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