Thursday, July 27, 2017

A monk, a mild hurricane and a tormented island

Looks can be deceptive as well as trans-formative. That swirling mustache was not there. The thigh-thumping macho man looked a monk as he walked in. That swagger was there though. The dead-straight drives, rasping square cuts, piercing drives on both sides, crispy late cuts, and as the ball got older - all that can be branded as a sweep – the gentle taps and the lone scoop behind the keeper to the parabolas between fine leg and mid-wicket. They were all there. To treasure. 

Clinging to the tip of the Indian Ocean in this Tear Drop Island, Fort Galle was hit by a mild hurricane - that brought not the rains but runs, 190 to be precise. And pure joy that comes from watching breathtaking batting. The timing was closing in on the absolute. Till he tried to smack the daylight out of the park, strangely, even before tea. 

Any opening day of the first test match in a series can be a nervous affair. It is very natural. May be not if you open for the number one test side in the world. To think of it, he was not even supposed to be there. Shikar Dhawan was in Hongkong when he got the call. The two regular test openers – Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul – could not overcome injuries in time to be there for the first test. 

His love for batting in English conditions could not have given India a successive Champions Trophy. It though did guarantee Shikar another go at the Sri Lankan attack, depleted and hemorrhaging, at Galle on a dead pitch, where he scored his previous test century two years ago. 

This was a different Dhawan. Totally refreshing. Playing with a straight bat from ball one and looking for singles every time he dabbed it. At the other end was Abhinav Mukund, who seems to have lost it at the international level. Nicking another one behind of Nuwan Pradeep. The only bowler to pick up wickets. All three to fall on day one. Instead of trying Mukunds, Captain Kolhi and his boss or is it his protégé, Shastri could well pick a youngster like Rishab Pant for the future. 

Cricket needs innovation. Lack of it can be abhorring. And we lack it absolutely. For we haven’t tested Rohit Sharma as an opener in test cricket and it is unfortunate that no one has ever thought a batsman with two double hundreds in 50 overs can be capable of a four hundred, if not a five hundred, over five days. Not even Kohli who delights in Rohit’s batting. Every Time. All The Time. 
Now is the time. The chance to conquer the world is not far. For, cricket is such a joy. Not always associated with trophies. The women in blue just told the nation this secret. 

Innovation breeds the raw and young. To take the attack straight to the opponent. The Kohli Way. Or as on Wednesday, the Shikar way as he toyed with the Lankans’ limited attack. The only presumed threat was the captain, the ever-steady Herath. Shikar never allowed him or the other spinner, the offie Dilruwan to settle down to a length or line. He was dancing down all the time to find the narrowest gaps between cover and mid-off. He was finding the fence with a regularity till he reached the century, shortly after lunch, and his second at the same ground. 

It was in the post lunch session that he unfurled all the soft thunderous sounds and murmurs a cricket bat can make to unleash the mild hurricane that uprooted the island’s hopes of weathering an Indian storm early in an unusual autumn. 

From a 100 of 112 balls, he went to 190 of 165 balls. He hit 31 boundaries. Roughly, ten sweeps, ten in the V and ten square of the wicket. On and Off. To his highest test score. Sometimes, batting is so classy that we are tempted to think its way too easy. It is not. He did not celebrate on reaching the milestones. He only let his bat bow in gentle nods, in appreciation. Of the art, it is capable of. 

By the time the sun set gloriously over the Indian Ocean, India was one run short of 400. Walking back to the dressing room was another Indian. Pujara - the most unheralded cricketer the nation will ever come across. Only the good ‘old blokes, and the brand new willows, know his value. He is not enterprising or entertaining. In fact, he may seem a bit awkward if you compare his batting with the modern manual of stroke play. 

He doesn’t compare. We though can take the liberty of comparing the beards of Indian cricketers. Everybody loves a good beard these days. And his beard, along with his willow, seemed to have grown thicker, primed in the English summer. In South Asia, he is the best. The batter par excellence. But he likes to keep it simple. Stay behind the ball. Every ball. And play it as it deserves. Like the salty air that drifts through the stadium hugging the ancient fort and a grey ocean, he rubs on the bowlers and gets through their skin with his penchant for patience and dogmatic spirit. A quintessential test batsman. 

On Thursday, he will walk back to the pitch he labours on so much. He is very unlike a monk. He is full of desire. For runs. He lusts. And labours. For every run. Especially, if it is lifeless. Like the Galle strip. He never gets tired. Even if hit by a mild hurricane from the other end. 

The only blip of the day for the visitors was captain Kohli. He is in such a fine form that he was not aware of the ball top edging on its way to the keeper’s gloves when he tried to hook with his eyes closed. The DRS showed the faintest of bye-bye kisses. He can learn a lesson or two from his deputy who is still there. In the middle. All rustic. And as if allergic to home conditions where he was condemned for eternity till sanity prevailed one day. 

Still searching, Sri Lanka will have to find its successors to the batting legends who hung up their gentlemanly boots a couple of autumns ago. The One, Asela Gunawardane, who won T20 series against the mighty Oz and who a week ago saved them from public disgrace against Zimbabwe in the last test, is out in Colombo with a broken thumb after dropping Shikar early in the day. 

Lanka needs a few more. Ad hoc, at least.

Stories From The Soul Town

There lies a magical land. Surrounded by the green ghats to the west, gurgling great rivers on the east, the valley with the very blue sky. A temple town of the tamils. Sitting on the dancing rock on the highland overlooking the valley, the writer procreates the lives of the people of this lesser known south west. Full of strange yet simple souls.