Posts Tagged ‘Brian Lara’

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

It probably isn’t unfair to say that the berth atop the ICC Test Rankings, historically, hasn’t been a paradise for teams that have scaled it. Idealists would find it easy to argue that the current and former number one teams have had questionable, if not in entirety, rises to the top – England’s failure in the sub-continent, and India’s predominantly home-series wins adding alibi to their theories.

English fans, now, find themselves being stopped short of being wildly idealistic. What seems profound here is that despite victories (and draws) against tough overseas opponents on foreign soil (barring their quest in the sub-continent), England finds itself basked amidst vicissitudes of press coverage stating ‘too much cricket’ as an excuse for their exponential dip in form in the ongoing series against the Proteas. Isn’t this true for almost the entire set of test playing nations, or at least the top six nations?

World records may not hold great importance if it doesn’t help achieve a significant team result. © BBC

True, just like how the blackout in Northern India has highlighted our dependence on diesel, there have been enough presumptions with regard to England’s dependency on seam-friendly tracks. It wasn’t too long ago in the timeline when the English selectors (rather Andy Flower) had a pleasant headache over the pace bowlers they needed to leave out of an eleven being fielded. Even KP’s antics did little to overshadow the confidence that they had built as a test unit under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.

But, isn’t it common these days to witness sparse differences in standards between teams (or if we extend this to organizations in general) vying for pole position? It is healthy, as a fan, to witness intense battles between teams that look not only strong on paper, but have the firepower to back it up on the field.

A nascent advantage of the billions of cash reserves in the Middle East has been the creation of stronger clubs (through foreign ownership) to compete against the cliché of names one usually comes across in the European leagues. Chelsea, for one, given how they’d been a dominant force not too long ago under the billions of Roman and reign of Mourinho, finished sixth last season – it wasn’t ‘too much football’, but stronger competitors.

Fortunately, cricket is witnessing the same. Just to drift slightly off here – as much as I’d love to call the current New Zealand team a touch below par, the resurgence of West Indies (too early to say?), owing to the return of Chris Gayle at the top of the order, has been a welcome sight to most of us.

In paper, they may hardly seem like teams being overworked. Chris Gayle, players competing in the IPL, WICB issues have, in the past, camouflaged substantial on-field press coverage (barring the Ramdin ‘paperwork’ during the series against England). The change in tutorship at New Zealand has received a little more space than an obituary in newspapers here. But they’re competing all right.

Coming back to the perennial issue highlighted earlier – packed calendars don’t help. Agreed. Much has been written in the footballing circles about how players get jaded after a long season (domestic, league, continental competitions adding to the toll) followed by international commitments. And by the time they’re done with it, the new season beckons – it isn’t uncommon to see players who’ve undergone the wrath of such schedules sit out of contention for the best part of August.

Cricket is equally, if not more, demanding in terms of fitness (probably more mental owing to the long stretches of tours away from home). Unlike football (and I’m sure football purists would disagree here), there’s very little space for error in the game of cricket – a lapse of concentration could cost a batsman his wicket, a fielder a catch and a bowler a wayward  line/length. Add to all this media hype and expectations (something which I believe dearly affects teams like England  and India, more than other teams around) – the end result is a volatile cocktail.

So, have teams at the top been victims of everything (and everyone) but themselves? It is as much about hype and expectations, as it is about packed schedules. The modern day sportsman is trained (through a combination of well-structured training programs catering to the mental aspects of sport) to cope with expectations of a nation, and the glaring eyes of the world.

But few cross the line that differentiates the best from the rest. A double hundred in a dead-rubber test on a flat wicket deserves to be dwarfed to insignificance when compared to a half century on a trying wicket that saves a test. Only when the cricketing community starts setting such standards and yardsticks, will we see the crop of players rise up and deliver.

Let me recall an interesting anecdote I heard from a source (this isn’t fiction) regarding Don Bradman’s reaction, when quizzed by an Australian journalist, after Brian Charles Lara had scored a record breaking 375 against the touring Englishmen in Antigua. The Don, apparently, had replied ‘Okay’.

