Saturday, 31 December 2011

Blogito Ergo Sum - January 2012

How's That?

We decided to start the new year with an issue which would split through the covers and speed beyond the boundaries of thought.

All through last year, we kept an indulgent parental eye on the way our readers fielded our offerings.

And while random strokes of imagination were enthusiastically pursued around the green expanses of thought-scape, we found a preferred inclination to the glances towards the far pavilions.

The Far Pavilion section received most rousing hits, not surprising in that cricket and literature has often danced down the wicket together in fascinating partnerships.
Hence, as the new Edition of Scroll hits the stands  we invite you to the stands as well, to revel in the tales of flannels on the green…

After all, a spot of willow on a bit of leather is not a bad way to begin the new year.

Follow on …

Arunabha Sengupta is the co-editor of Scroll and the author of three novels, the latest being The Best Seller

Pull of Laxman

by Senantix

Lots have already been written about the sublime grace and clockwork precision with which VVS Laxman manages to take India to wins in crisis situations, more than once snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
His wizardry with the willow – often described as a sight fit for the gods – has provoked poetic plaudits even from the modern day media more prone to writing about the peripheral sound and fury rather than the game on the greens.
Hence, instead of repeating the much deserved eulogies that have flooded the print, sites and blogs with each new sparkling gem in his glittering career, I will limit my article to one solitary stroke that has, for me, demarcated him from all other stalwarts of this and other generations.

