Telegraph Calcutta

How David Gower does it off field

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Someone did say famously, and ringingly, that you’d pay just to watch David Gower stroll to the crease and take guard. It’s a description that has aged well; on the evidence of this evening, you’d pay just to watch David Gower walk up to the lectern and lean, with that looming hunch of his, gently on the microphone.

Here’s the bionic version of Strunk & White: The Elements of Style, the walking, talking, posing, pausing version of it. Were you to notice carefully, it’s never been in what he wears, not in the flannels he hung out years ago, not in the crisp tailored suit and impeccably polished shoes he wore on Wednesday; it’s all worked into his bones, they only listen to languor’s command.

Gower himself has aged well too; he’s goldie locks no more, but it’s tough to credibly argue he isn’t silver streak. A big sexagenarian bolt of it whose presence can be quite as arresting as the indelible image of Bonnie Gower at the crease, wooden sabre in hand. There is a genuine sabre tale in the works too somewhere but we shall come to it in a bit.

And so when that bolt is invited on stage — Lord of the 2019 edition of the Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture — and begins by saying, “That’s all we have time for this evening, I’m afraid,” you know you’ve arrived in the presence of a singular style.

The Air India presents Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture is a joint initiative by The Bengal Club and The Telegraph in association with The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata.

Gower spoke for an hour thereupon, and for an hour everything in the Ballroom of the Oberoi Grand remained riveted on the bolt centre stage. You are permitted not to look elsewhere when David Gower is on show.

It’s also permitted not to instantly break into laughter and applause when David Gower has cracked one, because his angles of humour can often be impossibly obtuse.

He spoke for, instead, with artfully restrained wistfulness, of a hundred per cent record as England captain against the West Indies. Took more than just a moment to process that. Turned out it was a record of hundred per cent defeats. And once the reality of it had sunk in, a startled applause followed.

Gower had themed the evening “Fun. Style. Excellence”. He littered his discourse with illustrations of each category that have illumined the game — Root, Bumrah, Smith, de Villiers, Jayawardene, Gayle and, of course, Kohli, with no prejudice to those who couldn’t be named for shortness of time — but nobody quite in those lists fitted all three categories. Gower did. And he was saying it without having the faintest need to say it; it was clear as daylight on a day there is daylight. When you have David Gower, fun, style and excellence fall away as synonyms, no more.

What Gower did spell out was what’s not fun, style and excellence. What Steve Smith and David Warner got up to on the playing field in South Africa isn’t — “You don’t need sandpaper to win a game of cricket.”

What Ravichandran Ashwin did just the other night against Jos Buttler of Rajasthan Royals just the other night isn’t either.

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“What happened with that Mankading was wrong. Yes, it was entirely lawful, but there’s more to it than the law. Ashwin says it was instinct that made him do it, I hope in time he has occasion to revisit and revise his opinion on what he did. I am not entirely of the school that says win at all costs, there are ways of winning that, for instance, do not need sandpaper.” Add Mankading to that, please.

As Gower spoke, Ashwin’s side were struggling against KKR no farther than a dog’s pee walk. Gower, who did declare a late-evening ambition of catching the latter half of the Eden game, may well have muttered a “just as well” to himself.

There’s another occasion he spoke of to which “just as well” might fit, and allow us to return to the promised tale of the sabres. Gower snatched the Ashes from the Aussies as captain of England in 1985, but the next bout the adversaries had, in the 1989 season, the Aussies returned to smoke out Gower’s team. At the end of it, Gower invited Allan Border, his rival skipper, home for a congratulatory drink.

It was planned over a toast of champagne. Gower chose to uncork the bottle French fashion; it’s apparently called saberage, or some such thing. Only, the Gower household possessed no sabres. He chose a garden axe for the job.

And so instead of sabring the champagne cork, French fashion, he axed it. And the tiniest shard of flying glass caught the side of Border’s temple.

“It’s the only blood I drew that season.”

Just as well. Style can, on required occasion, be cutting.

TTLink

2013, Bombay, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song

 

Mumbai, Nov 15: In his redolent memoir of a life fully lived, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda recounted a childhood fragment of hunting swans — big unwieldy birds, clumsy of flight, easy to strike down. As a boy, Neruda once tended a battered swan as big as himself for several weeks, until one day its neck twisted and the swan keeled. “It was then that I learned,” Neruda wrote, as only he could, “that swans don’t sing when they die.”

Should some quirk of magic-realism have brought the laureate to the Wankhede for Sachin’s swansong this morning, he may have considered revising his evocation of how swans die.

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This one danced all the way to sudden death, laying back, stepping down, swinging, twisting, flicking, flickering on like a flame nobody save eleven West Indians on the park wanted put out. He brought the spectators tiers to sing and swing along. He was on a waltz that held the swell and ebb of a million pumping hearts, temporarily the sole conductor of diastoles and systoles.

Continue reading “Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song”

Bombay, Mumbai, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Sachin Tendulkar: Where No Man Has Been Before

Mumbai, Nov 14: History is unbeaten on 38 and has taken an overnight break. The future resumes in a while. A little past nine in the morning, millions of hearts will leap back into mouths and begin to palpitate like prayer.

Sachin Tendulkar’s last stand on the cricket field has interrupted this long and cheerless season of cynicism, drowned out unseemly political blame and claim, smothered the clamour on many embattled barricades and brought a whole nation to exult in unison: “Saachin! Saachin!!”

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Despondency and dissonance can await restoration on prime time; at 33 minutes past three this afternoon, Sachin began to cause a happy disruption, however temporary, with a kilo and a half of willow at the Wankhede.

He brought it sheathed in India colours, and wielded it like a wand of undiminished magic. He made it seem an outrageous travesty he is hanging his cap on it after this one and taking it home forever, signing off at a chosen peak because he can see none else left to climb.

Every moment he has spent on the playing park in recent years, every single run he has scored, has become a new space no man has ever been before. No one has played as many Tests, no one has scored as many runs; maybe he is bored on this solo run, weary of pushing the boundaries so far his company has fallen out of sight.

He pushed a little further on today for cricket and country, and progressed farther afield, a little more solitary in that zone. Six missives to the ropes in his unfinished essay — four exquisite taunts to gaps on the off boundaries, a delectable paddle to fine leg, and the last, a signature posting of authority to long on. Fourteen singles, squeezed about and caressed, 51 other offerings patiently seen through, as if he were determined to make his last fling more than just a one-night stand. He was correct as a textbook throughout; only, the Windies, who have given a torrid description of themselves thus far, couldn’t read him.

Darren Sammy’s men stood Sachin a gracious guard of honour as he walked in, then immediately laid an elaborate snare — slip, close in, short point, forward short leg, a fine leg so short he could pick Sachin’s back-pocket, and wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin breathing down his bootlaces. Shane Shillingford, the lone Caribbean shark on tour, had the blood of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay fresh on his fingers; he was finning in for another kill. Sachin dabbed and padded and then twirled one to square leg and called ‘run’, oblivious that Cheteshwar Pujara couldn’t possibly have heard him at the other end. The roar lifting off the Wankhede was such, it was pushing the risen tides of the Arabian Sea on the close by shore. “Saachin! Saachin!!”

For the better part today, the Wankhede centrestage was actually the fringe — deep fine leg, or third man, or long off, where Sachin stood as the West Indians crumbled yet again around the pole of a promising start. For all the merry wreckage Pragyan Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin & Co were causing mid-field, the arena’s attentions roved and settled where Sachin went. It was a crowd unwilling to concede cricket is an eleven-a-side game; it was there just for that one diminutive giant minding the fence in a floppy hat.

To behold Sachin unmindfully tapping grass and enacting that trademark pre-stance crouch in the face of such imploring adulation was to be in the vicinity of a transcendent presence. How may a man contain the reverberation of a million jangling nerves, let alone his own?  How may a man remain calm in the eddy of high-decibel arousal and expectation he has come to cause? Sachin looked so removed and disengaged under his helmet from the reverence rippling around, it almost seemed a rude thing to do.

But then, he may have been otherwise occupied. He may have been paying final obeisance to the craft that has made Sachin Tendulkar what he is — beyond adjective or ascription, Sachin Tendulkar himself. The Chief Editor of my newspaper is possessed of quirky inventiveness with metaphors. He discontinued describing the few things he reckoned world-class as world-class a while back; he began to call them Tendulkar-class.

The world saw Sachin salute the Wankhede turf before he took guard today; what he may have kept to himself was a bow to mother Rajini whose first match-day out at the stadium would be her son’s last. And to guru Ramakant Achrekar, who arrived on the viewing deck in a wheel-chair to watch his ward play one final time.

Sachin’s elders may have to make that effort one more time tomorrow. History is still in the scripting. And when Sachin enters the Wankhede bowl tomorrow, he might well render the future for his cricketing peers a little more unattainable. Breathe easy, this man has nothing more to prove than the undying expectations of his following.

2013, Calcutta, News, Telegraph Calcutta

When Greg Comes To Gangulytown, Effigywallahs Haunt Him

Calcutta: He came despite the effigywallahs. There were enough of them at a time, especially in this city, for him to ponder cheeky profit — craft miniature effigies, trade them at a dollar a piece and die a rich man.

He came despite having had to wonder whether it had been worth trysting with India or Indian cricket, which can often begin to seem the same thing.

He came winging all the way from Melbourne for forty minutes on an arc-lit stage erected in another man’s honour.

Greg Chappell must desperately believe there are more pieces to his mind than got picked during his truncated tutorship of Team India. Any takers or none, he revealed some of the leftovers this evening in the course of a meditation on whether India can become the Brazil of cricket.

Continue reading “When Greg Comes To Gangulytown, Effigywallahs Haunt Him”

2013, Essay, Telegraph Calcutta

The Swan Whose Song The Aussies Won’t Miss

At Mohali in 2010,VVS Laxman revealed why for the last time 

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;

Bring me my Arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

–William Blake

They counted on that sore lower vertebra of his too much and forgot the man had a spine attached to it. In the first outing, pain had chained his reach and rasp. He came late and left early, half cocking a benign dipper into the slips: VVS Laxman, caught Michael Clarke bowled Nathan Hauritz for two.

This morning he put a bone to his back, like a warrior would put sword to scabbard, and strode into the field of slaughter, unbothered that it was already soaked in blood and more would leap from the spoils to stain his whites. For him this was a classic triple-relish moment. Laxman favours the second innings, he favours a fight to the finish even more. But ever more than any of that, he has a fondness for favouring the Aussies with silken dictatorship. It began as an adolescent fancy, punishing the men from Down Under, then flowered from hobby to habit to hallmark.

Continue reading “The Swan Whose Song The Aussies Won’t Miss”