Cricket is a game of mystical charm. Of the psyche and soma. Of a balance of the human organism – a harmony of art and evolution. Of changing patterns, where only the fittest survive, following which they pave the way for new stars to blossom forth and drape the game with their high-fidelity exploits.
That the game has prospered from Grace[ian] heights, and through the epochs of Bradmanesque dimension, to the present – the high-tech world of frenzied advertising and Indian Premier League’s [IPL] commercialised razzamatazz – is part of history, not folklore.
Cricket, today, thanks to the blitzkrieg Twenty20 format, is all innovation and adventure – a research laboratory for the biff-bang. Result: you have this penchant for buccaneer cricket. Of batsmen who like to hit over the top, right from the word go, where their law for and of scientific hitting is so resplendently pertinent.
Witness also their pyrotechnics and pulverising intent – the gift of the gab with the bat. You are transformed and taken into a different world.
A passion for the astounding is the ardent zeal of the extraordinary, where they reveal, as scholar James Hillman testifies, the ordinary in an enlarged and intensified image. Extraordinary players excite, they guide, they warn, standing as they do in the corridors of imagination – icons of greatness. In the process, they often help new, upcoming players carry on a tradition in a mode that is inherent to cavalier batsmen – like the way it had come to them. Buccaneer batsmen not only give our lives a powerful dimension, but also the all-encompassing, heightened dream that [re]kindles the soul of cricket itself – although a player’s specific, or singular, code of extraordinariness may be unique to one’s own cricketing context.
Call them the run-rangers, if you like. The protocol of it all is astoundingly nothing new. The origin of buccaneer cricket, in reality, began much earlier – long, long before one-day, or T20, cricket was even thought, or dreamed, of… when cricket was still considered sacred – a sport, and not a ‘pro-Mammonian’ vocation. Old-timers will sure recall some famous names in the business: Sir Learie Constantine, Colonel C K Nayudu, Arthur Wellard, Archie Jackson, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Keith Miller, Sir Garfield Sobers, Farokh Engineer, and so on? You ought to agree: their attitude and breezy style, supplanted by their sheer technical excellence, were more than the precursors of a host of dazzling approaches amplified by instant cricket.
Weekes and Walcott were, perhaps, the first batsmen to have really pulverised the ball as it were, thanks to their calypso-accentuated batting plan. The anatomy of their batting was, indeed, a physiology in contrasts. For one so gifted, and hard-hitting, Weekes seldom lifted the ball in the air. A nimble, fleet-footed, and graceful punisher, Weekes was not only feared for his powered batting, which brought panic in the bowlers’ minds, but also for his delicate cuts and glance. Walcott, of course, unlike Weekes, was all power, and less grace. He would coerce the ball to swoon under his murderous blade. Had they been playing the game now, Weekes and Walcott would have, in tandem, taken to instant cricket, effortlessly – and, forced the bowlers to run for safety.
This is not all – it was the glitzy emergence of Clive ‘Big Bertha’ Lloyd, the lyrism bat, in the late 1960s, that really brought in a new resurgence to power cricket. His ruthless blade soon had company – the likes of Sir Viv Richards and ‘Flash’ Gordon Greenidge. It was a culmination of the West Indians’ naturalised inclination for buccaneer cricket.
Whether you love or don’t like the ‘pyjama’ game [pun intended], the thrill one derived from a rasping, hot-shot from the punishing blade of Sanath Jayasuriya – or, Kris Srikkanth, the man who started it all in one-day cricket – was indescribable. The magnetic effect of the stroke transformed the atmosphere on the entire ground, and outside, to reach great heights. And, then, you had Srikkanth’s original mannerisms too, for which you did not pay anything extra. Oh, yes, the audience often asked for more, and why not? Well, so long as your team was not at the receiving end. The more a Martin Crowe, Adam Gilchrist, Shahid Afridi, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Brendon McCullum, Shane Watson, Ross Taylor, David Warner, Virat Kohli, David Miller, Glenn Maxwell, Joe Root, or M S Dhoni, among others, dazzled, or dazzle, the more merrier the milieu.
There was also a time when there’s no need to follow India’s fortunes, so long as Srikkanth got going – and, hit the ball as much as he liked. He’s cheeky, you’d bet. But, he’s also a charmer – a dangerous one, at that. Witness, his breathtaking strokes: if Sri-kan’t, no one can. Ditto, for Sachin Tendulkar, or Ricky Ponting. Which also brings us to a common scenario. A B de Villiers’ presence, for instance, brings about a state of dÃ©jÃ vu, where you’d only expect the best of cricketing action.
Don’t you forget the great all-rounders too: the likes of Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham, in the past, or Steve Waugh, Lance Klusener, Chris Cairns, Jacques Kallis and/or batsmen like Aravinda de Silva, among others. The equation is wholesome: be it while they are batting, notching up those 50-60 runs in a jiffy, taking that vital wicket, when most needed, making those half-chances stick to hand, or effecting an impossible run-out from nowhere. Cricket, they all emoted, is, perforce, one of the easiest of professions. However, the fact is: they all ‘peaked’ to sweat within and excel outside. It was consistent hard, focused work. Agreed that their excellence was visible; their backbreaking effort was often relegated elsewhere, with concealed effect. Who said that cricket was not ambivalent?
It may also be assumed that the Run-Rangers are in the game, as a force, because they are different. But, they are no less motivated, or highly creative. Creativity is their watchword: they, however, don’t seek refuge in any predetermined solution to problems that may arise, oft and on, when they bat. Contrary to popular belief, they are highly skilled, organised, firm, and resolute.
Nothing deters them in their effort. The white, or red, cherry is only meant to be hit – and, hit it best they do with enormous power. Yet, it is true that they may have a paradoxical approach to the game: despatch what’s often described as a good ball to the ropes, without any respect, or fall prey to the harmless delivery, for no rhyme or reason. Impetuosity is often their balancing element, which the Creator may have specially ‘ordered’ for them. Also think of parity, or whatever. It’s a tough ‘balancing’ act – for the opposing captain.
In terms of psychology too, the willow masters, nay ‘blasters’ are highly motivated. Their theme song? The need to achieve, come what may – a need, in essence, which is a truly operational behaviour underlying the effort to do one’s best, to do better than the others, not in terms of statistical measure; but, in general, to accomplish something special. This is also the raison d’Ãªtre for their adventurist status – as the game’s glorious willow mercenaries.
Not that they all represent Type-A personality. Yet, theirs is a mission possible – a mission that encompasses just one motto, or command. To attack, nothing else. To pulverise and plunder. To entertain and mesmerise. To take the spectators and TV viewers into the seventh heaven of the game…
They are, in sum, the willow buccaneers: the solar power of cricket. Crowds flock to see them in action, at the stadium, and on TV, like movie idols. They are the box-office draw, to be precise.
Cricket just cannot do without them.
– Photo, Courtesy: Viv Richards/www.happybday.to/Viv-Richards/photo?media=2340837