 Having matured into a cricket aficionado in the eighties, the sight of a batsman pulling a fast bowler evokes romantic images – mainly because of the pitifully limited number successful executions of the routine by Indian batsmen during my formative years of cricket watching.
Many of the top batsmen of India had eschewed the shot totally, weighing the risks it brought into the game against the probable benefits. Brought up on domestic pitches, where the most backbreaking effort of the bowler more often than not failed to bounce a new ball higher than the knee, batsmen lacked sufficient practice against high class pace to employ it with confidence and consistency.
Dilip Vengsarkar seldom played it against fast bowling during his best days, preferring to evade or defend the short balls at his body. Mohammed Azharuddin resorted to it only as an afterthought during his madcap years of the mid nineties, and for someone who wielded the bat like an artist's brush, he suddenly seemed to trade it for a sledge hammer every time he went back to cart the ball past the square leg. Both these maestros failed more often than not whenever they tried the shot on the faster, bouncier tracks overseas.
Sunil Gavaskar, famously bringing the hook back into his repertoire during his 29th century that morning twenty eight years ago at the Feroze Shah Kotla, nevertheless confessed that the pull was one stroke he never mastered. Television did not beam the famed counterattack of Mohinder Amarnath in the West Indies in 1982, but back home in India, his performance against the best fast bowlers of his day was less than ordinary to put it very mildly.
Among the lesser luminaries with the bat, Kapil Dev did execute a Nataraja shot in which the bat scythed across the body, but, effective and exciting in an agricultural way, it was not exactly a sight for sore cricket loving eyes. Krish Sirkkanth did have a peculiar pull shot of his own, but as his averages of 30 in test cricket and 29 in ODIs testify, seldom was he too long at the wicket to play the stroke with regularity. Probably the only time his pull brought forth success was when he holed out off Imran Khan in the Sialkot test in Pakistan, 1989, thus denying Wasim Akram the distinction of getting his wicket on every occasion during the test series. Akram, however, had both his hands in the dismissal as he took the catch at long leg. Ravi Shastri and Navjot Sidhu were too stiff around the lower back to swivel around and pull a super fast delivery. For all their six hitting ability off slower men, their scoring became distinctly slower and painstaking whenever the balls became faster and shorter.
With the coming of the nineties, the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar walked in and stamped his mark on all departments of the game, including the pull. Even as the expert in Sunil Gavaskar harped on his lack of inches which made it difficult for him to keep a pull on the ground, we were exposed to the thrills as he played the shot again and again, against every mighty fast bowler and with disdain. Yes, many a masterpiece in the making or on the way to becoming an opus were cut short by the stroke –his 88 in Napier,122 in Birmingham,169 in Capetown and 155 in Bloemfontein are the ones in immediate memory. But, the discerning never complained of his dying by the sword, having been witness to the delightful heaven of his living by it. Versatile as he was, while his straight drives were just about gloriously timed pushes, delectable and effortless, his pulls were violent and merciless, executed with powerful disdain for the fast and famous bowlers around the world. As Andy Caddick will remember forever, they could travel far.
Then came Rahul Dravid, a master technician, who went about playing every stroke with the approved stamp of the MCC Coaching manual. In his pull, as with every other stroke of his, he looked unhurried, composed and infallible, as the Wall which has been his alias ever since. Here was the first Indian batsman who could pull fast bowlers on pacy, green foreign wickets without allowing for the slightest risk that generally creep in even for the best masters of the stroke. This was in sharp contrast to his fellow debutant Sourav Ganguly, a peerless stroke-maker on the offside, whose pull off fast bowlers was often an act of futile self defence, eyes closed, bat held at a periscopic angle, with frequent, fatal and flimsy results. Dravid's pull had an elegant efficiency about it, which was the hallmark of his entire game. The ferocity associated with the stroke was eliminated as was the uncertainty.
Virender Sehwag, with the bludgeon of a bat, prefers to cart the short balls in the region between extra cover and thirdman. While initially he suffered some discomfort with the balls aimed at his body, he has developed a pull, which like most of his other shots, is belligerent and fierce, but the audacity and confidence while he plays it does not quite match the rest of his strokes around the wicket.
Enter VVS Laxman. Styled in the Hyderabadi gharana of wristy willow wizardry, stepping into the large shoes of Mohammad Azharuddin, he shuttled up and down the order for a few years, but soon outgrew the illustrious footwear. The world sat up to take notice of someone who had bettered the esoteric template he was built on. While possessing every bit of the silky elegance of the wrist on the onside, he was distinctly more assured than Azhar through the covers and could play the same ball to mid wicket or extra cover based on the whims of his will and wrists. At the same time, on faster wickets, he outshone the earlier artist almost to the extent that the sun outshines pretentious street lamps.
A significant reason for his success overseas was that while Azhar negotiated the short balls with a jump and a duck or a cross batted swipe more reliant on luck and wager than timing and placement, VVS Laxman did have an impeccable pull shot which kept the fastest bowlers from pitching too short too often. Even when India was bundled out for 83 at Bridgetown while chasing 120 for a win in 1997 and Laxman was still going through the phase of floating up and down the batting order, a languid short arm pull off Ambrose remains etched in the memory as he top scored with 15 while opening on that treacherous wicket.
While the pull embodies exuberant energy in the case of Sachin, elegant efficiency in the case of Dravid, in Laxman's case curiously it is an extension of the exquisite artistry in all his other shots. Timing and wristwork all the way.
When Laxman essays a pull shot off the fastest bowlers, there is none of the savagery associated with a bludgeon by a Mathew Hayden or an Adam Gilchrist or the arrogant ferocity of a Ricky Ponting. The body moves into position with the customary lazy elegance and the stroke is as wristy as his flick through the mid wicket – and as effective and devoid of risk.
In the 2010 Mohali test against the Aussies when he famously won it for India by one wicket, the transcendental brilliance of the stroke was in evidence. During the later stages of the innings when he was batting with Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha, with the field allowing singles, fielders placed on the furthest ropes, he kept taking twos with élan, using those malleable wrists to place the ball at will, just a wee bit on either side of the men in the outfield. With two people on the mid wicket fence to cut off his celebrated flicks off the pad, Hilfenhaus pitched short. Laxman laid back and rolled those wizard wrists over the ball, placing it with impeccable precision between the two deep fielders, the patrolmen almost running into each other as the ball mocked them, slipping through undeterred into the fence. It was a masterly demonstration of an unreal mix of artistry and efficiency in the face of utmost pressure.
People often wonder how he manages to turn out these poetic yet potent offerings in the face of peril. Some have compared his rescue acts to symphonies conducted with ambulance sirens in the background. However, I don’t think that it is strange. The most poignant of art, we must remember, comes from the dark pits of distress. We often see this same very, very special soul struggling for self expression when the going is smooth and there are lots of runs on the board as he walks into bat. On these occasions, he drops his paintbrush for the more austere workman's tools and sometimes looks like a fish out of water. It is only when the stakes are raised to tipping point and the opposition places demanding challenges for his creative batter's mind that he is motivated into mystical brilliance, a sight fit for gods.
One thing that probably works for him in his rearguard actions is that it is very difficult to set a field for him to limit his scoring or even keep them down to a single. Those wrists can always find the gap in the most crowded of fields. And while people like Sachin Tendulkar are wont to back their big hitting ability to try and aim for the maximum when the batsmen at the other end are busy taking part in a relay race from and back to the pavilion – something that brought about his demise in the heartbreaking so near yet so far affair in Chennai against Pakistan in 1999 – VVS Laxman, with all his genius, knows the limitations which keep him from clearing the fence too often. Even when six runs are needed with the last man in, there is no desperate attempt to aim for the stands. Unlimited in versatile artistry, he is fully aware of the boundaries of his calibre which has limited his over-boundaries to five in all test matches. In fact, the only occasions when Laxman looks ungainly at the wicket are when he tries cross batted cow shots.
However, genius is rare. There will hardly be another 281 in a lifetime. And Laxman may not hit another six in his career. Even then, let me recount one of these rare occasions which stick to the memory. There are strokes that a cricket lover cannot forget. The straight drive of Sachin Tendulkar off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup face off. The pull of Brian Lara, with an almost vertical bat, two feet off the ground. And that moment of mesmerising magic by Laxman.
It was a short innings of 32, made from 30 balls, a miniature masterpiece if there ever was one, on the fast and furious Bloemfontein wicket against Pollock, Hayward, Ntini, Klusener and Kallis. In the 9th over, with India at 17 for one, Pollock ran in and bounced. Laxman, with a seeming eternity in his hands, swivelled, languid and lissom, and dismissed the ball off his face. It was a cross batted stroke off a short ball, experts undecided whether to call a hook or a pull. Almost a cross batted counterpart of a Tendulkar defensive push which often blazes away to the fence. The effort was minimal, the fuss non-existent, the batsman's eyes hardly followed the ball once it had been removed from his presence. The red cherry sailed all the way, over the boundary board behind square leg and into the crowd. A short ball by one of the fastest men in business almost lovingly caressed away for a six. A contradiction in terms?
But it is precisely this distinction that makes Laxman the very, very special magician that he is, a conjurer who can brighten the drabbest of days with a wave of his willow wand, an artist who carves masterpieces on the canvas of a green oval with beatific brushes of his bat.

