Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The Gentleman Show

Cross-posted on The DLF Indian Premier League

I expected it to be a much easier ride into the stadium today. Being a weekday, an opponent ranked at the bottom of the table and given the home team’s disappointing recent run, the rush was bound to be much lesser. I found enough time and space to buy a Chennai Super Kings flag from an old lady outside the station. When I asked for the price she blurted out some number in Tamil leaving me quite clueless. When I managed to convey this emotion to her, she had the good sense to find another customer, a young Tamil guy, to do the necessary translation. The flag cost sixty rupees, arguably a bit exorbitant, but I was not going to haggle with a poor, old lady who did not speak my language. I handed her a hundred and waited for what seemed to be an eternity as the poor soul managed a great balancing act, literally, holding several flags in one hand, and trying to carry out monetary transactions with her customers with the other the money of course stashed away in a compartment of her saree. I had a good mind to leave her with the hundred but, God bless her soul, she managed to return my change just before my patience was run out. As soon as I entered the stadium an earnest looking policeman promptly snatched the flag from my hands, and before I could comprehend what was going on, freed it off the stick that was holding it. For good measure, he disposed off the stick. Great! Once inside, I got a rude surprise in the form of a major price hike in the coffee prices – inflation is well and truly here, right in our midst In a period of four days the prices had skyrocketed by 50-67%!!

Arun Lal was in the center doing the pitch report. The pitch, (and the report) I guess must have been as flat as a dodo, so to say, because clearly someone found the need to spice it up. The cheerleaders from both teams were right behind Lal practicing their moves (this really means that their leader is performing the moves and they are merely aping her). The new idea was that Lal should make a Bollywood-style entry from amidst the two teams of cheerleaders. This he duly did and appeared as comfortable as a test player in a T20 game, to avoid some old clich├ęs about fish and water.

My heart wrenched a bit when I saw Adam Gilchrist walk out for the toss because it meant that I would not be able to witness my favorite player, sorry artist, the great VVS Laxman play his masterstrokes. But Gilchrist, I must note, played the model captain. He walked out with MS for the toss (unlike our pampered and almost uncouth Indian players like Ganguly and Sehwag) and was all grace and dignity personified. It was to be Gilly’s game by all accounts. From the moment the Deccan Chargers took the field, Gilly was in control like a conductor at a well-perfected orchestra.

The game was not close by a big margin but that did not mean that I did not get my rupees worth. When Badrinath tentatively poked at a delivery from Afridi that jumped up on him, Herschelle Gibbs, stationed exactly 180 degrees opposite to my vantage point, initially a bit confused by the course of the ball, just like the batsman, took a couple of steps to his left and then launched himself into orbit to pocket one of the most magnificently stunning catches ever, the best I personally have ever seen on the field. And then, later, only a trifle less spectacularly, Albie Morkel hit one from Pragyan Ojha right on the roof of the stadium again putting me in one of the best positions to witness. Incidentally, and somewhat ironically, these action moments in this speed-of-light version of cricket are the ones that allowed me plenty of time to soak it in. The Gibbs’ catch, for instance, was not, blink and you miss it stuff. The ball looped in the air, Gibbs had enough time to judge it, walk a couple of steps to his left and then put in the dive, the whole sequence lasting for almost a couple of seconds, an eternity in cricketing terms. Well, they say the World is full of contradictions. Also goes to show that even a T20 game need not rely on the close finish to be exciting.

Incidentally, do some of you guys follow the Cricinfo Wagon-wheel thing when you are annoyingly stuck in the office during a big game or when Neo Sports is the only option to watch a test series and your cable operator decides to indulge in non-cooperation? Well, I saw these guys who make your life just that touch more bearable, up close today. These guys who operate the Cricinfo software, and I must say do an amazing job, considering the speed at which the game progresses and the impatience among their consumers, which I am only too well-aware of, sit alongside the official scorers, who incidentally I noticed frantically wave yellow flags upon acknowledgement of any proclamation by umpires. So now I realize why the other day Billy suddenly turned, looked at me, and nearly made me jump off my seat as he thrust his hips as though in a fit out of the blue, and jerked his arms in the air. He was actually seeking the attention of these good folks to let them know that the ball was a wide. Sigh.

It can be justifiably argued that television coverage gives a better sight of the game of cricket than the one from the stands but the aspect that TV cannot give you is the sound. The sound that the bat makes when it strikes the ball can be truly appreciated only from up close. And it is this sound that distinguishes the skills of a great player from a merely good one. This distinction is particularly pronounced when the great and the good co-exist at the crease. The other night, the two roles were played by Sehwag and Gambhir, and today it was Gilchrist and Styris. It was of course, Gilchrist’s game, he was the supreme dictator. The key is that for Gilchrist even the slight mishits seem to be attractive while from a player like Styris even the shots of the meat off the bat are only okay. Usually, if you were forced to associate one word with the batting of a certain supremely skilled player, with Brian Lara, you would associate “flow” with Gilchrist it is “crisp”. Crisp was his strokeplay last night as he reduced to dust any hopes of an upset Chennai win.

Finally, another word for Rohit Sharma. I guess I have put in so many words for him over the past few weeks that he should grant me rights for his biography twenty years hence. But the lad’s strokeplay sounds definitely closer to the Gilchrists of this World, than the Styrises. And with the kind of cool head he has shown, which, incidentally is now adorned by the orange cap (which is worn by the highest run scorer) he is certain to be destined for a great future.

Isn’t it possible to get jaded visiting the stadium to watch a T20 game four times in two weeks? Well, the best part of this tournament is that on every occasion you have the added attraction of watching a different set of players perform. While I am supporting the home team, now, in the span of a fortnight I have had a chance to witness in addition to Dhoni, Hayden, Hussey, Murali, Fleming, Oram and Ntini, Jayasuriya, Pollock, Bravo, Harbhajan, Ganguly, Ponting, McCullum, Ishant, Sehwag, McGrath, Asif, Gambhir, Gibbs, Afridi, Rohit Sharma and now above all the great gentleman cricketer Adam Gilchrit. That can’t possibly be such a bad show.

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