Assuming that age had caught up with the Don, the journalist repeated his question (understandably more pronounced) to get the entirety of the message across. The Don, once again, without batting an eyelid, replied ‘Okay’  When quizzed further, The Don had said: ‘On a flat wicket, against a scrawny bowling attack in a Test which wasn’t heading towards a result, what more can I say?’

The journalist decided to pose his question thus: ‘Sir, how much do you reckon you’d have scored had you been in this situation?’. The Don thought for a while and said ‘Maybe 260 … or 270.’ Presuming that age had taken a toll on his thinking, the journalist asked ‘Sir, but he scored 375. You’re saying you’d have 260. And you’re not rating his knock too.’

To which The Great Man replied: ‘I’m 85, he’s just a 23 year old kid.’

Maybe, that is what greatness is about.

Goutham Chakravarthi

Greatness in sport is a strange thing. It has no cut out definition. But it can come from anywhere – from the streets of Karachi or the hills of Kandy. Nor is it predictable to a pattern.

As a kid growing up Javed Miandad was a man who I believed to be the all conquering god of batting. He had smashed Chetan Sharma for a six on the last ball to win a one-dayer for Pakistan and ever since, he was one player all budding Indian batsmen secretly admired and hated. I was no different. He was the epitome of a scrapper and street fighter. A cagey man and an astonishing batsman, he was a great batsman. Perhaps a shade less than Viv among his contemporaries. Viv imposed his pride and will on the game like no one since.

Kallis is the best all round cricketer since Sobers

Not always is greatness bestowed on a cricketer very early. It is not a mere test of ability, but of character, endurance, will and the know how to seize a moment. Champions are recognized for the long haul. Every champion has holes: more so with batsmen as they are measured often against one failure each time. Occasions such as world cups and tests against arch rivals often determine their fate. A Lara is remembered for his immortal unbeaten 153 against Australia in Barbados whereas a Gatting for getting out playing a reverse-sweep in a world cup final. Often, that is the lasting legacy of cricketers: what they do in the critical hour. Every one has a highest peak. For some the highest peak of failure outweighs their highest peak of success.

In that regard, some are not given the due they deserve. Like Rahul Dravid, Kallis doesn’t get his due. Like Dravid, Kallis never got the coverage he deserved when he got to 12,000 Test runs. It is a shame.

Make no mistake, he is a colossus. As a batsman alone he counts among the best five batsmen to have played the game in the last 20 years. As an all rounder, he is the best since Sobers.

Some keen observers point out that Kallis likes to look after himself: a clever way of saying that he plays for averages. Often he is criticized for that in the one-day games. The entire South African team ignored him at breakfast following the world cup defeat against Australia in 2007. His numbers are staggering in all formats and in all levels. His longevity and consistency are startling considering his work load as a bowler, a very skillful one at that in his pomp.

A man of strong basics, he has built his game on sound technique. Australians tried exposing holes in his drive, which, in turn was an examination of his mind and not of his game. Unnerved and solid, he has passed the test. As he has all around the world scoring runs on dry wickets and on the wet ones, against swing and seam, and against spinners on dust bowls. Not to mention seeing his team through in tough situations. Yes, there will be eternal argument in not seeing his teams through in world cups, but to pin the failures of a generation of South Africans on one man is preposterous.

I often believe the many struggles all cricketers go through are in the hope of achieving something substantial and special – as players and as a team. Long after they are done playing the game, it is moments of collective peaks that bring them a sense of satisfaction. And Kallis has often been at the center of many of the brightest moments of South Africa’s cricketing success. Perhaps he is comfortable now than before. He seems a lot more willing to impose himself on the opposition. He even lets out an occasional smile and shares a light moment with the opposition.

It is hard to imagine anyone as good as him who has got lesser recognition. He has won more games for South Africa than any other (most Man of the Match awards in Test history). Yet his calm is mistaken for insecurity and weakness. He knows his game and knows what it takes to succeed. If anything, his last few years have been better than ever before. Perhaps a lesser bowling load and a shift down the batting order have helped. Age and form will eventually catch up, but at current evidence, they seem many summers away.

When he is done playing the game, the game will remember him as among its very best.