A Nation Walks with Sachin

by Senantix

It began when I started sneaking surreptitiously out of the strict confines of a Roman Catholic institution – to follow the exploits of a fellow schoolboy whose blazing trail had just been sparked off in neighbouring Pakistan.
More than a couple of decades later, the trail continues to blaze along pristine paths where no mortal has treaded before.
Now, as a supposedly responsible manager, I creep behind the forbiddingly workmanlike windows with a careful ALT+TAB, and peep at his continuing saga of success on the pages of the cricket web sites. While he sustains the insatiable appetite to score more and more, I retain the childish craving to break the rules and follow his awe-inspiring achievements. The ageless wonder has also managed to keep me mentally young.

The tale of Tendulkar has for long been intertwined with the story of the young Indian growing up in the eighties and nineties. His meteoric rise in the late eighties and early nineties was an unusually brilliant representative of the spark of genius which shone on painfully rare occasions in the field of Indian sports and games, rising from the shadows of despondence that defined the arena of a developing nation. But, even as a country battled with the remnants of bureaucracy, the adamant refusal to embrace computerisation and open economy, and chugged along with drastically dated information about the world, a teenager showed that change was around the corner. It was reflected in the audacity with which he stroked the ball, throwing caution and the baggage of the past to the winds, carving the revered Abdul Qadir for consecutive sixes, hitting the knighted Richard Hadlee inside out over the covers, taking on the might of the Aussie pace bowlers at the fast, furious Perth while established pillars of batting crumbled around him like bits of brittle bread. Impossibility was just about to be redefined, limits re-laid.

