Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Importance of a Harbhajan Hundred

Harbhajan Singh's rollicking century on the last day of the Ahmedabad test match is one of those unique facets of the game that make it fascinating.

The readers of this blog know me to be a purist. I am someone who closes his eyes after each Tendulkar straight drive or a Laxman whip to the mid wicket, to allow the sensation to sink into the senses, to deposit the memory of the strokes forever into accessible chambers of remembrance. Isn't it odd for me to revel in the brutal launch of counter attack where caution is perpetually projected into the wind and the bat is as much a tool of artistry as a chainsaw used in the Texas massacre?

Perhaps it is not that  unnatural to be moved. The delights of cricket go beyond dexterity and skill.

While artistry and technique are very much the elements of batsmanship that makes us return to the ground over and over again, almost willing our maestros into orchestrating spontaneous encores, the raw excitement of engaging in a game of chance and coming out the winner has its own attractions. During this recent innings, Harbhajan manufactured yet another stroke from unwritten handbooks that will never share shelf or library with coaching manuals, the spectators went through the same thrill that one feels when a pair of dice rolls on the green velvety surface of casino tables, the closing bell rings on the day's business of stock market  or the notice board puts up the result of an entrance examination.

In many a sense, test cricket resembles life. As in events outside the stadium, not everything plays out according to script. A lot depends on chance.

In life, many a times we have to stick to endeavours not entirely suited to our skills and potential. Circumstances in life make us work at jobs that we hate, sometimes live with people we abhor, make career choices based on wants and not desires, take up unwanted responsibility because of personal situations. Hence we tend to look at sportsmen with diversion from drudgery, touched with a tinge of envy, grudgingly accepting that here is someone who is doing what he loves, someone blessed with the choice of fate.

However, here is where cricket brings shades of realism into the proceedings. Especially when a tailender walks out to bat or when a part time bowler rolls his arm over.

Seldom in any other sport is a player called upon to perform something that is not his craft. Few other tussles in the arena has participants in the middle trying to grope their way through something they are not comfortable at, while being under the spotlight, with millions watching across the world. A Michael Johnson is never asked to run the marathon. A Diego Maradona is never asked to stand under the bar as ten others romped around the field. Michael Schumacher is asked to drive and not to change the wheels in the pit. The closest one can think of is Ivan Lendl huffing and puffing on grass, trying to get his hands on that elusive Wimbledon title.

But, in cricket, Harbhajan Singh has to put his pads on and go out to bat. So does Chris Martin and Monty Panesar. So in the days of yore did Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Phil Tufnell, Bob Willis and Glenn McGrath. On the other hand, sometimes critical circumstances propel Sachin Tendulkar into bowling his leg spinners and Ted Dexter to try out his little swingers and cutters. And when the not so gifted men battle the guile of the masters of the trade to end up on top, the spectators are treated to a sight of hope, the victory of the underdog.

The charm of cricket lies as much in these small sidelights as in the triumph of talent. Not one of  the seventeen five wicket hauls contributing to 307 test wickets delighted Fred Truemann more than any of his three first class centuries. 'Scratch the surface of any fast bowler and you will find a very frustrated batsman' he used to say in his inimitable Yorkshire drawl. And for the hundreds of tormenting deliveries bowled by Glen McGrath, his brightest smile was flashed the day he got his only fifty at the highest level. I wonder whether either of his triple hundreds made Virender Sehwag as happy as his five wicket haul.

Life is a struggle against destiny. Men keep trying to ward off the unseen reverse swings and googlies of  fate bowled at them on the wicket of life, pitching hesitant decisions into the fray, hoping fortunes won't come striding out to hit them out of the ground. Here a nightwatchman scoring a century, the tail ender hanging in for four hours to save a test match, the part time leg spinner bowing on the fifth day footmarks and picking up vital wickets in the fourth innings are symbols of faith. Proof that one can survive and succeed even against intimidating odds. It is the coup of hope over destiny, of grit and luck against the odds of logic and nature.

And when Harbhajan Singh strokes his way to a hundred, we can rejoice. It restores belief that turning the table on fate can be achieved with a sense of frolic, with unrestrained relish for impossibility, with a bubbling sense of humour, a twinkling eye on the lighter side of life.

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