The rut of making it through the main gates after enduring an endless wait will be forgotten, all the nudging and shoving, the grumbling and the quarrelling will give way to something more pleasant. We will all be taken to make a ride on the chariot of thrills as we see our men work in unison to topple the opponent and in all that what shall stand out is how often a left hander lobbed the ball from the center-square into our midst, how he ferociously dived to pluck it out of thin air when not lobbing it and how often he yelled in celebration, the grimace in his face born out of the vigour of youth and the ecstasy of success. They are something-those players that get to play for India. In those something, some end up being something else altogether.
The time of the Y2K syndrome marked an important event in India’s cricket, it shocked the establishment and exposed the scourge that the sport had been grappling with and crashed the system to a “factory reset” of sorts. A new captain along with his new and inspired retinue made the change palpable. The team became “Team India”- the “Men in Blue” and this was more than just a branding gimmick. Ferocity was the trait that that team brewed constantly and no more was poor fielding an accepted malaise, nor was soft batting and incoherent bowling.
That afternoon at Nairobi’s Gymkhana, a teenager was pushed up to mingle with adults- adults that indulged in all the aspects of a challenge- physical and mental. He did something that makes for a perfect script to introduce us to a new superhero. Those runs and those shots spoke of the weightlessness of youth and the absolute worthlessness of reputation. In that hurdle, we saw that the juggernaut of the cricket world- the Australian team, was pushed back to come second and was effectively proven that it wasn’t absolutely invincible. A similar story unfolded at Lord’s a couple of years later- in what could be India’s finest summers in many seasons, little known men from India’s cricketing burrows took it upon themselves to ensure her victory and that from the most hopeless of situations.
It is clichéd to ogle at a left hander batting fluently, it is mundane to write about the languid, reluctant beauty that some of them bring into the game but the sight of one that combines both is an intoxicating effect on the senses. It happened when six sixes rained down on a stunned audience in one over in Durban in the inaugural T20 world cup, it recurred in a test match at Bangalore when Pakistan seemed determined to make the Indian batting look hapless. The captain and his young lieutenant came to fore and rattled up big runs through stupendous strokeplay. Both perhaps played the best test innings of their careers. The symphony of power hitting, grace and temperament went to the summit in the world cup of 2011. There was a man fiercely determined to blow reality into the dream that the nation had been gawking at for 28 years up until then. He played an immense role in bringing that dream to accept that it had become real.
This man was unpredictable. Arguably no southpaw after the great Brian Lara looked so invincible when in control of things. He could be an artist one moment and transform into a marksman the next. He could shoot the most stunning cover drives- leaning too well into the shot or stay back and hoick- like he was doing laundry. For such great ability, he also excelled in the art of seppuku. He could get out to great shots and look picture perfect whilst playing them, he could implode- falling to self- doubt, he could ensure he looked rusty and overwhelmed. He was just too human at times. But when and how he lost and found his spark and silken touch was perhaps something even he couldn’t fathom. Let’s just rest the case by saying that he found it more often than he lost it and mostly at those times when they needed him to the most!
In the age when cable television marauded its way into India’s homes and cricket became an increasing part of diet, the poster boy of the nation’s abilities at the sport and the heartthrob of many a fan grew like all of us. From being a wide-eyed, tawny teenager to a self-assured superstar of limited overs cricket, his rise hasn’t been well documented, for he was in a team that was overflowing with legends and epitomes of perfection. He was the quintessential new-age cricketer that carried style and swagger in his kit bag. Never short of a word or two at the opposition, he gradually formulated an approach that could extract the best version of the cricketer that lay in him. His fielding began a culture of allowing the art to be respected on par with batting and bowling and his catching told us that Indians could do such stuff too. His batting was unquestionably his foremost offering as a player, but also one that never took him to where he belongs. Technique and skill ensured he was a delight to watch and his penchant for big strokes decided that he would remain an enigma for any new analyst of the game.
To look back at a career spanning nearly 18 years and to realise that he never went out of memory and thought is a tribute to his longevity and ability. The man belongs to a special category of players whose tryst with averages and other statistics is anything but perfect. The outcome is similar to that when artists are made to join an artillery regiment.
It was extremely satisfying to see Yuvraj Singh come back from near oblivion and achieve his highest 50 over score. The innings brought back memories of his batting in his heyday and how we would be subjected to a gamut of emotions in every shot he played or attempted to. His career might best be described in a graffiti- there is an indulgence, raucousness, freedom, grit and intricate somethings that we will never be able to completely dissect and understand.
On the chessboard there are kings, cavalry and soldiers, then we remember that there are princes as well. Here was one. Too great to be a soldier, too abled to be cavalry and too spirited to be the king.