February 2, 2009

Aesthetics above all

Four players who thrilled the senses like few could

Clockwise from above left: Gower, Lara, McKenzie, Edmonds © Getty Images

There are two choices for a selector plunged into this delicious predicament. Do you make the criteria competitiveness? Or focus on aesthetics, on sensual enrichment?

In the first scenario, give me Viv Richards, Steve Waugh, Dennis Lillee and SF Barnes. The art of competition, after all, lies in never giving your opponent the slightest whiff of a hint that they might just possibly have your measure. This quartet wouldn't know a losing cause if it came up to them, kissed them on the lips and offered to have their babies.

But I'm an Option 2 man by nature, and the senses must be served, which means sacrificing exhilaration for beauty. Tom Graveney's elegance seduced an eight-year-old soccer fanatic who'd just discovered the wonders of the Dutch masters (no, not Cruyff and Gullit but Rembrandt and Van Dyck), but David Gower had a broader palette and made even Tom's cover-drive look robotic. More sublime yet was Brian Lara, the Dali of the crease, range as vast as his touch was exquisite. Here, as with Gower, was willow/brush wielded as extension of self.

Graham McKenzie was almost too poised and stately for a fast bowler, but with that rockin'-in-rhythm approach and tennis-serve gather he could have modelled for Leonardo. Tempting as it is to celebrate the unique shapes and curves thrown by the freshly departed Hedley Howarth, Phil Edmonds pips Bishan Bedi for the artful dodger's slot courtesy a livelier action and an even wider streak of flamboyance: Lichtenstein meets Kandinsky. Pity Sergio Leone is no longer around to direct the movie. Once Upon A Time In The Middle anyone?

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton