Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gavaskar vs Tendulkar and other cricket chat - II

Even though I was a fan of Gavaskar, I also was a fan of a person who batted totally unlike Gavaskar - Virender Sehwag. Probably the best decision that Ganguly took during his term as captain was to ask Sehwag to open the innings. What made me a fan was that his major successes had come in Test cricket rather than in the limited overs game contrary to what one would have expected. I heard a couple of incidents that show the attitude he brought to the game.

In one Ranji Tropy game, Sehwag came down the wicket at a medium pacer, had a wild swish at a wide delivery and missed it completely. The next ball was short and he went on his backfoot and hooked it for six. At the end of the day when he was asked about the wild shot, he said that he had played it deliberately. He said that therefore he knew that the next ball would be short so he was already waiting for it on the backfoot and had no trouble putting it over the midwicket fence. If this had come from any other player, you could have thought that he was making it up, but coming from Sehwag it was believable. There was method in his madness.

In another Ranji Trophy match, on a greenish pitch that had some help for the bowlers, Sehwag score a rapid century. At the end of the day Ravi Shastri asked him seriously, 'Did you keep telling yourself to put your foot to the pitch of the ball, not to poke at deliveries outside the off stump, not to drive on the rise...?' Sehwag's reply was typical, 'I didn't think about these things. If the ball was there to be hit, I hit it.'

Apart from the past generation of Indian players I liked to watch foreign players like Lara, Gower (English batsmen are generally awkward to watch but ironically produced a very graceful player), Mark Waugh, etc., but the player I was most fascinated by was Viv Richards. His swagger to the wicket, casually chewing gum, was quite a sight. He probably intimidated fast bowlers more than they intimidated him.

I once heard Imran Khan say why he considered Richards a cut above all other batsmen he had played against. When the situation was tense, the bowlers were dominant and West Indies needed runs, he put his best foot forward. But when the situation was boring and the match was meandering towards a dull draw, he quickly lost interest and threw his wicket away playing outrageous shots. You could never accuse Gavaskar and Tendulkar of such a misdemeanour.

In  Antifragile  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, there is mention of a town in Netherlands which decided to remove all street signs. The result was that there were fewer accidents. It was also found that airline pilots became more careless with increasing reliance on automated controls thus compromising safety. Also, people meet with more accidents in regulated crossings than when jaywalking. Why these paradoxical results? Reliance on external aids dulls the survival instinct of the brain. Remove these aids and the person becomes attentive and alert to danger.

There is a parallel situation in cricket with the use of helmets by batsmen. In pre-helmet days, one hardly ever saw batsmen being hit on the head. Nowadays it seems to happen frequently. The survival instinct of the brain seems to be dulled by the protection provided by the helmet making the reflexes just a little bit slower. (Granted batsmen play many shots these days that they would not have attempted in pre-helmet days but seem to get even when just trying to avoid the ball. Many pitches have also become slower.)

In a discussion, Ramachandra Guha gave an interesting sociological reason why cricket is the de facto national game of India and not hockey. (He quotes Ashis Nandy as saying  that cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British.) Cricket is an interrupted game while all other games have concentrated action. In cricket, the bowler delivers the ball, walks back to his mark, does this six times, the field then changes and the action then continues from the other end. This inturrupted nature of the game enables Indians to indulge fequently in their favorite pass-time of casual chit-chat.

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