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The batting success of the frustrated bowlers in the Trent Bridge Test was divine justice, writes Arunabha Sengupta.
“Like it or not, God is a batsman,” wrote Bill Ricquier while discussing the ways Abdul Qadir’s genius was blunted by unhelpful tracks.
He was not the only one. Plenty of other cricketers and cricket writers have voiced the same sentiment, if not in as many words. Cricket as a game is heavily loaded in favour of batsmen – they seem to be the chosen ones, while the men with the ball are merely there to toil.
In a light-hearted cricket dictionary doing rounds in the 1980s, the entry next to Don Bradman noted “n. see God. One parable speaks of his making runs in England while a lady in Australia wondered how he could see the ball at night.” In Monty Python and the Holy Grail it was the animated face of old WG Grace with the flowing beard depicting the Almighty as divine instructions were sent down to embark on the quest. And of course there is the famed Matthew Hayden comment, “I have seen God. He bats at number four for India.”
While a handful of batsmen have been raised to divine stature, it is rather curious to note that Fred Spofforth was given the epithet of Demon. Since then there have been plenty of ‘demon’ bowlers who have carried out sorcery with the cricket ball.
Besides, the most placid batting wicket is often described as beautiful, a paradise, while the moment the ball does something there are talks about devils in the pitch.
Ricquier’s words ring out true. God does indeed seem to be a batsman.
However, the just concluded Test match at Trent Bridge did provide hints that there is a guardian angel for the bowlers as well – and the divine justice rendered by that deity, however minor, is impish in keeping with the image of the devil.
It was a wicket that broke the backs of the bowlers, and their hearts, frustratingly slow, with a thin layer of brown grass that seemed to suck the life out of deliveries bowled with every bit of summoned strength. The nastiest of short balls were played with ease, with an aeon along with the willow in the hands, without even forcing the batsmen to get on the toes. There was no spin on offer either, till the very last session of the last day, to the one and a quarter spinners who bowled in the game.
Yet, the karmic balance was struck when these very bowlers, backs aching and sinews cramping from the toils, clutched their willows and went out to play their supposed minor roles. First, Bhuvneshwar Kumar raised his bat and then Mohammed Shami, registering half centuries both, batting together for two and a half hours to add111.
And then it was the turn of Jimmy Anderson, the sole man without a First-Class hundred in the England side, even a First-Class fifty before this game. He had not hit a fifty even in Lancashire League matches, his highest 49 for Burnley against Todmorden. He had bowled 38 overs under the sun. Shami had piled on humiliation by hitting him for six, that too straight down the ground.
Anderson did not want to go back to bowl that soon, not on this pitch. He reverse-swept for four, flashed his bat through the off side and the balls raced away, hammered a Wimbledon-style forehand and it streaked between the bowler and the mid-on.The bat kept swinging and the ball kept travelling. The fifty was raised with a hoik to the leg, the first in any form of cricket outside the backyard. By his own tongue-in-cheek admission, he raised the bat to the pavilion because he had seen other folks do the same on such occasions. Joe Root curiously continued to farm the strike, but Anderson chalked out 81, having batted nine minutes short of four hours. If Test cricket is not pronounced dead and buried under such graveyard tracks around the world, this is likely to remain the highest score of his career. The partnership for the last wicket amounted to a world record 198.
The tails were not done with their wagging. Kumar, his first innings exploits with the bat and his five wickets all rendered inconsequential by the lethargy of the track, seemed determined not to bowl on the wicket again. With two number elevens having notched up half centuries, the Indian No 9 made it perhaps the greatest Test in the tale of the tails by cracking his second half century of the match. He was unbeaten on 63 when the innings was closed and the match puffed and panted to an end, to infinite relief of the spectators.
Stuart Binny and Stuart Broad, two men with lots of similarity in names if not methods, also had memorable moments with the bat. But then, one is a batting all-rounder and the other a bowling one, and are perhaps not justifiable inclusions in this list.
However, the success of the worthy bowlers with the willow underlines that there is perhaps a god for the bowlers after all – rendering divine justice in his own curious ways.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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