosion of innovation and where T20 games take precedence over Test Match cricket, it is hard to envisage a signature of Sir Geoffrey Boycott being a ticket to generating unbridled wealth! Although there have been instances of celebrities charging a ‘signing fee’ for putting pen to paper on the apprehension that the autograph seekers would be professional autograph traders selling the autographs for full profit, such instances have been sparse and scattered. A New York Yankees legend, Joe Dimaggio was a notable proponent of such a practice. However such a practice, in fact might have the invidious effect of putting off fans rather than accumulating admirers.  No fan would like to see his hero donning the mantle of a sophisticated and civilized extortionist by putting a fat price on a signature. At least I would not touch a person who charges for his signature even with a 50-foot barge pole! A predominant motive in requesting a celebrity for an autograph is to capture in permanence a part of history. Nothing pleases an autograph seeker more than laying hands upon a document or an object that has been signed by a notable personality. It is not for nothing that fans brave despicable weather and embark on an interminable wait to just get a scrap of paper signed by their favourite celebrity.

While it is a personal choice on the part of a celebrity to either accommodate or abhor a request made by a fan for an autograph, more often than not, it is hard to digest a refusal. It almost signifies a form of betrayal for the ardent person making the request. It is as though the feelings of reverence,regard and respect that the fan possesses for his idol have gone unnoticed and unrecognized by the latter. At times, while it might be utterly impractical to satisfy the wishes of an autograph seeker (for example where the fan is part of a massive and teeming crowd), it might not be platitudinous to conclude that on more accomodating occasions, the fan would be well served to obtain that invaluable signature.

While I brook no hatred towards either Sir Geoffrey or Sir Vivian Richards and will continue to be a staunch admirer of these two brilliant cricketing legends, and also while there is no doubting that at the next available opportunity ( a possibility that seems both bleak and remote) I would not hesitate one jot before asking these two to sign their names for me, I would be deceiving myself if I were to conclude that I have not let down by the whimsical attitude displayed by these greats. But as the adage goes every rainbow invariably has a pot of gold. I found mine when the disappointments that were Boycott and Richards were more than made up for by the euphoria that was Michael Holding. The Whispering Death not only obliged with his unique signature but also had an encouraging word or two to spare! It was a pure Rolls Royce moment!

“Out of the Blue – Rajasthan’s Road to the Ranji Trophy” by Aakash Chopra

When the compact former India opening batsman Aakash Chopra penned Beyond the Blues: A First-Class Season Like No Other”, he revealed that he had as much dexterity holding a pen as he had flourishing a willow. Now with “Out Of The Blue – Rajasthan’s Road To The Ranji Trophy”, this prolific run getter in the domestic circuit has proved that such a dexterity was not a mere flash in the pan. His second book provides an interesting and at times intriguing account of Rajasthan’s incredible clinching of the Ranji Trophy during the season of 2010-11. This story of rank and unheralded underdogs upsetting many an apple cart and bringing to naught many a well-crafted strategy of much bigger rivals during their course of creating history, undoubtedly warms the cockles of the reader’s heart.

In a queer sense of the way, this book might not have seen the light of the day, but for the supposed intransigence displayed by the Delhi & District Cricket Administration (“DDCA”) in unceremoniously dumping Aakash Chopra from the Delhi squad for the domestic one-day games. This episode, recounted in a calm and matter-of-fact manner in the very first chapter of the book, rankled this batsman so much that he vowed never to represent his State again. It was as though years of unflinching, uncomplaining and undeterred service rendered by a faithful servant of the game were discounted remorselessly in one fell swoop. The consequence of such an action was a move to the ‘surrogate state’ (as succinctly put by the author) of Rajasthan, and as the much used and abused cliché goes ‘the rest is history’.

