February 28, 2008

Assault and poetry

Laxman's rubber wrists v the Big Bird's bounce, and two masters of war



Clockwise from bottom left: Tendulkar, Garner, Laxman, Benaud © Getty Images, PA Photos

Cricket fans love playing parlour games and making lists. Who are your top ten left-handers in the history of the game? Top fast bowlers? Best close-in fielders? And so on. This one is the ultimate parlour game: which two batsmen would you like to see taking on which two bowlers in the amphitheatre of Test cricket?

Well, I'd go for Sachin Tendulkar versus Richie Benaud, and VVS Laxman versus Joel Garner.

I became a Benaud fan because of his commentary, the dignity and dry wit he brought to it, and the way in which he showed us the value of silence, of quietness. It was as if he was encouraging us to contemplate. But the most eloquent description of his bowling - and indeed of the art of legspin - comes not from memory but from an Alan Ross poem, "Watching Benaud Bowl":

"Leg-spinners pose problems much like love, Requiring commitment, the taking of a chance. Halfway deludes; the bold advance."

Given that Sachin Tendulkar is the man who mauled Shane Warne, the greatest legspinner in the history of the game, I would love to see how he takes a chance against the risk-taking that Ross says is central to legspin, and was at the heart of Benaud's art. Quite a sight, the flamboyant Benaud against the diminutive Tendulkar, aggressors both, and both equally intelligent at knowing when to attack most.

VVS is always a delight when he is killing the opposition with a song, especially if quality fast bowling and a hard, bouncy track are involved. Imagine the duel between the steepling bounce of Joel Garner and the strokes square of the wicket from the man whose wrists seemed to be made of something rather more elastic than bone and flesh and tissue. Would Laxman, swivelling around, be able to unleash his hook and his pull? The hypothetical question in this parlour game is, will Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Wayne Daniel be around to take over when Garner ends his spell? That might influence the manner in which VVS deals with the Big Bird.

Soumya Bhattacharya is deputy editor of Hindustan Times in Mumbai and the author of You Must Like Cricket? Memoirs of an Indian Cricket Fan