April 23, 2014

The problem with human hands

Is that they're not designed for catching a cricket ball

Suresh Raina has just defied the fundamentals of human body mechanics. What have you done? © BCCI

I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot of catches have been dropped in the IPL. If you haven't noticed, well, a lot of catches have been dropped in the IPL. About 20 or so, at the time of writing, which, according to the complicated system of weights and measures that cricket fans apply to such things, is within a notch or two of "a lot".

During Monday afternoon's inter-thwacking interval, the presenter of the UK's IPL coverage, who fronts the show with the insincere smile and sarcastic mock bewilderment of a man attending the wedding of a family member he isn't particularly fond of, asked Mark Ramprakash and Aakash Chopra what it was all about.

This reminds me of the old criticism of Premier League referees. Referee A will incorrectly refuse to send someone off in a football match. Thousands of minutes of football later, an entirely different referee at an entirely different stadium somewhere else in Europe will correctly send someone off for the same offence.

"Why can't referees be more consistent?" the internet whinges.

To which the answer is that referees are human beings, and human beings are notoriously slippery coves. You can ask why Referee A is not consistent in his decision-making. But to suggest that the decisions of Referee A and Referee B must always and at all times be identical is to imply that referees are part of a collective, like termites or the Borg.

It's the same with cricketers. Cricketer A fumbling a sitter in Dubai has no link to Cricketer B grassing a dolly in Abu Dhabi. But human beings - and we must include television presenters in that category - much prefer patterns, or better yet, conspiracies. They come over all frowny if an expert who has been dragged in front of a camera to give pithy, trenchant opinions, suggests that, well, you know, stuff happens.

Having been bowled a nasty carrom ball with a side order of drift and an extra helping of wobbly seam, the men in tight shirts and studio trousers did their best. Ramprakash talked vaguely of the light; the light in the UAE being famously less light than the light in India, which is easier to see cricket balls in. Chopra tentatively shouldered arms. Yes, 20 catches had been dropped, but no, he didn't know why.

I would have gone further. I think it's a miracle that anyone ever catches anything. We are not designed for catching. Occasionally when a player manages to cling on to a couple, commentators will say he has bucket hands. This isn't true. Humans do not have buckets for hands, they have hands for hands: fragile arrangements of tendon and cartilage, protecting dainty hand-bones underneath a delicate, soft, bruise-prone skin.

If God had intended us to use these extremities for interrupting the progress of hard leather balls, then He would have given us something more useful at the end of our arms, such as enormous plastic bags or Lacrosse sticks or saucepans.

Catching a cricket ball is very hard. Have you ever tried it? I have. At a conservative estimate, I used to drop around 75% of the catches that came my way.

I always had an excuse. If the ball arrived too quickly I would drop it because it arrived too quickly and I didn't have time to adjust. "I'm not Ian Botham!" I would complain to my team-mates. If the ball came looping slowly through the air I would drop it because I had too long to think about it. "I'm not Ashish Nehra!" I would explain to my angry team-mates. The truth was, I dropped it because catching a cricket ball is difficult.

In some areas of a cricketer's job, we can insist upon a high standard of performance. Turning up at the ground on time, for example; wearing the right-coloured trousers; not bowling no-balls in exchange for money; not punching the umpire: these are all things that cricketers ought to be able to get right at least 90% of the time.

But catching is different. Whenever we see a professional cricketer running hither and thither, wary eyes on the sky as though tracking the progress of an incoming cricketer-eating eagle, before sprawling to the turf and emerging with a leather ball clamped among the collection of gnarly broken knuckles that constitute a cricketer's hand, we shouldn't shrug and mutter something about it being easy. We should stand and applaud.

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

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