The initial chapters of the book are dedicated to providing a bird’s eye view of the players constituting the Rajasthan Ranji Trophy squad. Resembling a motley crew, this aspiring bunch shares the enviable values of determination, devotion and dedication and is firmly bond by the glue of togetherness. Any young cricketer aspiring to make an indelible mark would do well not only to read these chapters but also ingrain in him/her the invaluable and precocious lessons contained therein. The trials and tribulations undergone by each of these cricketers not only showcase their mental resoluteness but also a never say die attitude. Some of the incidents narrated in a simplistic and unflattering manner are to say the least, extremely moving. Vineet Saxena continuing to play the game in order to tend to his family, not even taking adequate time to grieve over the untimely passing of initially his father, and later his two month old infant is an exemplary case in point. Pankaj Singh’s teething troubles and a torn allegiance between choosing between volleyball and cricket, Ashok Menaria’s tryst with fame and ignominy, Deepak Chahar’s resoluteness and his polychondritis afflicted father’s unconditional encouragement all serve to prove the point that it takes more than just talent for one to establish oneself firmly in this game. Also immensely and intensely inspiring is the story of the young Gajendra Singh, a left-arm spinner who scalped Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson (yes all five of them) in a practice match and then had his whole world shattered with the death of his father and mother. In spite of adversity staring him point blank at his face, this tough cricketer braved the odds to turn into a determined cricketer and a bowler of note.

The book also embeds within its pages a fair sprinkling of humour. The story of Robin Bist, the young batsman being woken up in the night from the cramped confines of a seat in a rickety bus, by the licking of a goat (with the man tending to it firmly perched on his cricket kit bag), a group of primates invading the playing arena when the author was at the crease during a game at Kota, are a few examples.

Aakash Chopra also highlights the wide chasm in personal comforts and luxuries that are the prerogative of an established national cricketer vis-a-vis a player struggling to make a mark in the domestic circuit and facing innumerable obstacles (both avoidable and inevitable), in a clear and uncomplicated fashion. The obduracy and indifference of various selection committees, a humble family background, a cruel jugglery between holding on to a not-so-well-paying job and playing the game one loves the most are some of the perils that an aspiring cricketer faces in his endeavor to earn a name by playing this great game.

The second part of the book provides a gripping narrative of every game played by Rajasthan, their promotion to the Elite League from the Plate Division. The thrills and spills are entertainingly narrated and performances of note highlighted. The reader is thus regaled with the account of Hyderabad collapsing for an unbelievable 21, with Deepak Chahar being the wrecker-in-chief with an unbelievable haul of 8 wickets, the sleepless nights spent by the author himself on course to compiling a marathon unbeaten triple ton against Maharashtra in a crucial game and the slaying of the Big Daddy or “Australia of Indian domestic cricket” (in the author’s own words), Mumbai in an enthralling game.

A few erudite and technical points of note with regard to the most prudent manner of batting depending upon the state and nature of the pitch also merit a mention. Such an analysis ensures that the reader appreciates the various nuances that are the subtle prerogative of this seemingly simple and uncomplicated game.

A point of crescendo is reached when the indomitable desert warrior s contrive an amazing fairy tale to beat the seemingly invincible Mumbai to secure a place in the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy. Facing a barrage of bouncers on and off the field, the tenacious skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar’s team ploughs on with their spirit undeterred and hope unyielding. As a visibly shattered Mumbai resign to their fate, a glorious hope is instilled in the Rajasthan players’ hearts with renewed vigour and realization dawns that the seemingly impossible dream is a mere two games away! As Tamil Nadu and Baroda bite the dust following the footsteps of their seven predecessors to have played Rajasthan, a rousing and endearing fairy tale is scripted and the record books rewritten!

In the overall context, this is the story of team work, self-belief and an unflinching attitude of camaraderie displayed by a bunch of talented and determined cricketers, willing themselves to go the distance and take the proverbial leap of faith. And as usual fortune never ever fails to favour the brave!

As I completed the final few chapters of this engrossing read, as coincidence would have it, Aakash Chopra raised his bat to a sprinkling of spectators by stroking a fluent century against Uttar Pradesh in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season. During the course of this elegant innings, he also achieved the enviable landmark of completing 10,000 first class runs. The first thought that entered my mind as I stood in the confines of my living room to generously applaud this feat was that of a young eight year old cricketer who shouldering a heavy cricket kit, hung on grimly to the ladder behind Bus No.442 heading towards Rajdhani College to practice a game of cricket. The boy has indeed grown into a multifaceted and mature man and a marvelous cricketer!

“Out of the Blue” – The colour of cricket, cause and courage!