With the coming of globalisation, slowly but surely, India emerged as a force to reckon with on the global map. Along with the newfound confidence of being a player in the world in her own right, Team India too underwent a metamorphosis. The 27 for two specialist of the side no longer had the enormous responsibility of carrying the entire burden of batting on his shoulders. He was no more forced to ensure that India qualified for the finals at Sharjah before proceeding to loft those sixes off Kasprowicz and Fleming to try for an impossible win, bearing the brunt of the media if his single handed attempt at the impossible did not come off.

There matured a Wall to secure the innings, a very, very special artist to paint it in peerless patterns, a big brother to stand up against the bullies of the world and a nuke from Najafgarh to blast opposition attacks to smithereens. Sachin evolved from the one who specialised in fighting losing battles, the engineer of ephemeral dreams, to the quintessential torchbearer who could plant the flag of the nation on the highest pinnacles. In boom time India, Sachin was that extra yard, that final frontier, that elusive peak which the Indian woke up to realise was within his grasp. The country no longer followed the crumbs dropped along the way by the Hansel and Gretel of the West, it cut furrows where no other nation dared to venture. It was this boy who had by now grown into a man who taught the nation how to.  Taught them to live in the way he went about scoring runs.

Through his straight drive, one was taught the art of persuasion, the ball coaxed to the fence with the minimum of forceful negotiations. In his paddle sweep was the schoolboy who continued to live, finding cheeky non-existent gaps in patrolled confines to sneak out of the restricting oval into the forbidden boundary. In his upper cuts one came across real innovation, the new Indian who knew to take risks that amounted to audacious calculations. And his pull spoke of colossal confidence in self that defined the emerging superpower.

And now, one less than100 centuries and 33000 runs later, he still goes on and on. Passage of time has probably rounded those rough edges of excitement that used to accompany every foray into the middle. The fractional fraying of the hand eye coordination has probably curbed the fearless arrogance of stroke-play, now passed on to the more than capable hands of Virender Sehwag. But, for each small diminution of the treasure-store of ability, there have been replenishing pearls and diamonds from the many splendored vaults of experience. Time's erosion has been replaced and secured with timeless foundation. Having shown the way to take on the world, he is now the wise general who knows the virtue of consolidation, of accumulation. He has never looked so invulnerable, so impregnable ever in his lustrous career.

He is now the Bhishma Pitamaha of Indian cricket, who cannot retire until the last sling and arrow of fortune is shot in the war that he had started waging decades earlier. Be it regaining the number one slot in Test Cricket, a series victory in Australia or whatever it is that seems to him eligible to be that final feather in his congested crown, he continues to battle on. The one who has perfected his batting to resemble the benchmark of the Don, has perhaps the last personal frontier to conquer.

While Sachin Tendulkar has without doubt been the crowning achievement of the sport of cricket and the rejuvenated nation of India, what follows in the wake of his gargantuan glory brings to light the ancient Upanishadic teaching – everything positive comes with its own inbuilt negative.
There are hordes of so called followers of cricket in our very nation who lift their hind quarters to pee their quaint peeves on the monumental achievements of the man. These consist of the self proclaimed defendants of the society who try to hide their irrational envy behind righteous indignation at a man making money for his phenomenal contributions; the zonal yellow journalists, with a flair for statistical ignorance, who try to cut down each and every exploit of the remarkable cricketer with reasons and ratios that redefine ridiculous; armchair metaphysical scholars who vociferously object at a mortal man being given the sobriquet of 'god' by his following. A most pathological bunch of losers if there ever was any. If the master symbolises the height of Indian achievements in the past couple of decades, these callous critics probably underline all that is wrong with the nation, bringing alive the celebrated history of colonial divide and rule, the propensity to wallow in the muck of one's own making, of being satisfied with glorified mediocrity.

