Samir Chopra August 4, 2008

Snap judgment

The look of the game has changed over the years

Frozen in time: Alvin Kallicharan effortlessly hooks John Snow during the 1973 Test series © The Cricketer International
Is it just me or does it seem like cricket fans are just a little bit more obsessed than the usual sports fan with photographs of the game? Exposure to cricket photographs starts early; there is a steady diet of newspaper and online galleries, full-page blowups in magazines, coffee-table books by folks with last names like Eagar, all reinforced by slow-motion replays on television. Slowly, a certain set of iconic images starts to jell, and by the late teens and into early adulthood, the average cricket fan can start pointing to favourite photographs, his listing of his reasons for this choice offering a revelatory glimpse of his cricketing aesthetic.

A good photo more than just freeze the actions, catching cricketers at moments of poised athletic grace and power. It offers us a hint of what came before and after; it invites us to think about the effect of the action on display on the game being played; it instantly captures a mood, and urges a description, a captioning, on our part. Sometimes the action captured can make us think about the physics of the action at hand, reminding us that one reason we pay good money to watch these men play is that they are capable of doing things we can only dream out. This is certainly the case with two of the most dramatic photographs I've ever laid eyes on.

The first is that of Alvin Kallicharran hooking John Snow during the 1973 Test series. Anyone that has seen this photo knows which one I'm talking about (raise your hand if you do). Kallicharan is poised on his right foot, his left leg raised and bent at the knee, performing a seemingly impossible balancing act as he hooks, crisply and powerfully, over his shoulder. In the background, Snow can be seen, perhaps despairing that his intended thunderbolt has been dispatched.

The second photo is that of Don Bradman stepping out to drive "Farmer" White during the 1928-29 series. (I have to admit, I'm a little obsessed about this photograph, having mentioned it before on and on my blog, and no, I don't have a link to it). In this photo: Bradman is at least six feet out of his crease, and the back face of Bradman's bat is parallel to his upright back. Bradman seems to have sailed down the pitch and whiplashed this furious off-drive, with the bat swinging over his shoulder and then down. The crispness of the action on display is palpable, almost making the photograph itself sharper. (Actually, I do have favourite photographs of bowlers in action as well, but I think I will save discussion of those for another day.)

The look of the game has changed over the years. Helmets now cheat us of the bare-headed batsman, the batsman with the country cap; the sponsor's logos cheat us of the pristine shirt fronts of old; the half-sleeve shirts prevent us from glimpsing the rolled sleeves of the fast bowler as he charges in; the new style pads look spongy and sodden; tyre manufacturers logos sprout on bats. But these do not prevent, in the good cricket photograph, a glimpse of what is really at issue: a cricketer, captured for a moment by an image that expresses his cricketing powers vividly and memorably.

Which photographs over the years did this for you and why? Do you find they express a particular cricketing preference of yours?

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on November 4, 2008, 13:50 GMT

    Vijay is right, the picture above is of dad hooking Lillee at the Oval during the 1975 World Cup. With no bias, it remains one of my favourites and has pride of place in my living room.

  • testli5504537 on August 8, 2008, 7:00 GMT

    Three photos that stand out for me are 1. Trevor Chappell delivering that fateful underarm delivery to Brian McKeknie at the MCG. 2. Merv Hughes warming up at the MCG in the summer of 88/89 with the entire bay behind him aping every single side stretch and shoulder roll. 3. Steve Waugh at Lords in 1989. Stretching forward to play John Emburey. His back foot is parallel to the crease as he deals with the delivery with nonchalant ease. Textbook forward defence under the baggy green.

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 13:43 GMT

    The one photo that had me transfixed, almost hypnotized, is the black and white one of Thommo, sling-shot, shark-jawed, hair flowing back, powerful leg and arms perfectly poised and placed, muscles straining to unleash the thunderbolt that's barely visible behind leg.

    For sheer artistic beauty, singular simplicity combined with coiled potential destruction, it should rank as one of the great sports pictures of all time.

    Cricket's version of Michaelangelo's David

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 8:42 GMT

    The West Indians of the '70s and '80s were very photo-genic: another classic is the one of Holding booting the stumps over in New Zealand. Holding's litheness never ceases to amaze me!

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 7:16 GMT

    Apropos my earlier post about Eknath Solkar, I wonder if you (Samir Chopra) can print some pics of Solkar's amazing catches. It's will be a treat to the eyes of many criket lovers, esp. those not familiar with Solkar's genius in fielding. Thanks again for the memories.

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 6:26 GMT

    3 Photos Iconic in themselves...

    a. Jonty Rhodes Entrance into international conscience.. The runout photo of inzamam ul haq in the 1992 WC... Flying through the air and hitting the stump.

    b. Another one from the 1992 World cup, Alan Donald's greased lightning photograph in the sportstar. Donald's front on picture in his delivery stride, zinc cream on his face and sporting the light green SA attire...

    3. Micheal Holding in his delivery stride signifying his sobriquet "Whispering Death"

    4. Boycott's stumps flying out at the end of "THAT OVER" from Micheal Holding

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 3:04 GMT

    There's plenty of pictures that stand out from the game, and some that have become iconic. The Tied Test final wicket, the 99 world cup semi triumph, and anything with Viv Richards. No player looks more imperious in photos than Viv playing a drive or a hook. Great stuff.

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 2:44 GMT

    I used to wait at a newspaper stall in Mumbai near my scchool for the latest issue of Sports & Pastime to devour the pics of the latest concluded match. One that stands out was of Eknath Solkar taking a catch, his body on the ground including his hands except the palms w. a ball that he caught. I don't rememeber the match or the opposition. That is one of the many of Solkar's amazing catches that stand out. Thanks Solkar for the memories, long before Jonty.

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 1:40 GMT

    Folks, thanks for the comments. Please keep them coming. I should point out, in the interests of accuracy, that that photograph of Kalli is not the one I had in mind. Let me put in another effort to try and find it.

  • testli5504537 on August 5, 2008, 0:37 GMT

    Oh, of course, there is also the Ashes 2005 photograph of Flintoff consoling a dejected Brett Lee even as the rest of the English team celebrates. Can't think of many better instances when cricket lived up to its billing as the gentleman's game.

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