"We all have our time machines, don't we. Those that take us back are memories... And those that carry us forward, are dreams." -- H. G. Wells, The Time Machine.
For a sports fan, if there ever is a thing more appealing than watching contemporary stars in action, then it must be the prospect of past greats taking centre-stage. The MCC v Rest of the World XI clash on July 5 offers just this for us cricket fans. With some of the biggest names in recent times set to face off, this will be one of those very few matches that fans across the world will tune in to. And what better venue to host it than the historic Lord's celebrating its bicentenary. It does appear that the organizers have ticked all the right boxes . (Except, perhaps, bright and sunny weather. No, let's not jinx it.) But, if you look carefully, you will see that there is one crucial box that they have ticked, probably even without realizing it. I call this criterion crucial because it reveals a fundamental point of sport that cricket's administrators seem to have forgotten of late.
They say life is about moments that take your breath away. Sport is no different. Ian Chappell recalls a straight hit from Gary Sobers en route to his magnificent 254 at MCG in 1971-72. In his words, "O'Keefe (the bowler) sort of ducked and...[the ball] went like a plane taking off, for a six. That shot has always stayed with me." We have our favorites too, be it a Tendulkar straight drive, a Richards flick for a six or a Shane Bond inswinging yorker. Or a Michael Holding over or even an entire session. Such moments, or periods of play, are what create memories and stories to tell our grandchildren. These memories drive people to write articles and books on cricket and pass the baton of passion to future generations.
Creating lasting memories is, in my opinion, the raison d'etre of any sport. When folks turn up at stadiums or switch on their televisions, they do so with the hope that they witness acts of brilliance that not only thrill in the short term but are memorable enough to look back upon in ten years' time. I'm no psychologist, but I guess that is why viewers prefer watching Kevin Pietersen to Alastair Cook, or Australia v South Africa to New Zealand v West Indies. Pietersen has a greater probability of producing a magic innings that people talk about for years and attacking teams like Australia and South Africa tend to deliver a higher standard of cricket and closer finishes.
I have a small task for you. Pick three of your favorite matches which you have watched live. I'm guessing, if you have followed cricket for at least a decade, then there are no IPL or BBL games on your list. The reasoning is pretty simple: in spite of their close finishes and thrill-a-minute rides, domestic T20 games lack a vital ingredient. The build-up. My choice of games are the 2001 India v Australia Test at Eden Gardens, the Ashes Test in Edgbaston, 2005 and the 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa. One common thread among these games was the build-up. Australia had cruised to 15 wins on the trot before landing in India - their final frontier. On the other hand, India were a rebuilding side under Sourav Ganguly. Australia were the favourites ahead of the 2005 Ashes as well, though an English fightback was at last not beyond imagination. There isn't much to be said about the build-up to
Of course, the build-up is not absolutely necessary; the 438 game between Australia and South Africa, for instance, wasn't a high-profile one. But, more often than not, a sufficiently hyped encounter lingers in memory for a longer duration. Building up a series requires an adequate action-free period before it commences. From the viewers' perspective, this period must be a characterized by a sense of void which they try to fill by visualizing the action likely to occur. A bit like planning a vacation, and looking forward to it. For the players, more time before important tours means better preparation which results in closer contests; and fewer one-sided series such as the recent Ashes where Australia whitewashed a jaded England team.
Fortunately, the MCC vs RoW game has got this part covered. With the date and teams announced well in advance, and with the superstars off the field for a while now, the anticipation in the air is palpable. Can Shane Warne get some past the bat despite having lost that rip he used to impart back in the day? The last time an MCC v RoW match was held at Lord's in 1998, Tendulkar scored a marvelous 125. Can he do something similar this time around? Oh, and will he dance down the track to Warne and send one to the pavilion? Seven years away from cricket may have subdued Lara's backlift but who wouldn't love a crisp cover drive with his flair written all over it? If you like mouthwatering battles, look no further - the pace battery of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Umar Gul is pitted against Adam Gilchrist, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen. To top it all, Rahul Dravid's pristine drives are set to flow along the 200 year old slope. If only Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis could have joined the party.
The warriors may be past their prime, but let's hope for one more exhibition of their class. Let's hope for one more picture-perfect Tendulkar straight drive, one more magic Warne delivery that pitches outside leg and clips the top of off, and one more Sobers-esque straight hit from Lara on a sunny London evening as the old Father Time weather vane watches over. That would be a picture to remember.
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Vijay Subramanya has just completed his under-graduation. He has followed cricket for more than two-thirds of his time on earth.
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