However, the collective contamination of these social stinkers can do little to tarnish the halo that has been the result of two decades of resplendent brilliance, etched with one hundred glittering gemstones. Whatever is the final goal, I await it with an amalgam of hope and trepidation. While nothing would be dearer to me than this giant of a little man to conquer whatever peak he sets sights on, summits the less of ability can hardly make out with the naked eye, a part of me dreads the day when he will make his way to the pavilion for the last time.

I have not known adult life without Sachin Tendulkar at the crease. Without the little man walking out at two drop for India, a whole generation of Indians will start walking alone.

I like whatever is posted on the Wall

by Senantix

From the days when she managed to shower the enigmatic Avatar with 108 distinct names, India has patented an ingenious manner to bestow monikers. Sobriquets and epithets somehow emerge in public consciousness, grow in popularity and then uniquely identify the more famous children of the nation – specifically that characteristic of the hero that captures the masses. Most often, these nicknames are of uncertain origin but overwhelming consensus, to the extent that birth certificates and telephone directories aside, the popular title becomes more definite an identifier than the original christening.
Mahatma evokes images of the “Father of the Nation” – irrespective of whether one swears by unbendable Gandhian principles or belongs to the neo-urban generation of Bapu bashers. Universal reverence enabled Bal Gangadhar Tilak to turn Lokmanya, and leadership qualities at two extreme ends of the nation made two noble names transform into Sardar and Netaji.
The phenomenon is not limited to the field of freedom fighters. In literature, Rabindranath Tagore was presented with the mantle of Kobiguru, and in spite of being much younger than the venerable heads of politburo in his state, only one left-hander ended up as the true dada.
Among all these saluting sobriquets, one rises up distinctly different from others. 'The Wall' is a name that sits immovable on the best-ever one down batsman to have ever played for the country. The word Dravidian has taken on a new meaning in the last decade and a half – moving away from the ancient origins of a civilisation as old as time, across the geographical expanse of the southern parts of India and now denotes the broad blade which has for years thwarted the most diabolic of deliveries. Additionally, 'The Wall' has taken flight from the psychedelic cover art of Pink Floyd audio cassettes and CDs to take guard on the cricket field as a safe citadel of the coveted wicket.
In keeping with the tradition of Indian epithets, the nick characterises what the country has come to identify with Rahul Dravid. Immovable, impregnable stolidity …  unperturbed shield of courage, defending the nation from every invading foreign force and weaponry year after year after year. It is definitely the popular image of the man who has batted on and on for the last fourteen years.
Yet, I find it distinct from the other nicknames discussed above.

At the risk of shooting myself in the foot by firing off an elitist versus mass argument, I will argue that the primary reason for this is that, unlike the rest, it is an English moniker.
The argument that this is because cricket is an English pastime, elitist among the Indian playing fields, is dated. Since 1983, it has transformed into an Indian game which by some quirk of fate was accidentally invented by the English. And in spite of globalisation and the internet infestation of the country, the mass appeal for the sport in the remotest corners of the country is unparalleled. The aam admi still has a great voice when it comes to popular icons. Sachin Tendulkar, with his universal appeal, is still lovingly calledTendlya. Ganguly is not the Big Brother but dada. Virender Sehwag is not a blitzkrieg or a double O seven, but goes by the regal and regional Najafgarh ka Nawab. Compared to these, ‘The Wall’ is a substantial urban leap. English epithets are not unknown, but in order to capture popular imagination they have for ever been restricted to the striking and limited imageries found in 'Tiger' Pataudi or the ‘Rawalpindi Express'. The sophistication and stretch of the nickname Wall has a lot to convey, not only about Rahul Dravid's skills at keeping his wicket intact, but also about the essential attractions of his game and the nature of his followers.

