Wicked Wicket

May 30, 2008 at 9:17 pm (Rajib Sarkar, Sports)

 

As I’m writing the post, spectators are trooping in to watch the first semi-final of IPL. The match is about to begin.

 

Since India’s last test victory over South Africa less than 50 days ago, we’ve witnessed a whirlwind of 56 IPL matches already, causing a collective amnesia.  As if a steroid called T20 has numbed the cells preserving the memories of what once was a classy battle between a bat and a ball.

 

This post is not about IPL though. It is about how cricket becomes a different ballgame when the pitch turns treacherous.

 

On pitches where you’ve no clue whether a good length delivery will fly past your ears or your ankles, you’ve got to play to save both your wicket and your limbs. You live dangerously from  one delivery to the next, flirting with failure every moment of  your stay in the crease.

 

A hostile two paced wicket with cracks combining with the furious pace of the likes of Dale Steyn or Makhaya Ntini can create that perfect storm which can be weathered only by wizardry from a watchful willow.

 

Sourav Ganguly’s match winning 87 against South Africa on a deceptive Green Park wicket in Kanpur this April should rate among the finest of Indian knocks on a snorter friendly wicket.

 

Sunil Gavaskar’s resolute 96 on an under-prepared Chinnaswamy wicket in Bangalore in 1987 against a fiery Imran Khan should qualify as the Qutub Minar of this category.  Unfortunately, India lost the match by 16 runs despite Gavaskar’s monumental effort.

 

In my book, the Taj Mahal of this category is Gundappa Vishwanath’s immortal innings of 97 (n.o.) on a dodgy Chepauk wicket against Clive Lloyd led West Indies side of 1975. Imagine a diminutive Vishwanath, playing without a helmet, caressing cannon balls from Andy Roberts to the boundary! Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi led Indian side won the Chennai test by 100 runs. It still ranks as one of the most memorable test match victories by India.

 

What makes such knocks special? The same pitch that puts the fear of God in other accomplished batsmen, transforms magically into a docile strip when an innings displaying rare skills and  great courage  gets essayed. Much like how tennis courts get wider when Roger Federer returns a volley. Or, how a golf hole becomes larger when Tiger Wood takes a swing.

 

Legend has it that no one could master (yes, no one, not even Sir Donald Bradman) a vicious pitch like Victor Trumper.  As long as there is any romanticism left in cricket, accounts of Trumper’s 1902 century (104 with 14 boundaries) scored before lunch against England at Old Trafford will be read with awe and reverence. As others perished to Bill Lockwood’s pace, Trumper’s silken strokes of sublime grace mesmerized the Manchester crowd.

 

Australia won the test by four runs. And the game of cricket won over all the plots of predictability. Since then cricket hasn’t stopped playing the game of life.

 

– Rajib Sarkar. 

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