Friday, October 8, 2010

From Grace to Don to Laxy - how Cricketers have Pushed through the Covers of Dictionary

It was a consulting presentation, on which I had spent considerable time, sprinkling it with image metaphors, quaint animations and gently persuasive arguments. Piloting it on a close friend, the only one whose review I respect sufficiently to make changes to my thought process, I was rewarded by a solitary word that confirmed that I had outdone myself. I knew then that it had been elegant  and enjoyable, subtle yet shining, effective yet aesthetic, while not sacrificing one ounce of substance. For closing his eyes and reflecting for a while, my best friend and severest critic had summed it up as "Laxy."

The greatness of a game is symbolised when coinages specifically meant for the sport extend beyond the outfield end up in the living room, to describe scenes of ordinary life far removed from the pitch. In a cricket crazy nation of Indians, who have rewoven a game of British heritage to the patterns of their own fabric of life, the sporting adjectives, verbs and nouns creep into the language of everyday, without any scope for ambiguity or misinterpretation.

A googly for ever remains an unpredictable step, the man of the moment ending up doing exactly the antithesis of the expected. Missing a dolly is the inability to capitalise on the obvious gift of fortune. And a faux pas that would make one the helpless target for the ribs of friends is in varied circles termed a full toss or a half volley or a loose ball.

This is not limited to the modern day proliferation of the television channels which beam sports non stop to integrate it within the realms of our disintegrating thoughtscape. Some words and expressions which have long established themselves in dignified dictionaries are of sporting origin. Long shot harks us back to the era of the knights when medieval tournaments and jousts were the sporting fare, with a target far away on which the William Tells focused their practised eyes with bows pulled taut. Bullseye is for sure a derivation from the sport of marksmanship, with arrows or muskets, while a huge, time consuming ordeal which taxes the physical and mental reserves is universally referred to as marathon.

While bouncer, beamer and bodyline have become as much a part of cricketing folklore as aggressive boardroom discussions, there is a chicken and egg problem to decipher whether the term caught napping is a contribution from the oval to the word book or the other way around.

However, what fascinates me is the way some of the names of the players get entrenched into the vocabulary beyond the game.

This is where Laxy ambles in -  a characteristic which is esoteric if one wants to build up the image with common words, but perfectly understandable to the cricket lover with the magic of the couple of syllables. In spite of its similarity in the tailing two letters and the rhyme with the provocative adjective, Laxy comes across as pure, sublime, effortless and heady. The greatness of an individual player is even more apparent when he enters the periphery of common parlance away from the game, when the exploits on the field leave a mark beyond the twenty two yards, imprinting them on the tapestry of everyday life, the very name evoking a definite characteristic which is unique and immediate in ready, revelling recognition.

Before the Hollywood influence and the rasping voice of Marlon Brando glamorised the Mafioso, in the cricketing nations Don meant God and not Godfather. W.G. Grace for ages was a symbol for the great, the pioneer, the ageless, the bushy beard or the potent and omnipotent. And the Compton look was the well groomed metropolis male, hair slicked back with Brylcream, not one strand out of place after a hard day's work.

To the middle class Indian of the seventies and eighties, drops of energy drained fighting for the basic necessities of life, Sunny was a flash of brightness in midst of dreary drudge.

With the advent of the post globalisation world of the nineties, Indians became world beaters in their own right. Team India followed suit, and so did the sporting influence on the vocabulary of the generation. Etched in my memory is the image of a friend preparing the defence of his dissertation. A group of us close chums sat through his exposition, and it was impressive enough for one of us to sum up the defence as Dravidian. The Wall had extended and cordoned off words well established in the dictionaries, driving his influence through the covers of the lexicon, giving an entire new spin to the interpretation. Dravidian no longer was limited in its meaning to the South Indian or the ancient Indian civilisation. It conjured up images of the impregnable, the infallible, without a chink in the armour for any shred of doubt to creep in, however tough be the questions posed, the problems faced, the foes opposed.

Likewise, dadagiri was given a facelift by Sourav Ganguly. Although this had to do more with the arrogance of gamesmanship than with the game, the haughty audacity of never cowing down in the face of the established and overbearing, erstwhile overlords, became the other meaning of a term that was for long considered derogatory.

However, from Grace to the Don, from Dravid to Dada, all were blessed to have a name or nick that could easily be tampered with and cloaked quickly into nouns or adjectives. Even Laxman benefitted from the aural proximity to the same semi sensational word that his name could be transformed into. But, what about some names that are proper enough to be as unyielding to manipulation as Sachin Tendulkar?

People have tried 10dulkar, Sachaninnings and general jovial juxtapositions, not really succeeding in stretching it into the dictionary by some quirk of prefix and suffix. However, they need not have bothered. Someone who goes on and on forever while lesser men may come and go, brooks no indulgence of monikers. His name is enough to summon images.

As the man himself has evolved, Sachin the name has conjured up meanings diverse through the two decades that he has spent in delighting the crowds. A young lad with naughty curls can fully expect to be called Sachin by friends and strangers alike, the name thus standing for an entire category of hair type. During the early days of the boy wonder, Sachin was synonymous with precocious talent, with child prodigy, with potential beyond age. As the years rolled on, it was used for unquestionable authority, someone who was beyond the orbit of the mortal, who can never be competed against – don't even try questioning his decision, he knows what he is talking about, he is a Sachin.

And now, it stands for an ever shining diamond, an ageless, timeless warrior, a jewel to be treasured, a trendsetter who has blazed along paths no one has walked before and continues to cut new furrows. It is the greatest epithet that can be bestowed on man.

In the end, the epic game is just like the Mahabharata or Shakespeare or the Iliad and Odyssey – where the names of characters define the characteristics, the situations and the dilemmas of day to day existence. Just as in the grand epics and dramas, there are the pinnacles of virtue as well as the murky, shady underbellies. For each saving Grace, there is a Trevor Chappel, denoting despicable, underhand dealings. For each Laxy brilliance there is a loose talking Lele, the new definition of turncoat.

However, it is the base that evokes appreciation of the ethereal. For all the Lalit Modis that symbolise filthy lucre, trying hard to rewrite a script that is fit for Homer, Shakespeare or Vyasa with grubby, money grabbing paws, there will always be a Don or a Sachin symbolising the everlasting quest for perfection.


  1. are a real poet. Kudos to you. I have become a fan.

  2. What a fantastic article on cricket. Bravo, mate, brilliantly written.