THE PORTLY CRICKETER – A FAST DEPLETING BREED

The first time I set my sight on a portly cricketer was in the form of a picture of a rotund Colin Milburn essaying what seemed to be a fierce pull shot. This image was from a magazine which I was accidentally perusing. For some unfathomable reason, the picture left an indelible impression on me.  From that very day onwards whenever I either heard any expert placing extraordinary emphasis on fitness or I happened to read an article eulogizing the virtues of being lean, lithe and mean, a derisive Colin Milburn used to instantaneously appear in my mind’s eye and it was almost as if he was commanding me to dismiss such views as mere fatuousness.

So is a portly cricketer a square peg in a round hole or is he as integral a part of the game as his extraordinarily fit and unbelievably athletic counterparts? The answer can be emphatically found by just perusing the roster of a few good, round men to have graced the game, and that too with great distinction and panache! However as the present day cricket has evolved beyond imagination to suit the commercial as well as cultural needs of the supporters of the game, this peculiar breed of cricketers is fast fading into oblivion. It would be a matter of great pity so see the extinction of a burly cricketer hitching up his trousers in the field, displaying an element of alacrity and alertness that is the sole prerogative of beings of his kind. For instance there is something about a Samit Patel or a Romesh Powar chasing a fast traversing ball on stubby legs and only succeeding in escorting the ball beyond the boundary!

I for one firmly believe that the era of the fat men is not over by any stretch of imagination and it ought not to be over as well. These cricketers can lay equal claim to being entertainers, evolvers and eminent personalities along with a majority of their in-shape and toned contemporaries as well as counterparts. So amongst this pantheon of a not too crowded hall-of-fame, if yours truly were to choose the top 5, who would be the chosen ones? After much racking of the brains and painstaking rejigs of a not so prodigious memory, the following was the output. I know I might have omitted a few more prestigious and ‘weighty’ candidates, but such an omission is merely a result of my personal preferences and prejudices and not, by any stretch of imagination a reflection of their capabilities or performances:

5.      Mervyn Gregory Hughes

Although not a personal favourite, this burly Australian cricketer undoubtedly created an impact with both his on-field cricketing performances and non-cricketing antiques. Sporting a majestic handlebar mustache and a virulent temper, which at times was not amenable to be handled, Big Merv was a true character of the game. Running/ambling/trotting/jogging in to bowl, he was a sight to behold and a persona to reckon with. Whether it be having a go at many a bemused batsman, or engaging them in verbal histrionics, Merv was always in the game and a typical in-your-face cricketer. Legend has it that once on an extended follow-through he violently broke wind and challenged an astonished batsman to try and whack it for half a dozen. Whilst I personally have a genuine doubt regarding the veracity of this tale, every time I recollect it, I find myself to be in splits! Also his famous altercation with another stocky cricketer Robin Smith, wherein Robin apparently got the better of Merv both with the willow and his tongue (a real shocker), is one which needs to be read and savoured. All in all, here was a cricketer, who was an entertainer par excellence in his own right and a torch bearer for burly fast men of his ilk!

4.      Inzamam-ul-Haq

Without a semblance of doubt, “Inzi” has been one of the greatest batsmen the cricketing world has ever produced and the most sublime amongst the ones having a veritable bulge in the waist. Having the speed of a confused camel, and the gait of a ponderous elephant, this phenomenally talented batsman was all style and grace once in his elements. He also could easily claim to be a master orchestrator in perpetrating run-outs involving his own team mates. In fact he could easily be an opposition’s dream when negotiating with his not so amused partners for a run or two. The unbelievable sight of a sprightly and almost preternaturally talented Jonty Rhodes flinging himself upon a set of stumps with a white ball in hand to run a perplexed Inzi out, has been one of the lasting images left behind by the World Cup of 1992. Inzi though had the last laugh in the competition by playing what Captain Haddock would have termed “Two blistering barnacles of knocks”. But one indelible image which Inzi has stamped forever in yours truly’s cricketing memory is that of a bizarre dismissal in Headingly. Trying to pull a short one from Monty Panesar, Inzy after positioning himself for the shot loses his balance and in an awkward manner tumbles over the stumps dislodging the bails in the process, much to the delight of the English and the chagrin of a bewildered Bob Woolmer. There is no doubting the fact that such an ungainly dismissal could have been effected only with the presence of Inzi at the crease.

