Meeting Patrick Eagar

The photographer's tale

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan meets Patrick Eagar

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

July 31, 2007

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Patrick Eagar has been at 300 Tests and every World Cup © Wisden Asia Cricket
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No cricketer is likely to ever play 300 Tests: the most experienced one so far, Steve Waugh, figured in 168. It's a landmark only commentators, reporters, scorers and photographers are likely to achieve. Patrick Eagar, the veteran photographer who has been at every single World Cup, covered his 300th Test at Lord's last week, but talks cricket with the childlike enthusiasm of someone who's at his first game.

Capturing an innings in a few photographs can't be easy, especially if it's a dour batsman plodding along. Eagar has covered the entire spectrum - from Geoff Boycott's stodge to Adam Gilchrist's savagery - and remembers exactly where he was when he shot some great innings.

"Photographing Boycott needed immense patience. Botham and Richards usually made your life easier. Gower made you nervous. Tendulkar is tough. With Lara you can sit anywhere on the ground. Vaughan's cover-drive... yeaaawww, super."

Being in the right place is crucial, depending on the player's style, and a photographer needs to be open to changing his position. Growing up in Hampshire Eagar had the pleasure of watching Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge open the batting - a partnership so divine that he thinks they might have been the "greatest opening act in history". His most satisfying day at work was July 3, 1984 when Greenidge unleashed a furious 214 not out, leading West Indies to a record-breaking run-chase at Lord's. "That was a dead-set draw. They had 340-odd to get in half a day and I was sitting at mid-off watching Gordon play all those strokes square of the wicket. I quickly moved square and got almost every single boundary. If you were square that day, you'd have got the whole innings."

Another time when he needed to go square was on the final day of the Old Trafford Test in 1990, when Tendulkar was moving towards his first Test hundred. "Because he had to work so hard for it, if he scored at all it was probably square rather than fine or straight," Eagar says of the match-saving innings. "If you were sitting in the wrong place you probably didn't get anything. Other batsmen were prepared to hook, or play very fine, and you could stay over the wicketkeeper for them, but there are several hundreds where you think, 'I haven't got anything.'

"You will get shocks now and then - like Gilchrist's innings this winter when he almost broke Viv Richards's record [for the fastest Test hundred]. I got some good pictures, but in retrospect I should have been sitting somewhere else."

Positioning isn't the only thing; the type of bowling makes a big difference. "Photographing batsmen depends on the bowlers," says Eagar. "If you've got a spinner at each end and batsmen using their feet, it requires a certain orientation. If you've got Glenn McGrath bowling the just-short-of-a-length, what-the-hell-do-you-do-with-it kind, you've got to be really patient. One-day cricket - you get batsmen playing shots, taking chances. You need to take a call on how to click then."

I find Tendulkar quite difficult to photograph. I've seen him in a slightly more passive mould. I find it very difficult to take a picture of him that has people saying, 'What a good batsman!' I don't know why

Patrick Eagar

The least camera-friendly batsman he has trained his lens on? "With Boycott all you could get is a good defensive stroke. He used to open the batting and get his hundred at six o'clock. That's 33 a session. Maybe a couple of fours. When he got older he'd go slower. Basically he just cut out all the risky shots. But if you've Richard Hadlee coming at you all day, you didn't get too many bad deliveries. You need to be patient. I needed to as well."

Eagar is a fine storyteller but it is his thoughts on batsmen that are the most interesting. He remembers that magical day at Headingley when a bare-headed Ian Botham stopped a nation, swinging bat, match and series in a span of a few hours. "It's different now," he says when asked about the helmet-less batsman being driven to extinction. "Batsmen did have an instant character based on the shape of the cap, or hat, or bare head. You used to have soft caps earlier - they used to squash them and crease them, and you could see from the back and say, 'That's so-and-so'. Now with the helmet, especially helmets of the same brand, it's very hard. I find if Ian Bell is batting with Paul Collingwood, they've got the same helmet, the same bat, the same pads, the same boots, the same reddish-coloured hair, and some of their strokes are very similar too."

What of the two modern masters? Lara or Tendulkar? "I find Tendulkar quite difficult to photograph. That's probably because I've seen more of Lara in the one-day situation than Tendulkar. You have to admire some of the inventiveness in some of Lara's shots. I've seen Tendulkar in a slightly more passive mould. I find it very difficult to take a picture of Tendulkar that has people saying, 'What a good batsman!' I don't know why; need to work it out. I still have this series."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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