Thursday, October 14, 2010

Three Amigos and a Young Man

Still in safe hands

It is one of the adrenaline charging high points of watching cricket when the young debutant, under suffocating pressure, comes out of the restricting cocoon of inhibition and self doubt, and emerges with self expression and stroke play as a promise of the future.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s courageous counter attack in the fourth innings at Bangalore was fascinating, sending the country into passionate celebrations.  He drove with authority and executed thrilling pulls. And as has become so predictable to the point of puerile, there followed in the wake of the innings mass manufacture of laudatory lines, clich├ęd columns and praise-ful pages across the curious popular entertainment platform – also known as the media.

Sensation scavenging and controversy addicted, the scribes of the sporting pages and web sites, and the hosts of television channels, have gone about earning their despicable daily bread by provoking mass speculation and sentiments with that exceptional gift that characterises Indian journalism – of putting the instant success on a precarious pedestal from where one false stroke will result into a headlong plunge into the quagmire of criticism.  And while elevating a one innings hero to the ranks of greatness, they have allowed their articles provoke the fickle fan frenzy to step on the achievements of some of the greatest names of Indian cricket with mud caked shoes of yellow journalism.

There have been suggestive speculations hinting at contrasts with a typical Dravid counter in similar circumstances, and wondering if this is not the opportune moment to replace the ageing maestro with the youthful new hero.

Well, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, the latter shrewdly promoted by the team management, did counter attack to conquer the fancy of the Indian fan, laying the foundations of a memorable victory. But they had been batting with the secure knowledge that in their wake waited a safety net of 26000 runs and 78 centuries. If they got out, the next two men at the wicket would be Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. That very thought would have allowed them to go about their task with the gay abandon of youthful adventure.
What if Sachin and Dravid had come together at the fall of the second wicket, with a 200 plus score staring at them and sitting in the pavilion with pads on were Pujara and Raina? Could they have indulged in aggressive tactics like the young duo? Cricket changes with circumstances, and comparisons cease to hold water at some levels.

And even as we rejoice in a batting hero after all these years of waiting for one, can we actually claim that this victory looked  a remote possibility with Australia putting on 476 and India struggling at 38 for two? Without one timeless champion coming in and turning things around with 267 runs in the match? Novelty sells papers, magazines, raises the TRP and increases webpage hits, but it cannot replace the experience gleaned through more than 300 test matches with one innings.

In the last dozen years, India has won more than 50 test matches, doubling their number of wins from the earlier sixty six years of test cricket. And in all but 4 of those occasions, one or more of the trio of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, have fired and got substantial scores. A piece of statistics that makes you sit up and realise the enormity of the contribution to Indian cricket by these three gentlemen.

Sehwag will definitely play on for a few years. It is difficult to measure and analyse the mind and methods of this curious cricketer, but one of the reasons for his cavalier approach to batting is probably that he is secure in the knowledge that at one down will come in the broad bat of Rahul Dravid, at two drop the genius of Sachin Tendulkar, and after them the calm conjurer in the guise of VVS Laxman.   The only two other successful opening batsmen who come remotely close to matching Sehwag’s murdering methods in the not too distant past are Mathew Hayden and Gordon Greenidge. The bowling attacks of the teams they played in varied vastly, but still there remain parallels are aplenty. Their methods contributed to their teams being the most successful ones of their times. While Greenidge went about scoring runs with the shelter of Haynes, Richards, Lloyd and Larry Gomes around him, Hayden did so with the assurance of Langer, Ricky Ponting, the Waughs, Martyn and later Clarke and Hussey to follow, with someone called Adam Gilchrist as an additional security to fall back on. Will Sehwag, with that celebrated uncluttered mind, manage to play with the same fluency if the next three names to follow are Rohit Sharma, Pujara and Raina? Oodles of talent may jiggle around between them, but there will be some 33000 runs and 94 centuries less in assets.  Figures that make one realise that perhaps one solitary innings of 72 is not all that big a deal as yet.

I try to imagine what the Indian line up will look like a couple of years from now. No impregnable Wall making his way to defend the country after the quick loss of a wicket, dapper and dignified, every aspect of gesture, grandeur and gear embodying the immaculate cricketer. No compulsive cheer at the fall of the second wicket, the moment for which a nation waits, the trot of the little big man to the wicket, that lean into the cover drive, that look at the heavens after yet another hundred. No magician walking out next, spreading calm with lazy elegance, wristing the balls to unthought-of regions of the green oval, delighting the cockles of the heart with a whip to the mid wicket. And in the field, no reliable assurance of the bucket hands of Dravid at first slip, no cheerful Laxman at the second, no exuberant little man sprinting around like a teenager in the outfield.

When they turn their backs on us
What would it be like? A sequel to The Three Musketeers without Athos, Porthos and Aramis? An impressionist exhibition without Degas, Monet and Renoir? A Manhattan skyline without the World Trade Centre, the Chrysler and the Empire State Building? A Friends episode without Ross, Chandler and Joey? The Ivy League without Harvard, Princeton and Yale? Social Networking without Facebook, Linked In and Twitter? A Marx Brothers production without Groucho, Chico and Harpo? For the Bollywood savvy Indian fans, a remake of Dil Chahta Hai without Amir, Saif and Akshaye?

A feeling of emptiness in the soul even as we contemplate. Cheteshwar Pujara has shown a lot of promise. Definitely it is the time to groom him as the understudy, to prepare those young, quick stepping feet for the enormous shoes that they will put on with time. However, for now, even as we rejoice sitting at the pinnacle of test playing world, let us enjoy the blessings of the three amigos as long as we are able to.

12 comments:

  1. You have way with words as the three amigos have with the opposition's bowling.. keep up the good work, like to read your blogs...

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  2. Enjoyed reading this one. Small correction though-- Stanford is not in the Ivy league.

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  3. Excellent analysis and very valid points.

    Wish all the talking heads and the clueless pundits of the media would read this, especially the ones who have called for Dravid's retirement.

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  4. Genius sir.... wonderful writing style.. not flattery but.. why dont u give it a shot at cricinfo...

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  5. well said..having experienced batsmen do wonders. Just take the case of Sanath J. With Aravnda, and Arjuna to follow he was the MASTER BLASTER. But soon after they retired he was struggling with a young middle order.

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  6. Well said Man...Just a change is there in the case of Shewag.He will play his game til he plays and he needs no cushions..thats sure.

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  7. Really Senantix, I have rarely seen such writing on Cricket. Once you have a larger body of work, you should publish your musings in book form.

    We read all this with some pathos, wondering why we like to bring down our heroes. There is a dialogue in Spiderman where the villain says, "The one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail."

    In the three amigos, we have eternal role models, heroic and yet modest to a fault, three who use the bat to talk and are almost reticent when it comes to giving press or media interviews about themselves.

    We really should back off and let them play. And, yes, you are right that Lax is the one who one should choose to bat for your life. He proved it again. Dhoni is lucky to have all three playing under him and lucky to be hanging on to his place and Captaincy.

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  8. "But they had been batting with the secure knowledge that in their wake waited a safety net of 26000 runs and 78 centuries. If they got out, the next two men at the wicket would be Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. That very thought would have allowed them to go about their task with the gay abandon of youthful adventure." I was thinking in the same lines during that test match !! !

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  9. my eyes are wet with nostalgia. i bow down.

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