3.      David Clarence Boon

A person, who has an untarnished record of downing the maximum number of beers enroute to England from Australia, better be on the heavier side! David Boon, the holder of this formidable record was by all accounts burly. One of the most competent and stylish opening batsmen, his glorious partnerships with Geoff Marsh was the scourge of bowlers the world over. The cocking of the wrists at the last minute before executing a stroke and the unmistakable movement across the stumps all added to embellish the talents of this cricketer with an ample belly. But what endeared ‘Boonie’ to me were his impeccable reflex abilities whilst crouching at forward short leg. Almost picking the pockets of a batsman, Boon has to his credit some magnificent catches almost snapped out of thin air. As one of my colleagues from Australia and a keen cricketing fanatic remarked only half in jest, Boonie was made to field at a close in position as he would be exposed if positioned anywhere else on the cricketing field. All in all David Boon was a candid and unapologetic torch bearer for the bulging bellies of the cricketing world and a spectacularly fine one at that!

 2.      Arjuna Ranatunga

A breathtakingly brilliant strategist, a cricketing craftsman, a team man to the core and a masterly manipulator of the single, the former Sri Lankan World Cup winning captain can as well stake his claim to be the most famous bulging belly ever to have graced the game of cricket. A perennial favourite of yours truly, he is a lasting inspiration for me never to set foot inside a gymnasium and subject myself to tortures of untold and grisly types! An epitome of calmness and possessing a rock solid confidence, he has been the primordial reason behind many a success story carved out by the Islanders on a cricketing field. His astute leadership and enviable tutelage has ensured that cricketers possessing multifarious talents have not only captivated the imagination of millions of lovers of the game, but have also ensured that Sri Lanka as a cricketing nation is a force to reckon with. Walking his singles with great composure and fielding at close in positions with the ubiquitous towel hanging out at the hip from his trousers, this gentle but tough cricketer has never failed to capture my imagination. Whether it be engaging the boisterous Aussies in their own sledging game, or taking on the might of the ICC with respect to the contentious issue pertaining to the controversy raked by the bowling action of Muttiah Muralidharan, this searing cricketing brain has always been a step head in thoughts, action and deed. This truly splendid and marvelous cricketer with arguably the broadest waistline to have either held a blade or hurled the cherry is to say the least one of a most respectable breed.

1.       Colin Milburn  

I have neither seen this great wield the willow nor stoop to stop a speeding ball or position himself to hold a steepler. All my knowledge about this talented cricketer has been gleamed from the writings of that veritable doyen of cricket writing E.W.Swanton, and most importantly the one single picture which has blazed itself into a scar in my cricketing brain. Colin Milburn swiveling on his ample hips and executing a perfect horizontal shot, I am sure would have instilled hope, inspiration and encouragement into the hearts of many an aspiring and obese cricketer, in the same manner as it has instilled the firm belief in me that to be rotund and round in figure is also a kind of being in fine shape and fettle!

After all on a cricketing field it is not essential that only the ball which is being firmly clasped by the bowler needs to be circular in shape!

Cricketers of our time by E.W.Swanton – One for Times Immemorial

E.W.Swanton, an undisputed doyen amongst the chroniclers of the pristine game of cricket, in this masterpiece, pays tribute to 75 of the most ebullient, enlightened and entertaining players, and 9 of the best chroniclers to have graced this game. This phalanx of English, Australian and Caribbean stars reads like a veritable who’s who of the cricketing world and each cricketer is to say the least a behemoth in his or in a solitary instance her own right.

Interestingly these tributes are part of the obituaries which the author famously published initially in “The Cricketer” and later, for a prolonged period of time in the “Daily Telegraph”. This dazzling pantheon of luminaries is compartmentalized into ten different categories though quite a few players in the list would seamlessly have fitted into more classes than one. Each player’s name is followed by the date of his birth, the name of the educational institution (wherever available and recorded), the teams represented, a brief career stat, all followed by the date on which the great happened to shed his mortal coil. Once the aforementioned preliminaries are taken care of, then follows the actual tribute, glowing in nature and glittering in intensity. However, the goose is not one bit overcooked and facts are laid out in a threadbare manner for whatever they are, and flattery is left for posterity.

