This is Part 2 of a series in which Rajesh Ramaswamy pairs two different cricketers from different teams and eras who could easily be mistaken for siblings in the way they went about their game. Read on for more on the soul-siblings of the gentleman's game!
One was a southpaw, the other was a right-hander. They were separated by an ocean and a generation, but on the cricket field, by little else. They were embodiments of pure, silky smoothness - one, the urbane antithesis of the regimented Englishman with the stiff upper lip, and the other, a free-flowing expressionist in a land where a ‘matey’ muscularity was the leitmotif of sport and life.
Waugh was always compared to a sibling who was the epitome of grit, guts and the ‘digger spirit’, while Gower's career was cruelly Siamese-twinned with that of a brilliant colleague who wore his Zapata moustache with an almost military severity, and turned up his nose (and blue collar) at anything hinting of the bourgeois.
Both were supremely talented, but in the ultimate analysis, were considered lesser men to those they were compared with- a grave injustice in the eyes of the cricket romantics, but a fair call for the more statistically minded. While both Waugh and Gower had the figures to suggest a more than nodding acquaintance with greatness, there were always Chinese whispers in the sweatier corridors of the Gentlemen’s game that they didn’t quite relish a fight, and couldn’t knuckle down and front up when the chips were down. This, probably, owed more to the albatrosses on their necks: the men they were compared with, who were hyped as Colossuses that stood on the burning deck, often all alone.
Both Gower and Waugh were Zen masters at the art of ‘exasperatus maximus’. They could frustrate you even as they whetted your sensibilities, making you moan with pleasure at a silken cover drive off what would be classified a good ball, and then follow it up by edging a wide ball to the keeper. There was, in them, a divine disdain for those lesser mortals who had the temerity to fling leather orbs at them, and they fell victim, more often, to their own boredom, than to the bowler’s skills. Or so it seemed!
Both were languid creatures and their innate ease of expression often sent out signals of lazy indolence; of not trying hard enough, especially on those occasions when they failed and the team consequently lost. That is when the knives would be out, and the self-same purists who sang hosannas to their artistry, would now look askance at their ‘lack of application’. There was the feeling that things came easy to them, and that’s why they didn’t have to work hard. And that they preferred to lounge in the pool and play the fiddle while their peers burnt those extra calories.
These pop psychology theories, expounded by newsbyte-hungry journos, easily took root in dressing rooms where the plebeians ruled, and consequently created urban legends that were far from flattering to their genius, imbuing the silkiness with a veneer of petulant sulkiness.
It didn’t help that both artists chose not to sweat the small stuff, and preferred not to go that extra mile at practice... nor did it help that their public persona was always impeccably elegant and well turned out. The sweat stains didn’t show, either in their shot-making, or in their demeanour, and this image further fed the legend of the spoilt brats of cricket.
What the TV cameras, the pundits and the media missed was that it took a hell of a lot of effort to look effortless, and that when someone scores over 8000 Test runs against some of the best bowling of all time, there has to be a lot of steel encased within the silk.
And when we consider how the two scored those runs, and the vivid brush with which they painted their masterpieces, we can’t but help feel that these were soul-siblings with a special between them. Made of the purest silk!
(Rajesh Ramaswamy is a former fast bowler who believes he could have been the answer to India's long prayer for an 'express' paceman. He regularly clocked speeds hovering in the late 80's and occasionally let fly deliveries that touched the 90's. Unfortunately for him, the selectors were talking 'mph', while he was operating in the metric lane with 'kmph'. But he moved on from that massive disappointment which resulted from what he termed a 'miscommunication', and became a communications professional. After a long innings in advertising as a Creative Director, he co-founded a brand consulting firm called Contrabrand. He lives in Chennai and drives down to work in Bangalore... an arrangement that he finds less time consuming and stressful than getting from one end of Bangalore to the other)