Sunday, February 06, 2005

Game that Gods play!

Greek mythology says that all Gods live and control every element in our world, but when it comes to a meeting, they go to a placededicated to sports, the mount olympus. The notion of Gods involved in sports is not just romantic, but also higlights the athletic culture of ancient Greece.
In my opinion though, God switched to cricket long time ago, as and when the game was invented by some bored souls in Great Britain. Cricket is agame that gives each individual his/her own space to live, think and play while this individual action accumulates into a team's progress in a manner that is ever so romantic. Time and again, coaches have failed trying to change individual players' game, style and approach to meet the needs of the team.In the biography of Sir Gary Sobers, the great man explains the dressing room environment in those times, captains involvement with individual players and the overall team selection for a tour. Though the approach explained by the veteran appears to be rather laid back in our times, it seems perfect if the individual players are mature and blessed with the right gentlemanly spirit. Cricket indeed is a manly game. Cricket infact is a gentlemanly game. Individuals with emotional problems are more appropriate in a boxing ring or in a deep sea rig.
Call it coincidence or miracle of cricketing Gods' I had the fortune Ten sports channel telecast a feature on the tied test with interviews from mainly Australian players involved in the game. Coming shortly after my reading the biography of Sir Gary, this program could never be missed. Having witnessed a tied test in Indian Television in the amazing 1985 series Australia in India, the program aroused more than just curiosity.I was unlucky to miss out the early part of the program that recounted the first innings of boththe teams, I caught up with West Indies second innings. The usually trust worthy West Indiestop order failed to click against wonderful bowling efforts of one Mr. Alan Davidson. In the biography of Gary Sobers, Trevor Bailey often remarks the respect Sobers had for Alan Davidson'sbowling. Trevor Bailey himself counts him amongst very useful allrounders of the game. Alan Davidson takes 6 wickets in the second innings including the prize scalp of Sobers for 11. This effort takes Alan Davidson's match tally to a very respectable 11 wickets. In the program, Davidson recounts how he got Sobers out. He remarks that when a bowler is up against some one like Sobers, everything has to be tried and his effort was to make Sobers play across the line at least once. His efforts pay off when Sobers tries to play to the leg side a yorker on the middle stump, the leading edge is taken and themost important breakthrough in the match had been achieved. In total the West Indies crumble to 284 with Rohan Kanhai making a strokeful 54. The target for the Benaud led Aussies was 231.
Then a phenomenon called Weslie Hall roared into action and Australia were reduced to 92 for the loss of six wickets. The last hope for Australia lie with their captain and the allrounder Alan Davidson who had already made a huge impact by capturing 11 wickets for the match.Alan Davidson recounts that he told " What the hell am I doing out here? I am supposed to just bowland rest!". Richie Benaud's reply was "Lets go for it". Amazing response considering that there was one session of eight ball overs from Weslie Hall and Gary to face. Richie Benaud was at best a useful batsman and a highly ranked leg spinner. From then, what followed was a brilliant counter attack seen very rarely in test cricket by the tail. Finally when Davidson got out after a counter attack, the aussies were left with 5 runs for win with three wickets remaining and possibly the last over of the match was to be bowled by Wes Hall. What followed was a stuff of cricketing legends for eons to come. Three wickets and four runs and a historic test tie had been thrown up from a bag of results where one thought there were only two results possible, a draw or a win.
The question that naturally arises and begs itself to be asked is, "Why did Richie Benaud go for an all outattack when he could have settled for a draw that too in the first match of the series? Surely it wasn't thedeciding match in the rubber!" The answer is incredibly the captains of both the teams, the graceful Sir Frank Worrell and the cocky Richie Benaud as gentlemen agreed to go for a win at all times through out the series. This was done as a result of boring draws which were most common results in the game at that time.This move was aimed at bringing paying public back to the game. Luckily for both teams, there were fabulous entertainers who were natural free flowing players unlike the copy book coached dullards who formed the bulk of most of the teams of that time. The final result of this approach was a resounding series victory for the aussies, yet it was the jolly good West Indies who won over the crowds of bot the nations and radio listeners all over the world. My dad who has been an avid fan of West Indian cricket recalls how a sea of people swelled up in the streets of Australia to give a hearty send off!
Some interesting tidbits on the tied test.Alan Davidson recalls how Weslie Hall was suffering from severe blisters in his feet and wore no socks under his boots.Alan Davidson himself took more than 10 wickets and 100 runs in the tied test the first time any cricketer achieved this fete in the history of the game.
The brand of cricket that carribbeans represent is the natural, uncoached and athletic. The natural passion that is generally exhibited by Carribbeans is on the wane. Natural flowing cricketers have become some kind of a raritythese days when young cricketers are getting heavier bats to go for maximum return for minimum effort, fast bowlers changing their natural bowling actions on basis of expert advice from a visiting coach who has seen their actions for no longer than a couple of hours!! Nothing can beat the sheer pleasure of a high backlift coming down in a flowing arc and meeting the ball under the eye and sending it to the cover boundary, a style reminiscient of Brian Lara or Chris Gayle. Similarly very few sights could be pleasing to the eyes of a cricket fan than that of a fast bowler charging full throttle and hurling a delivery aimed at the stumps and probably sending a couple of them in all directions. This is the entertainment that was dished out by the Windies of the past. Right now this brand of cricket is on the wane and one can only look to them again led by Lara to bring the old magic back. Maybe Gods are havinga drink break! Mount Olympus is waiting! And so are we!!

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