If Tendulkar is endowed with the allure of an epic poem that enthrals, edifies and educates, VVS Laxman a brilliant collection of sonnets that are lyrical and lilting,  Sehwag a masterpiece which reads like a fast-paced thriller, Ganguly a popular novel filled in equal measures with pieces of beauty and unreadable pulp, Dravid is akin to an elegant exposition of mathematical arguments or grammatical structures, timeless in significance, enjoyable to few but the absolute connoisseurs of the subject.
His game is too perfect, too correct, too neat to have endless popular appeal. Based too much on technical precision rather than the heady natural talent that Indians have forever been used to worship. The elegant and academic beauty of a perfect forward defensive push, the logical extension of the same into an impeccable drive through the covers, the scientifically accurate moment of connection to send the ball between mid on and the bowler, the productive yet flash free square cut, even the traditional strokes of adrenaline enhancing adventure – the pull, hook and sweep – played with copybook correctness and minimum of risk … the masses are not swayed by such perfection.

After 10,000 runs in One-Day Internationals, after a stupendous 92 off 63 balls a few weeks earlier, after only a handful of very recent failures, he was dropped from the limited-overs side in a curious decision. However, there was no effigy of Dilip Vengsarkar going around in flames. No demonstrations were held across the streets of Bangalore. Petitions floated to re-include him in the team had to make do with a few signatures.
Contrast this with the reaction to the dropping of Ganguly in 2006, after the southpaw had averaged in the mid-30s for over a period of five years and 50-plus Test matches, a comfortable 20 runs per innings behind his celebrated middle-order companions. Indian masses love a flawed talent – whose vulnerability and emotions are almost palpable enough to touch. Resolute perfection, with a face as readable as that of the most seasoned poker player, is not something that equates with the popular image of a hero. The very same reason why subtlety in Bollywood movies is circumspect by its absence, but for rare ventures of brilliance, mostly crafted for the intellectual elites and later a section of the multiplex crowd.
However, that is not to imply that Dravid's phenomenal achievements with the bat have not won him a fan following.

After he was dropped from the ODI side in 2007 and was busy ignoring journalists to make a double hundred for Karnataka, Cricinfo was loaded with visitors numerous enough to become inaccessible to slower browsers – a rarity for domestic cricket. Well articulated and concisely argued articles in newspapers, magazines, website and blogs spoke eloquently against what seemed to many to be the gravest of injustice. The responses were sophisticated, rational and – to use a dubious term for the country – parliamentary. Every time his name comes up in discussions, there are advocates of his greatness who voice their opinions with reason, but generally steer clear of foul mouthed abusive exchange so frequent in the internet message boards of our passionate country. Even when I have received numerous requests to write about ‘The Wall’, all of suggestions have been polite and  measured … not really characteristics we identify with the common Indian fan who runs around wrapped in the tricolour, burns effigies and sits in busy traffic intersections to protest against some slight to his hero.
Dravid is appreciated by a distinct category of fans, that group of devotees who marvel at technical perfection, to whom concentration and application that goes behind a superbly negotiated late in-swinging delivery with the score reading four for one hold more value and merit than a hastily-slogged six in the cow corner. There tends to be a marked social correlation between the admirers of the straight batted defensive stroke and the ones who would be rather seen dead than in the streets burning effigies. This is the same group who would actually appreciate the now famed urban nickname – ‘The Wall’.

But, even though ‘The Wall’ is how the populace thinks of him, is it enough to characterise all the facets of the maestro's batting?

I beg to differ. Even to the most clamouring and irrational modern cricket 'fan', it is clear that Dravid is the greatest match-winning batsman of recent times – till the advent of the rejuvenated Tendulkar. He averaged 102.84 while scoring over 2500 runs in the 21 matches won during the Sourav Ganguly era. This is simply not possible with a purely defensive technique. What we casually overlook while focusing on his impregnable defence is that he is perhaps the first Indian batsman to possess every stroke around the wicket with equal amount of risk eliminated perfection. The revenue more than speaks for his versatility in scoring all over The Oval. At the same time, he has also scored some of the faster fifties in ODIs. So, what gives the impression of one dimensional defensive technique?

