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

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  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2010, 13:34 GMT

    I love how Michael Holding is described in his profile on this site - "It began intimidatingly far away. He turned, and began the most elegant long-striding run of them all, feet kissing the turf silently, his head turning gently and ever so slightly from side to side, rhythmically, like that of a cobra hypnotising its prey. Good batsmen tended not to watch him all the way lest they became mesmerised."

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2010, 5:14 GMT

    The phrase "steaming in" for some reason always makes me think og Big Merv Hughes.

  • testli5504537 on March 8, 2010, 0:34 GMT

    Waqar Younis was the classic one for steaming into the crease.

    Brett Lee was also awesome how he put the hammer down halfway through his run-up.

    Aktar steamed in - you can't deny it.

    Ambrose bounded in/Walsh sauntered in.

    Lillee charged in...

  • testli5504537 on March 6, 2010, 22:57 GMT

    Um, about half the top hits I see on Google for "Dileep coruscating" are from Samir Chopra himself :) A Heisenberg principle for Internet search results, eh?

  • testli5504537 on March 6, 2010, 19:00 GMT

    It's not just an affliction with sports writers, Samir. Commentators and captains suffer from this disease too. When Sehwag isn't sending the ball racing to the boundary "like a tracer bullet", he's hitting it "high and handsome" into the crowd or "belting the cover off the ball". While Laxman at the other end "caresses it through the covers" or "nudges it past mid wicket". And don't ever bowl on Dravid's leg stump, because as Harsha Bhogle will tell you, you could bowl at his pads in the middle of the night, and he'll put you away for four every time. And we all know that even Geoff Boycott's mum can bat better than Monty Panesar. And that our big game plan tomorrow is to "put the ball in the right areas", "play every ball on its merit", and though "we've come here to win every game", we will "never underestimate the opposition". I'm waiting for the day when Graeme Swann and Sehwag team up together on Neo Cricket to cover the World Cup Final. That ought to be interesting.

  • testli5504537 on March 6, 2010, 13:47 GMT

    Well i am reminded of R Mohan writing in "The Hindu"... every indian batting performace then in his opinion was "committing Hara Kiri" .... :)

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