IPL April 6, 2010

The attack of the handymen, and severe llama-petting

Collingwood, Gambhir, Kallis – the Delhi-Bangalore game was short on flamboyance

Billy Bowden: relieving dullness and bringing people out of stupors since 1995 © Indian Premier League

Sunday afternoon’s game was not easy on the eye. Perhaps it had something to do with the venue. The Feroz Shah Kotla may be many things, but aesthetically pleasing it is not. This is mainly due to the looming edifice at the Tata End: a brooding construction that owes much to the Brutalist movement of the 1960s, giving the startling effect of a multi-storey car park where a pavilion should be.

Then again, perhaps it had more to do with the prominent role played by Paul Collingwood, who if he were to be represented in architectural form, would surely be a concrete bunker. And though a concrete bunker is a reassuring thing and of great value in an emergency, it is unlikely that tourists and casual pleasure seekers would queue to be given a guided tour of the Collingwood.

But a Collingwood innings is not without its pleasures, not least the resourcefulness with which he employs his favourite shot, which at first glance appears nothing more than a bottom-handed swish across the line, but on closer inspection turns out to be the Swiss army knife of cricket shots, adaptable to any circumstance. His modus operandi may appear vulgar, but that is our problem, not his. He is a natural cricketer.

As is his similarly understated captain. Gambhir doesn’t flail his arms about like a demented traffic policeman and is unlikely to be heard praising the “Delhi brand”. He is as straightforward as Sehwag, but not so otherwordly; an artisan, not a wandering guru. Interviewed by Ravi Shastri before the match, he looked like a car mechanic: slightly scruffy in his blue overalls, hands on hips, talking about the task that lay ahead as though giving an estimate on a tricky engine overhaul.

Then, on a day for wholehearted yeomen, there was big Jacques, putting in one more solid shift with bat and ball. Jacques the Ball spends much of his time looking ruefully into the middle distance, shaking his head or trudging back to his mark. Yet still he lumbers in and flings the ball hard into the earth as though he were issuing a challenge. When he was bowling to the equally pugnacious Warner, it reminded me of two cavemen settling a dispute over a mammoth carcass with a rock and a lump of wood.

But amidst all this testosterone and gruffness, as Warner, Collingwood and Kallis took care of business, there was a danger of a showbiz deficit. Luckily, Billy Bowden was in the house and the crowd loved him. I’ve been struggling for a way to describe his method of indicating a four. The best I can come up with is that it looks like a man cautiously petting a llama. He gave some other signals that, frankly, defied description. Perhaps Wisden should consider adding a Bowden appendix to their next edition, complete with diagrams, so that we can all appreciate his art.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England