I start this letter with a confession. I am confused. I cannot decide whether I love your game more than I hate it. I enjoy the rush of adrenaline when you are out there lording over the 22-yards, yet it comes with a sense of trepidation: is this man going to destroy cricket as we knew it? He makes cricket such an unequal game! A cricketing contest is called a match, but is a ‘match’ ever possible with this man around? If my letter is already coming across as eulogy in bad packaging, rest assured it’s not.
I am what people would call a classicist. We are romantics who see cricket, specifically the art of batting, as lyrical poetry or elegant prose. If the batting of the likes of David Gower or Mohammad Azharuddin was sheer poetry in motion, that of Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar was superb prose in action. When players like Vivian Richards broke into the scene with their flamboyant audacity, it was only a pleasant break from the routine. Yes, being what we are we tend to exaggerate the past a bit but having grown up amid the languorous ambience of five-day Test cricket we are conditioned to think and behave in a certain way.
And I have several grouses against you. The most important being that you are killing cricket, or at least the romantic notion of it we old-timers carry in our hearts. I watched you bat against England Wednesday and you came across, as usual, as a bully. A 48-ball hundred from you does not surprise us any more, neither do the 11 towering sixes. You have been doing this for some time now, and re-re-defining power batting with only yourself as the bench mark. There have been others — a few hours before you stepped onto the field, Shahid Afridi of Pakistan was busy in a similar annihilation job against Bangladesh, taking the bowlers by the scruff of the neck — but no one has been as emphatic as you.
You have become the brand ambassador of a type of cricket that purists would detest. Your batting has no class and no elegance. You make the game a casual affair on the pitch, indifferent and quiet one minute and an intense bout of aggression the next. Perhaps you keep chewing a gum while at it. The animal that would best describe this form of batting is the rhinoceros. Nobody ever said the rhino was a beautiful animal. Powerful, yes, but we are accustomed to grace. You must understand with every six you hit off a good ball deserving to be treated with respect our moth-balled idea of cricket takes a pounding. The applause for you around keeps telling us that we are getting old and redundant.
When the one-day format kicked off, we never considered it a threat to the five-day universe familiar to us. It was a pleasant dessert to the main course. Batsmen were scoring runs in a hurry, but the 60-over format, later 50, allowed batting to retain its essential grace and purity. There were dare-devils and deviants such as Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Mark Greatbatch, Sanath Jayasuriya and later Virender Shewag but the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mathew Hayden, Michael Hussey kept the sanity of classical batting going. On a high-speed lane you could still manage being a regular driver, the classical still scored over the current.
The Twenty20 format, the bikini version of the game, was supposed to be about thrills and frills. Now it threatens to be the game itself. Dear Chris, observe the madness for T20 matches, the public loathing for slow batting and your own popularity from a distance and you would realise how the game has changed and how you have become a critical agent in it. The art of batting has lost its heart somewhere. Young people in cricket nurseries are being taught about impact hitting; they are being asked by coaches to shun the fascination for grace and aim at clearing the 30-yard circle every time they hit a cricket ball. And you are an idol for them.
The more one watches them practicing, the more depressed one gets. Perhaps it’s time you told them that you are a genius. T20 does not make you what you are. It’s different matter that your style fits into this format perfectly. You have scored triple hundreds in Tests too and that was good, decent cricket.
Yes, as am writing this I am still a bit confused about whether I hate you or I love you as a cricketer. As an incurable romantic I see you as a bit of a rebel too. But I also see the threat of being made redundant by you.