Friday, April 21, 2006

WG comes to Sheikh Zayed stadium

1st ODI of DLF Cup between India and Pakistan at Abu Dhabi: Pakistan, chasing 198, are 70/2 after 17.3 overs. Irfan Pathan bowls the 4th delivery and Inzamam cuts it to left of point. The diving point fielder Yuvraj Singh denies non-striker Younis Khan a view of the ball as the latter bolts off the blocks expecting it to go past Yuvraj. But Yuvraj recovers from a rubbery full-stretch dive in a flash, ball in hand and flings it at the bowler’s end where Younis is now scampering back from mid-pitch. Throw comes at the wrong side of the stumps.

Pathan crosses the pitch and barely grasps the ball, arms outstretched. The momentum is taking him away from the stumps. Pathan twists his overbalanced frame and tries to back-flick the ball on to the stumps in a jiffy, quite unaware of the large distance Younis still has to cover behind his back, and misses a crucial runout chance. That missed opportunity rankles the bowler and anguish shows up on his face.

That little passage of play hits me. It fires a short circuit in me. A
jump cut instantly transports my thoughts back to the age of the bearded doctor. Dr. William Gilbert Grace, WG in short.

“His most conspicuous act as a doctor is thought to have occurred when an unfortunate fieldsman impaled himself on the boundary fence at Old Trafford.”

WG derived corollaries to the adage ‘cricket is a batsman’s game’ all by himself. Even the
umpires of Bristol were not spared WG’s disdain.

Furthering that logic Dr. Grace must have expected the bowlers to ‘serve’ as live bowling machines on the crease while he was batting. [I can picture some of them copping mouthfuls from the legend for showing a willingness to see his back in that blasphemy called appealing.] And close-in fielders would be no more to him than pests asking to be swatted.

Delicious possibilities spring to mind as I imagine the DLF incident to occur in the 1880’s with the Doc at the non-striking end instead of Younis. Shivers, though, run down the spine to think of the throw hitting the stumps…. Sometime in the near future ICC may do an Edgar Allan Poe on Andre Nel & co. and gift them with bedtime horror stories set in the era. That may make Nel count his blessings and wake up less grumpy next morning.

Something fixes the momentary neuron dysfunction up in my head, and I am back in 2006 watching live coverage of DLF Cup. “Younis?” I grimaced at the image on screen. I fail to allow that lean and exuberant young man take over the slot WG was occupying moments back. The cameras swap and a dominating figure now occupies the television screen. And then it strikes me. Younis’ partner there at the crease is the one more likely to pull off a cool ‘WG’!

As much as with the batting, WG keeps popping up in other facets of Inzamam’s persona every now and then. A chip of The Old Doc unveals in that beard of Inzy while another peeps from that looming frame, that age-of-innocence look, that stroll-in-the-park gait of his while relaxing between deliveries (‘Waiting for a bus’ - Dean Jones sums it up).

On the telly screen Inzy fails to put bat on one and bowler Sreesanth has a word to say. Inzamam huffs. This man has disdain for the mere mortals called bowlers - just like WG! I decide to check out online for more tallies between the two specimens. The Doc’s Player’s page for the Doc can probably help me out.

More similarities come to the fore. “Athletic is not a word that obviously comes to mind when contemplating Grace in his prime, though a slim young man did precede the pot-bellied genius who in middle age was far too heavy for any horse to bear.” Remember the droopy-eyed, rangy rookie that played arguably the greatest one-day innings in recent World Cup history during a
1992 semi-final match?

It seems unbelievable today that Bill Lawry even referred to Inzamam as a “wonderful athlete” on live commentary when Inzy returned in the finals to strike a few priceless end over blows in the Pakistan innings.

I’m going ahead with WG2 then….that is Inzy’s new nickname as far as I am concerned!

Having WG2 in the team works out just fine for Shoaib Akhtar too. “It is rather startling when he suddenly appears at the bowling crease,” said the Doctor about English skipper Aubrey Smith, who had a curious, curved approach to the wicket that earned him the unwieldy nickname `
Round The Corner'. With WG2 playing for his side Akhtar can expect to be spared such potential assaults on that not-too-ordinary run up of his.


“This man (WG), for heaven’s sake, opened for England at the age of 50.”
More similarities there!

WG2 gives India a scare and plays a tireless, perfectly paced lone hand in Pakistan’s unsuccessful chase of 270 in the 2nd DLF Cup match. 36 is clearly not the age to even start assessing post retirement options when you can still bat like that. [I may have to withdraw my comment on WG2 in another DS post. “I do not see him doing great things in ODI's for a very long time from here” looks a prediction gone terribly wrong.]

A pest of an opposition skipper dares run him out in that match (and runs away to the boundary to save his skin) but no swear words are forthcoming from the departing WG2. Rather un-WG-like…

“He (WG) was notorious for employing, in order to pursue victory or personal achievement, a variety of wiles and tricks that may be thought of as, well, hardly cricket.” I’m afraid we have reached the end of the road. Do I hear fans of good Samaritan Inzy promptly scream out other dissimilarities? We run the risk of doing Inzy’s beloved game a disservice by letting this piece end on that sour note.

“Grace’s towering presence, more than any other single factor, transformed it (cricket) into the unrivalled spectator sport of summer, first of all in England, subsequently in other lands spread widely across the world. I would even suggest that a true measurement of WG’s unique stature is that he is instantly identifiable, even by some who are uninterested in his vocation, by his initials alone.”

Aah, that’s much better! WG2 will rather be IH after that.

[Quotes courtesy: Geoffrey Moorhouse, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1988]
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

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