March 19, 2010

Kemp, the catch and choreography

Fielding takes cricket to the level of those other sports where the movement of the human body is an art form in itself

The physical grace of the act transcends the context © Indian Premier League
Justin Kemp's catch to dismiss Virender Sehwag in the IPL game today - as he made up for the misjudgment and managed to take it one-handed on the boundary, falling backwards – called to mind the one he took to dismiss Mohammad Sami back in November 2008. Mohammad Sami was playing for the Lahore Badshahs, of course, and that was the league that wasn't, the ICL.

That was a far more difficult catch too and what a man of Kemp's size and bearing - 6"5’ and no ballerina - was doing taking it I'm not sure. Youtube has forever saved the twisting, running, improvisational genius of that one and if it doesn't make the hair on your arms stand up as a lover of sport, then you are without a pulse.

It was - and today's was too in a reduced way - the kind of thing that transcends every context: when it happened, who the batsman was or the bowler, what format, whether the league is sanctioned or not, the player a rebel or not. It is the kind of physical grace and outlandishness that puts cricket, very briefly, into spheres occupied by sports such as football or basketball. Those are sports where the movement of the human body is an art form in itself, a canvas stuffed with the entire, beautiful spectrum of human movement: the Zidane volley in the 2002 Champions League final, a LeBron block. These are times for goosebumps.

These two sports, unlike cricket, also at least appear to be full of men and women doing things very often that normal humans cannot. Cricket at least gives the impression of accessibility, in that its two basic disciplines, batting and bowling, are very human ones. Everyone feels, after all, that they can bowl a decent ball or play a solid forward defensive. Not everyone can dunk or volley with any degree of danger to anyone except themselves.

But fielding, increasingly, is one department where cricketers are not so human anymore. The vast majority of people, for example, cannot take the kinds of catches that Kemp has pulled off. And fielding is fast becoming the discipline through which cricket can be most compelling to follow visually and when it is most alive - the sport, after all, is still a comparatively slow-moving one. For this we thank first Jonty Rhodes and now Twenty20.