November 23, 2013

The phenomenon of cricket's next big thing

Explained via the story of the greatest pen ever used

It might be a little too early to say that when Prithvi Shaw retires from international cricket, billions will weep and feel a huge void in their lives © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

In the middle of Thursday's game between India and a West Indies Making Up The Numbers XI, Virat Kohli hit a nicely timed leg glance for four, which led to the following piece of commentary from an excited booth-dweller:

"He's a man with paranormal abilities; superhuman!"

Now it was a nicely timed four, I'll admit, and it was pleasing to the eye, but paranormal? Superhuman? And if Virat has got paranormal abilities, what is he doing playing cricket? Everyone loves Superman, and I'm sure he'd be a useful lower middle-order bat, but if he spent his time whacking a little leather ball around a field when there were kittens to be rescued and super villains to be foiled, then people might question his priorities.

So what is going on here? I have no psychiatric training whatsoever, unless you count once having a conversation about tinned peaches with a woman who looked a bit like Sigmund Freud, but I'll have a stab at it. To help me, like Geoffrey Boycott explaining why any one of his elderly female relatives using a piece of fruit would have played a better shot than Shane Watson, I am going to employ a homespun analogy.

I once had a pen that was like no other. I called it Penny. It was beautifully decorated. It worked perfectly in all conditions. I left it in my trouser pocket when I did my washing. It still worked. A magpie stole it from my desk, and as I climbed down from the magpie's nest I dropped it in the duck pond. It still worked.

It worked first thing in the morning, it worked last thing at night. It worked under pressure: when I had to write an essay in a hurry, or scribble my details down whilst being watched by the angry owner of a car with a freshly dented rear end. Not only did it work, but it worked with a flowing, pleasing style that was a joy to watch.

Then one day, when I picked it up, the nib looked weary, the gilding lacked lustre, the cartridge no long clicked smartly into place, but sighed reluctantly into position, the ink dried up, and I realised I couldn't find the top. It was time for Penny to retire.

For several weeks afterwards I tried to promote other pens, celebrating each biro or roller ball I purchased as the new Penny, but they would always disappoint, and I would throw them in the bin at the first sign of a blotch, or a wonky nib or if they didn't feel right in my hand.

Eventually I had to accept not just that Penny was gone, but that I wasn't going to find anything like Penny again. So now I write in wax crayon. It's not as easy to get sentimentally attached to a wax crayon, and wax crayons are disposable.

It's the same in cricket. I can remember one hapless contender after another being labelled as the new Ian Botham, just because they had numbers other than 0 in both their batting and bowling averages, or because they had a suspicious moustache, had once grown a mullet, or looked like the sort of chap the News of the World might be interested in. Australia have been through several academies worth of spinners looking for the new Warne, and even now if a young Trinidadian left-hander with a high back lift hits a sweetly timed four, someone somewhere will feel an uncontrollable urge to whisper "Lara" under their breath.

So it is inevitable that Indian fans and commentators are going to be looking to fill a Sachin-sized hole in their lives, and they could do worse than pick on old grumpy guts Virat, who at least might be able to handle it. Meanwhile, my advice to Prithvi Pankaj Shaw, the 14-year-old from Mumbai, who this week scored an double-eyebrow-raising 546, is to restrict himself to beautifully composed but statistically less mind-boggling totals, lest he wake up one day to find his name in the newspapers alongside the words, "Tendulkar", "the", "new", "is" and "this".

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here