October 12, 2013

The left-hander's cover drive

Aka the cricket stroke that can move medical professionals to poetry

Kumar Sangakkara's cover drive: words can describe it © AFP

Usually a visit to the GP is a relatively uneventful occasion. The odd amputation here and there, a frontal lobotomy every few months, and a few Panadol to wash it all down. Stock-standard stuff here in suburban Brisbane. Imagine my surprise then when my new GP recognised my name from the ESPNcricinfo blogsphere. Apparently he prescribes my incoherent ramblings for patients suffering insomnia and it has proved to be a reliable cure. Completely forgetting why I was in his surgery, we launched into a detailed analysis of cricket that eventually had to be curtailed due to pressing medical needs - that vasectomy won't get itself done, will it? Better get that big knife, doc!

My erudite GP, Janaka Malwatta, is more than just a passing cricket fan and much more than a mere doctor. He is a gentleman, a scholar and a poet, no less. Somehow or another, we got round to talking about my sons, both left-handed batsmen, and Janaka's eyes lit up. Fearing the worst, I watched anxiously as he suddenly looked for a file on his computer. My fears were allayed when I read this delightful poem about the left-hander's cover drive. Poetry in motion indeed.

The Cover Drive It's a fundamental law of the universe that,
no matter how good you are,
whomsoever you may be,
a right hander can't cover drive
the way a left hander can.
You might drive with elan,
strike a classical pose,
high left elbow in a checked follow through,
or go down on one knee with a flourish of the bat,
but you'll never match
the beauty of a lefthanded drive.
Sachin is efficient, Viv imperious,
Aravinda and Vengsarkar classically correct,
and yet
a lefthander's drive makes them look commonplace.
Gower was fluid, liquid limbs trickling into the stroke.
Sobers was elegant, Pollock sublime.
At the SCG, Waugh placed three men for one shot.
Lara's drives made leaden-footed statues of them all,
as tracer bullets bound for the boundary flew past.
Don't get me wrong, left handers can do it ugly.
Border punched his drives with a short arm jab,
and Clive clubbed them with a three lb bat,
but they only did that to make right-handers
feel better about themselves.
Of today's practitioners of the art,
one man stands in a class apart.
Sangakkara flows into the drive.
From a perfect head-still stance, he unfurls,
right foot moves forward, right elbow high,
bat comes down in a textbook arc.
Batsman and bat fuse into one,
for one purpose. For one instant,
as willow meets leather,
there is perfection.
There's purity in the stroke,
snow-on-a-mountain-top purity,
turquoise-meltwater-stream purity.
So, to see real beauty,
seared in the brain, never to be forgotten, heart-stopping beauty,
go and watch a lefthander drive.

You can read more of his work at www.janakamalwatta.com, including another splendid cricket poem inspired by the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan. It's not often that a visit to the doctor ends up with a new friendship with a poet laureate, but that is the story of my life - a series of lucky coincidences all joined up together.

PS: Being a right-hander, I have to stick up for "the club". I vote for the sheer effortless artistry of a Hashim Amla cover drive over any left-hander. Janaka, if you really want to see a proper cover drive, just try watching all these "lefties" in the mirror. That'll learn you!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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