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Fifty-one games in and I think it’s starting to get to me. There’s no milk in the fridge, I’ve missed at least three birthdays, I haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on in the US presidential election, and sometimes when I try to go to sleep I think I can hear the IPL trumpet taunting me in the distance. So on Tuesday I took a break from the goings-on in franchise land and took to my garden to contemplate the flowers.
It didn’t work. I soon noticed that the blue of the bluebells was exactly the same colour as Mumbai’s shirts and that the angry pigeon squawking in the oak tree sounded just like Harbhajan whenever his team takes a wicket. A straggly blackbird taking off from a statue of Aphrodite reminded me of Sourav’s hair, and when I divided the number of weeds in the hanging basket by the number of fence panels that were in need of repair, I ended up with Kolkata’s net run rate, which as we all know is 0.28 poorer than Delhi’s.
Wandering down to the end of the garden to clear my head, I came across a slightly overweight song thrush hopping about feebly in the undergrowth. It kept flapping its wings desperately but just didn’t have the skills. Not so clever now, are you, the other birds seemed to be twittering. Naturally I felt sympathy for the poor thing. And then I thought of Yusuf Pathan.
One season you’re perched up high where the view is lovely. Now and then you do your thing and everyone goes crazy. They preen you and feed you and you think this isn’t a bad way to live. But one day you get a little too close to the edge and slip. You flap your wings in vain as you plummet, beak over tail, to the ground, where the domesticated cat of fate pounces on you and bites off your career.
We all think that the bits-and-pieces player has it easy. Slog a few boundaries, bowl a few dobblers that commentators mistake for slower balls, get an IPL contract, sit on the bench whilst Gautam and Jacques bat, swap a joke or two with Wasim, and drink all the free hydrating soft drink that your bladder can hold.
But the bits-and-pieces player lives a fragile existence. Unlike the proper allrounder with two proper skills, you need both your half-skills to be working. If you take away Yusuf’s sixes, what you’re left with is an embarrassed-looking man who shuffles to the crease and flings down some rather limp offbreaks that don’t actually spin until they make contact with the stadium roof or the skull of a hapless bystander.
These days when Dermot and Danny read out the Kolkata team sheet, they place extra emphasis on Yusuf’s first initial. Y Pathan? Why indeed. But if the Knight Riders aren’t giving up on him, neither should he be. He should remember what got him to the top of the Twenty20 tree in the first place and go down swinging, with nothing on his mind other than marmalising every ball-shaped thing that comes near him. The question is, Yusuf, do you still believe you can fly?
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73