The explanation is that while batting for the country the excessive element of determination and focus to hold on to his precious wicket makes him avoid the slightest of risk in his strokes, making him eschew adventurous endeavours that he is more than capable of undertaking. Except for the occasional square cut off the front foot, he does not show the slightest inclination towards unorthodoxy in Test cricket.

In matches of lesser importance – first-class games for his state, domestic limited-over showdowns – I have seen him clout the ball over the ropes with élan, giving a free flowing expression to his batsmanship that he seldom indulges in at the highest level. I remember his four sixes in a fourth innings Irani Trophy hundred when he and Laxman sealed a win against a fighting Mumbai.
I remember him stepping out and clouting Sourasish Lahiri onto the remote tiers of the stands in a Challenger Trophy encounter. He is more than capable of attractive hitting and once in a while comes out with the full array of his strokeplay.
He once straight drove Alan Donald for six in a ODI in Durban, a most extraordinary and surprisingly unanalysed stroke. A straight batted pull in his third Test match during an explosive 40 against Australia still remain fondly remembered.
But, ever since he was given the role of the No 3 in Test matches, he put a severe price on his wicket, allowing the beauty of his batsmanship to shine through technical perfection and results.
That is not to say that he is selfish in his approach. One can find few examples of a batsman losing his wicket trying a reverse sweep when on 270. Few middle-order maestros have taken up the challenge and opened the innings while captaining the side – fewer have carried their bats while doing that. But, with there seldom being an opening combination that got going on a regular basis before the Delhi duo of Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, he gave the impression of being that ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ at the top of the middle-order that people will remember him as that ‘Great Wall of India’.
During the last few seasons, critics increasingly tended to notice chinks and crevices in the brickwork that presage winds of change blowing into the dressing room. However, something formed over years, brick by brick, takes a long while to be dismantled. A dream run in an otherwise disastrous Indian tour of England reassured even the most resolute sceptic that the repair work had been carried out with the same scientific precision that characterises the man's approach to the game. The fortress had regained the security of old and, if anything, the stamp and seal of mastery had become more permanent.
As he piles up the runs against a hapless West Indies, it fortifies my already strong conviction that he has a lot of impeccable cricket left in him, and when it is time, he will know it before anyone else. ‘The Wall’ will depart without crumbling, with the same amount of dignity with which he has played the game and conducted himself in public eye.
Till then I can say with conviction that I 'like' everything that has been posted on this Wall for the last one and a half decades.

Beyond Boundaries of Cricket and Science

by Senantix

By the time Virender Sehwag’s bazooka of a bat had blasted and blitzkrieged its way to the world record score of 219, the reaction of many a keen follower was not ‘wow’ but ‘at last’.

The Nuke of Najafgarh had for long been considered the chosen one for such a feat. He had himself mentioned a One-Day International (OD) double hundred as a primary target as long back as 2004. It is just one more idiosyncrasy of his logic contradicting career that while his explosive batsmanship had piled up enormous hundreds, double hundreds and triple hundreds in Test cricket, the inevitable ODI double hundred had remained elusive. It was quite expected that he would get it in due course of time. For someone with more than 8000 runs in ODIs at a strike rate of 104, it just boils down to staying long enough at the wicket on one good day.

And although he now stands with the unique distinction of holding the record for the highest score in both the major forms of the game for his country, it does not strike one as surprising. I will not be surprised even if he scores a 450 or a 500 in Tests and 250 in ODIs. Limits – of belief or science – just does not exist for this man. It is that very characteristic which defines him – one not chained by the cluttering conventions of regular thought.

Traditionally Test cricket used to have a standard rate of scoring. Sehwag walked in and blasted it past the boundaries of imagination. When he gets going – which is often, he scores at the speed of thought, sometimes even faster. Physicists subscribing to the limiting boundaries of the speed of light can blink once in disbelief and end up missing an entire Sehwag masterpiece.

For this man, no rule – cricketing or scientific – holds good. He is not constrained by the accepted barriers that have faced great batsmen from time immemorial. As if in accordance to the teachings of the ancient Zen masters, he goes about his business after emptying his cup of knowledge, with an unfettered and uncluttered mind. He gets to know about the limits of his trade only after crossing them fourfold!

