From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.16 :: Apr. 21, 2011
Suppose, just dream for a moment, that your remaining time on this earth was limited and imagine what you might like to see all over again.
Stuff that had gone and cannot be repeated. Not everything that is shown on TV is still on record. Tape is expensive and television companies reuse it within days; Ravi Shastri's six sixes in an over no longer exists. So great feats are lost and once again we have to rely on our memories.
I will give you my special moments in sport although they do not compete with the time your first child is born, or the second child collects a university degree; never mind that moment when you hit that perfect cover drive or laid on that try or scored a hat-trick at football even though it was only a practice match.
First, there is Arkle's catch, mainly because I was so close to the action. I was on my second tour, following England round New Zealand and we were in Palmerstone North, not too far from Wellington on North Island.
A bunch of us took a walk round the boundary and found Arkle — more formally Derek Randall, about the finest fielder of any generation — and stood talking to him as he patrolled at deep mid-wicket. He was as near mad as anyone who has played the game, a chatterer, gesticulating wildly to make his points, the perfect companion on a dull day, as this was.
“All right, all right, I have some fielding to do,” he said suddenly and turned and walked in just in time to see a pull shot hit like a tracer bullet towards him. He ran in and dived and caught the ball in his finger tips and, without a pause, turned towards us to show what he had done and then, with his back still to Bob Taylor, the wicket-keeper, tossed the ball full pitch into Taylor's gloves at the top of the wicket.
I have nothing to compare before or since.
A no-no of a tour match, with little at stake, made glorious by a stroke of genius. I rarely applauded while I was a cricket correspondent but that day I wanted to carry Arkle round the field on my shoulders.
The next episode concerns Dennis Lillee. I was his ghost while he was with Northamptonshire and we met on the third day of a match against Gloucestershire. We had time to talk because it rained. “Nice brief rain storm,” said Dennis, as it stopped. “Pitch will be lively when they bat again. I'd better loosen up.”
At that moment the tannoy announced a time for the resumption and Lillee clearly could not wait to start. He had his sweater off at the top of his run by the time his mates were sorting out the field and for the next hour gave a master class in medium pace bowling on a juiced up pitch.
Not a ball went adrift, the edge of various bats tried in vain to make contact with his outswingers and the other bowlers followed his lead.
By the time he swung his sweater round his mighty shoulders and headed for the dressing room Northants had won at their ease. Lillee had six for 68 in 29 overs and those watching had a sublime memory.
Of course I would also like to see Viv Richards again as he was at St. John's that day in 1986 when he hit a century in 56 balls off his best pal Ian Botham and John Emburey, about the world's finest off-spinner at that time. One low skimming six went back over Botham's head into the stand behind the bowler; an enormous number of strides from impact to impact. Awesome is an overused word but that day Richards was just that — and majestic — on his own island. There was a single ball that stays on my mind, from Norman Cowans to Sunil Gavaskar in Delhi in 1985. The first delivery of the second innings pitched perfectly, outswing defeated Gavaskar's groping bat and the grasping gloves of Paul Downton and pitching just short of the boundary hit the iron advertising boards with a clang I can hear to this day.
“If it had been an inch or two shorter it would have brought us six byes,” Gavaskar said to me years later.
There was also a practice session staged because there was rain that, even at midday, had seen play called off for the day, at Chesterfield. Geoff Boycott was the Yorkshire captain and, on the damp outfield, with the ball moving and his finest bowlers trying, he batted for an hour and only one ball passed his bat.
That hour told me all I ever needed to know about the man.
Jack Russell was my all-time favourite among many characters. He was almost as mad as Randall but quieter with a more commercial streak and makes money from his painting — which cricket fans love and art critics sneer at — now that his playing days are done.
His eccentricity meant that — like Arkle, funnily enough — he was not popular. He kept people at arm's length because he would give his home phone number to no-one and his strange eating habits made his team-mates shake their heads.
Jack summoned one to the edge of the field. “At exactly seven minutes before lunch I want you to pour boiling water on to the stuff you will find in a packet in my kit bag,” he said. “Keep it warm until I get back to dressing room.”
“No, thanks, Jack — do it yourself,” was the response shorn of its industrial language.
Marvellous, isn't it, cricket. So much to chuckle over later, so much that bears retelling.
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