Since most of the names featured in the list began their career in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s, a reader of the likes of yours truly would not have had the pleasure of watching archival footage of the greats in action let alone being privy to their presence in flesh and blood. However the book is such a remarkable piece of art with the writing resonating with sheer magnificence and orderliness, that in the mind’s eye of the reader, a kaleidoscopic image is formed with the words almost transforming themselves into vivid images. It is as if these high priests of the game graciously consent to provide a fleeting albeit lasting demonstration of their enviable prowess for the benefit of the owner of the book. For example, though I have never been privileged enough to see the peerless Frank Woolley in action, I can clearly imagine the phenom rocking back onto his back foot and essaying a perfectly executed horizontal bat shot! Or even a slow gripper bowled by the wily Geoff Hirst that has the batsman rooted in his crease, with a bewildered, baffled and bamboozled look!

The power of this book is such that, it has the effect of bringing on to the lips a pleasing smile, and in more instances than one, an involuntary tear to the eye. Fascinating anecdotes and ingenious quips escaping the lips of many a cricketer also find relevant mention thereby embellishing the work of this genial author. For instance J.J.Warr’s famous remark on the flamboyant Dennis Compton taking 415 catches during the course of an illustrious career, “when he was looking” is an absolute gem. The book also contains within its covers many rare, surprising and barely known facets of trivia and astonishment. I almost had to stifle a gulp of awe upon reading the fact that Arthur Wellard smote 500 (yes you read that right) mighty sixes during his tenure at the crease either side of the War! The reader would also be aghast and pained to note that the tamer of many a hapless bowler, the man with three Oxford Blues to his credit and the world record holder for the long jump at one point in time, the matchless Charles Burgess Fry was a miserable failure in an attempt to tame the very shrew that he married, going by the name of Beatrice!

Tributes are also paid, and deservingly so to the great literary doyens who regaled many a million both by holding a pen and wielding a microphone. The peerless Sir Neville Cardus, the inimitable Sir John Arlott and the exuberant Brian Johnston are the subjects of accolades and encomiums. The category titled “The Roll Call” makes for extremely poignant reading as it deals with some fine cricketing lives nipped in the bud on account of the insidious and deplorable World War. The awe-inspiring Headley Verity and the formidable Ken Farnes represent a couple of examples. The great Headley Verity whose Herculean feat of grabbing 10 wickets whilst just conceding 10 runs has never been emulated till date, would easily have gone on to become even greater but for a gallantry displayed in the War which unfortunately proved fatal. Commanding the B Company outside Catania, which lost its position in the confusion and became surrounded, Verity was hit in the chest and had to be left behind as the company retreated. The last order that this brave heart gave to his Company was “Keep going”.

If at all there remains a cause to complain about either the structure of the content of this marvelous book, it is the fact that the hallowed gallery of Mr. Swanton is completely bereft of players from the sub-continent and also from New Zealand and South Africa. Perhaps an inclusion of some of the legends from the missing countries would have added a much admired sheen to this luminous collection!

If I were to be asked to choose a personal favourite amongst the plethora of tributes, I would unhesitatingly proceed to pick the very first one with which the book begins. An effusive praise for arguably the most wily, wise, and wondrous of misers to have ever bowled a cricket ball and in any version of the game – Sidney Francis Barnes. Scalping 189 Test wickets at a most unbelievable average of 16.43, S.F.Barnes was undoubtedly a unique specimen! It seems that when he bowled the magical Victor Trumper with a delivery that was bowled fast on to the leg stump, which moved late in the air to the off stump, and then cut off the pitch to take the leg stump out of the ground, the non-striker Charlie McCartney who was a witness to this veritable miracle described the ball as “one which a man might see when he was tight” However this epic by E.W.Swanton is one that is lovingly loose on the heart longingly lingers on in the mind and pays a lasting tribute to the people who have made this game such a beautiful sight to behold!

 “Cricketers of our time” – A timeless classic!

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.