Samir Chopra April 10, 2010

Big hitting in context

Now that the IPL is on (and on and on) there is, as might be expected, plenty of talk about big-hitting, and especially talk of the biggest hits and hitters

Now that the IPL is on (and on and on) there is, as might be expected, plenty of talk about big-hitting, and especially talk of the biggest hits and hitters. Indeed, to hear IPL commentators (and some of its fans) go on, one might think that six-hitting was invented by the IPL. But my point here is not to complain about IPL coverage; there are plenty of folks already engaged in that worthwhile task. Instead, I'd like to talk about the biggest hitting I've ever seen, which funnily enough, didn't happen in the IPL. But it didn't happen in a Test or a one-day international either.

Because what I mean by big hitting here is not necessarily an objective assessment of the distance covered by a cricket ball after it left a batsman's blade. Rather, my assessment of the biggest hitting of all is very much a subjective notion, a reaction to the awe-inspiring power that I was able to bear close witness to. I've seen Kapil, Richards, Botham on television; their hitting was some of the most brutal ever, but there was nothing quite like this spectacle, just because one could hear the bat, hear the sound of the ball's trajectory, and track its flight clearly. And it was made all the more impressive by the context of the game.

Permit me then, to set the stage. In my last post I had written about my cricket watching experiences during my university days. In those days, the trials for the college cricket team were a major event on the sporting calendar. Many folks tried their hand; a select few made it through. Those rejected sometimes took it with grace, sometimes with resentment, mutterings about nepotism, and sometimes with an ostrich-like denial of their lack of playing ability.

At the end of such one trial, when the smoke had cleared, a happy band of twenty or so players had advanced to the next stage, and a larger bunch of young lads were left disappointed. But there was a chance at partial redemption, at partial confirmation of one's sporting self-esteem; the intra-departmental tournament was around the corner.

The hero of my story, a young man whose name I can remember as Manish, decided the only way to deal with the disappointment of his rejection from the cricket team was to let the coach know just how bad his bowlers were and how faulty the process of team selection at the trials had been. To this end, he decided (I'm making these intentions up; they are the only rational explanation for what followed) to direct his particular ire at the bowlers who played in the tourney.

In the matches that followed, in each and every single game, we were treated to an amazing display of power-hitting. (The games were 40-overs a side; I do not remember if he ever scored a century but there were definitely a string of fifties produced). I was called out to watch the first time he went on a rampage and thereafter, every time we heard Manish was on strike, the crowds grew at the boundary edge. The sixes (and there were many in each innings) were giant hits; they lacked neither elevation nor distance. The sound of bat and ball conjured up visions of cracking whips and gunfire. A diligent chiropractor could have made a killing treating all the whiplashed necks at the ground.

Manish's resentment over his lack of selection was a well-known fact amongst those who watched. This gave his hitting a particularly distinctive flavor: every shot was a defiant flip of the bird at the selection panel, who were invariably spectators at the game.

The pleasures of watching cricket at close range are many and varied; while visual and aural proximity can render the action clearer and more dynamic, a true connection to the action in the middle, one that emphasizes its particulars, arises from knowledge of the context of the game. The knowledge of the cricketing history of nations has always enhanced the serious spectator's experience of Test cricket. In this case, knowledge of the (probable) psychological context made one young man's actions appear larger than life. The passage of time has ensured that his feats have only grown in my mind. They are still bigger than any DLF Maximum out there.

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