Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is the author of the new non-fiction book 'Greater than Bradman: celebrating Sachin, the greatest batsman in cricket history'. He tweets @RudolphFernandz
First, they walked like storks on to the green. Then, they strode like gladiators in a colosseum. Now, they run amuck like Hummers.
They still sport their stork-whites in Tests but now there's a spray-gun in the dressing room, and a new shade each season.
Then, they only took guard. Now, they wear it all over.
Then, sessions died at sundown. Now, floodlights stand tall, their glares stretching a mile into the night, picking out long-leg as easily as deep extra-cover.
Pigeons still scatter when a shot comes through.
Silly mid-off and silly-point still creep forward, as one man, when the bowler runs in. The slips rise too, as one, when there's an edge, barely heard, barely seen.
They rise in anticipation, some in hope.
Point, cover and gully can see each other's faces, the bowler's, the wicket-keeper's - one family. They see the grimaces, the grins. They hear the cussing. While long-off and long-on wander in virtuous reverie.
Players dream that practice at the nets will somehow become performance on the field. They still practise. Some perform.
Suddenly, umpires are gods no longer. Another pair of eyes now lurks in the stands and a giant screen flashes uber-verdicts above their feeble fingers.
Commentators drool with slow-mo omniscience. And bails, believe it or not, can now 'hear'.
Sixes come far easier now, balls soaring like missiles from a rocket-launcher.
Crowds are now quick to cheer. They're quicker to curse.
Scoreboards now throb, an orgy of slogans, 'spots' and scores. Those from before seem celibate in comparison.
And brands conspire over eyeballs.
There's beauty still, in leg glances, in upper-cuts, in stunning straight drives.
There's beauty hidden, in the folds of the game - a string of right-handers followed by an inexplicably graceful left-hander. Or over the wicket all afternoon followed by around at tea. Beauty hidden in the unpredictability of a follow-on, the inevitability of a follow-through, the brilliance of a one-handed return-catch or an innings that winks at the record book.
There's fascination in the one that nips back. And fever in the last-ball, last-man voodoo.
And there's ugliness, lying around like litter. Bottles thrown by fanatics dressed up as fans. Boards 'in love with the game' who would sooner sell it short. Bribes given and received and matches fixed.
Sometimes our heroes in the middle are no more than a pack of hustlers.
There's still the push and pull of battle, the clawing back from the brink.
The byes linger - to batsmen, a blessing. To bowlers, a curse.
The eyes of grown men still chase a spinning coin all the way down until they see which side is up.
The batsman still takes guard; a monk kneeling on his favourite spot.
A bowler with three wickets in a row is still a magician, with a 'hat' and a 'trick'.
An unbeaten batsman can still wind up in the beaten team.
And a virgin over is still a 'maiden'.
It is morning, as play begins. The sun is high and the clouds full of mischief. Two men look at the pitch - the batsman grimaces, the bowler grins.
Cricket - then, now, forever.
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