Samir Chopra March 6, 2010

A rare cliché that has remained fresh

That sports-writing is full of clichés is, well, a cliché

The Rawalpindi Express chugs into the platform © Getty Images

That sports-writing is full of clichés is, well, a cliché. And that isn't too surprising when you think about it. There are lots of variations on a theme but the theme never quite goes away. Journalists write for deadlines. And even good writers get lazy sometimes and reach for the favorite (case in point: I loved Dileep Premchandran's use of the word "coruscating" to describe a batting performance from a few years ago. A short while later, I felt he was using it excessively. Sure enough, a google search for "Dileep Premchandran coruscating" shows too many hits for his liking. Just last week, a reader pointed out I tend to overuse the word "tend").

But this post isn't about to complain about clichés. Rather, since I'm feeling pretty self-indulgent today I wanted to focus on a little phrase used in cricket writing, whose frequency of usage I'm not sure about, but which always seemed to me to be marvelously evocative in many different ways.

The phrase I have in mind is "steaming in" or "steams in" when applied to a fast bowler, as in, "Michael Holding steams in from the Vauxhall End" or "He's been steaming in all day from the Paddington End". I don't know where I saw such usage first, but I'm pretty sure it was a long time ago.

So what is so great, you might ask, about a little verbal trickery that analogizes a fast bowler to a steam engine? Many things, for this little verbal flourish brings me face to face with the power, dynamism and sheer irresistible nature of the fast bowler. (It also helps that it conjures up images of those beautiful, majestic, steam locomotives that dominated the railways in India many, many years ago).

I associate a veritable library of images on reading that phrase. I think of a fast bowler running in powerfully off a long run up; the approaching menace as he nears the wicket (perhaps triggered by thoughts of a steam engine's shrieking whistle?); the compressive force generated by the violence of his delivery action. There is also, buried in there somewhere, an associated image, of a fast bowler working patiently through a long spell, unflaggingly putting his body on the line, summoning up all the force he can muster in an attempt to break through the defensive line arrayed against him (oops, slipped into war imagery there).

I do not mean to say the inventor of this phrase meant to summon up all of these but just that this is how I respond to it (or at least think I do when I pay closer attention to why I find it evocative). And shouldn't a good turn of words have this ability to be evocative for different reasons to different readers?

I don't know where I've seen "steaming in" the last time and don't know when I'll see it again, and certainly I'm not sure if it's used that much these days. But at times when we are used to getting impatient with writing on the game, it's nice to be able to note how someone, somewhere, got it right. Perhaps not for too long for this might get tired too. But it's sure fun while it continues to work.

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