The one hundred and thirty four year history of Test cricket and the laws of science would combine to decree a strike rate of 82 as impossible for an opening batsman, if he averages 50+ as well across 92 Tests. Yet, Sehwag manages all that even as his career runs is just shy of 8000. The aggregate and strike rate combination in ODIs would also hint at the miraculous. To Sehwag it is just what he does.

The MCC Coaching Manual will hardly deem fine third man an area for scoring runs, let alone finding the fence with regularity. Yet, Sehwag does so, and often crosses the boundary on the full as a part of his regular day job. If the ball can be hit there, he will hit it. At the same time, one won’t find him scooping the ball Brendon McCullum style into the V behind the wicket, ending up rolling about in the crease. If Sehwag attempts something, the approach is always simple – like the most elegant of proofs of a theorem not known before.

Conventional cricketing wisdom says that if a team scores nearly four hundred in the first innings of a Test match, the side batting second has to be conservative and defensive early on. However, Sehwag showed that by the end of the second day, he could be 283 not out in two sessions and the first team could be looking down the barrel. Many phenomenal international cricketers would not have had a go at this and similar impossibilities because of common cricketing sense. Sehwag is blissfully free from the tentacles of such stifling sagacity.

There are greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who have built their monumental achievements by letting colossal talent and dedication work on cricket’s acknowledged foundations. A Tendulkar and a Laxman can play strokes beyond the orbit of the ordinary by extending the peripheries of the cricket manuals with their far reaching brilliance. A Dravid can purify and refine the same manuals in the burning fire of the active-meditation he performs at the wicket. Sehwag however glances at the manual from time to time for reference, and prefers to have his own approach, almost spiritual in its innocent detachment from convention, mixed with the empirical clarity of his own alternative science.

The results cannot be disputed. He averages more than Sunny Gavaskar did as an opener, while scoring at twice his rate in Test cricket. By all laws of logic, that should have been a monumental impossibility. Not to Sehwag. He just goes there and does it.

Two triple centuries and once tantalisingly close to a third, huge hundreds and double hundreds, and now this 219 in a One-Day International, these form ample evidence that whatever alternative manual of cricket he has written for himself can work just as well or even better than the more traditional ones.

His approach to playing fast bowling at the beginning of an innings is an indication. Critics point out that he does not move his feet – the first lesson taught by orthodox coaches. Geoff Boycott reckoned that the degree to which a batsman’s feet move early in the innings demonstrated his form. His world was grabbed by the collar and turned upside down by the advent of Virender Sehwag on the scene. While analysing one of Sehwag’s strokes, the Yorkshireman confessed that he transcends traditional technique. Sehwag had just driven a fast bowler back down the ground, his feet as usual rooted to his crease. The slow motion autopsy carried out by the panel of experts revealed that if the left foot had come down the track as per the text books, the ball would have thudded into the pad without sufficient time for the bat to come around the front foot. By not moving his feet, Sehwag had actually managed to avoid being leg before wicket and had also managed to pick up a few runs down the ground.

But, at the same time, he does not discard the rulebook totally. When spinners are in operation, his footwork is as fast and nimble as the best in business.

Herein, perhaps, Sehwag unveils the new face of Indian batting. While Tendulkar and Dravid beat the world by playing the game by the rules, Sehwag has transitioned to the next level where he makes his own rules. And by extension, he traces his own limits – and has a habit of going beyond them.
Questions have already been asked about the invincibility of this new record. Chris Gayle, Shane Watson … who is most likely to break it?

My hunch is that the one to better it will be Sehwag himself. For 62 years, Indians had been living on the other side of a Test match 300. In the last seven years, Virender Sehwag has gone beyond it twice, first in Multan and then breaking his own record in Chennai, and came seven close to achieving the feat a third time. There is no reason why he should not do the same in ODIs. He has the same penchant for crossing and leaping over boundaries as his famed upper cuts. It is this lack of inhibition that produces the audacious edge to his batting that keeps us expecting the unexpected every time he takes guard.