India December 17, 2009

The day of the goat-punchers


Harbhajan and Praveen Kumar in the happy days before they moved on to assaulting farmyard animals © AFP

Well done India, bad luck Sri Lanka, and what a riotous bit of fun that was. Tuesday was the great Carnival of the Bat, a day-long festival in which anyone answering to the description of willow wielder was given the freedom of Rajkot. No request was denied, no whim unsatisfied. Every lunge, swing, dabble, poke and swipe was rewarded with a quartet of runs, sometimes more.

It was frantic, it was silly, it was sport on fast-forward, hyper cricket. At times it appeared that the whole ground had been turned into one of those amusement arcade games, as the batsmen kept pinging the boundary boards in pursuit of ever higher scores, like they were playing pinball.

As well as being thumpingly good television, the fact that the ball sailed so often through the air meant that we were afforded regular glimpses of the pleasing white buildings and trees of Rajkot. We also got a close-up of a poor, battered, greenish-white object nestling on the patterned shamiana. I felt sorry for that ball. I hoped someone would pick it up and hide it away in a darkened room so it could have a rest.

One or two fielders might have wished for the same thing. In an enterprising piece of captaincy, Dhoni had set a short point to Upul Tharanga. Praveen Kumar bowled the perfect ball, just back of a length. Tharanga obligingly fended it towards the recently placed fielder, ever so gently. And plop, Virat Kohli dropped it.

The commentators came rushing in with an explanation, the same explanation, in fact, that had been waved around a lot last week and was starting to look a bit tatty. Kohli, they explained, like Yuvraj Singh and many others before him, was surprised that the ball hadn’t arrived more quickly. I have to question this. As a hopeless fielder myself, I can empathise. But was it really surprise that proved Kohli’s undoing?

Let’s employ an analogy. You’re at your table, waiting for the soup to arrive. After an hour or so, the waiter hoves into view. As he reaches the table, you, unable to bear the tension any longer, make a lunge for the soup dish. “Sorry,” you mutter, sheepishly, “I was surprised.” At the next table, Sunil Gavaskar surveys the wreckage of shattered porcelain and scalded toes and nods sympathetically.

Still, I rather like Kohli. He bats pugnaciously, which is cricket shorthand for being short and aggressive. He seems to have more spirit than some of his rivals, and I can see him overtaking Suresh Raina in the queue for Rahul’s dressing room seat.

Raina, meanwhile, is the victim of persistent rudeness. We all know he struggles with the short ball, but it is the height of bad manners to continue to press him on the subject. Let the man have some privacy, please. But no, every time he approaches the crease, every medium-paced chancer believes himself Thomson incarnate. Net practice is clearly not enough to cure this problem. I suggest that Gary Kirsten arranges for all the doorframes in Raina’s house to be lowered by two feet and “Duck!” be painted onto the inside of his shades as a reminder.

Then there were The Men Who Beat Up Goats. Praveen started it. Having finally persuaded Kumar Sangakkara to commit an indiscretion, PK clenched both fists and roared. But the moment demanded more than a roaring double-clencher. So he took out his pent-up frustration by punching an invisible goat. A few balls later, Harbhajan fooled Dilshan and the Turbanator dealt the imaginary quadraped a fearful round-arm pummelling. It must have been a goat because it was too high for a sheep and too low for a horse. I expect a complaint from the Invisible Goat Protection League is on its way.

And finally, a word on the continuing fish-out-of-water flounderings of Mr Sanath Jayasuriya. The old boy seems determined to bring his batting average down to a more reasonable level so that future generations of hard-hitting Sri Lankan openers won’t feel so overshadowed; which is jolly decent of him. But short of painting “RETIRE” on the outfield in big white letters, it seems that nothing can persuade him to take his dignity and shuffle off into the hall of legends. On Tuesday he was down the order. It made no difference. An excess of footwork, an optimistic forward sally and an inability to locate the white leathery thing, and the old man of the sea was wading back to shore again, looking more rueful than a rue-salesman returning from a slow day at market.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England