Time is a linear concept. It moves forwards, a tick here, a tock there, waiting for no one. But human beings have fantasised about time travel for eons and produced innumerable books, movies and TV shows documenting our insatiable but ultimately impossible desire to tame time.
But for three hours on a chilly Autumn afternoon in New York City, some of the greatest cricketers of the last 25 years attempted to bring the past to the present.
The traveling roadshow that is the “Cricket All Stars” engineered by Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne – both easily in every conversation about Cricket's Greatest Of All Time – kicked off at CitiField, home of the New York Mets, in front of more than 20,000 adoring fans who wanted to re-live their cricketing youth.
Almost all the names that are on the tip cricket followers’ tongues everywhere had suited up for a T20 exhibition game designed to provide a ride in the magic time capsule: Ambrose and Walsh, Warne and McGrath, Sanga and Mahela, Sehwag and Sachin, Lara and Ponting, Murali and his rubber wrist, Jonty and his feline prowl.
In cricket, the hardest job is being a fast bowler. The strain the body has to go through to launch the ball at 90 mph is unimaginable for those who have never done it. And it is on them the effects of time is most severe. It is easier for batsmen and spinners to provide glimpses of their glory years, but when Allan “White Lightning” Donald sent down gentle floaters, it rudely interrupted our fantastical journey back in time.
Then there was Wasim Akram. Just the mention of the name conjures up visions of searing toe-crushing, inswinging missiles, launched by the most celebrated left arm in the cricketing universe. But even he can't resist the ravaging surge of time. Gentle looseners early and a few sharp deliveries late, a brief peek in to his wizardry was all that could be served up for the fans.
Ambrose and Walsh, one of the most celebrated fast bowlers pairs, delivered tepid half-trackers and were carted for 66 runs from five overs of combined futility. The Ambrose glares were there; the thoughtful Walsh nose twirls were there too, but conspicuous in their absence were the pace and the menace.
As it is, T20 is a batsman's game. With no pace in site, the batsmen cut loose. Sehwag, still playing First Class cricket, showed off his touch and timing by launching sixes around the oddly shaped contours of the baseball field. Tendulkar, as he has done many times before, played second fiddle to his clone, but there was no doubt who was first among equals with the crowd. The stadium roared when Tendulkar took the field, serenaded him with the usual chants, and was in raptures when he drove straight down the ground and flicked fine from middle stump for boundaries, just like he used to do for India.
Warne, the ultimate showman and show-stealer put the brakes on by dismissing Tendulkar, then mopped up Brian Lara and VVS Laxman for good measure too. Once Sehwag was gone, undone by Daniel Vettori's arm ball, the Sachin Blasters limped the rest of the way to a mediocre total.
With Matthew Hayden, Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakkara and Ricky Ponting in the line-up, Warne's Warriors were expected to cruise home and it needed something special to inject life in to this experimental exhibition game. Enter entertainer extraordinaire Shoaib Akhtar. Even as time had reduced other celebrated pacers to glorified trundlers, Shoaib hurled down thunderbolts and vicious bouncers and had the batsmen hopping. For a brief while, everyone actually believed time could be put on hold.
Along with the miserly Muttiah Muralitharan, who was weaving his old magic, Shoaib tried to will his side to victory. Hayden was sawn off by a rib tickler, Sangakkara succumbed to a steepler, and the famous aeroplane celebrations roused the adoring crowd.
But soon came the reminder that the hold on time was just temporary. Ambrose's non-violent offerings were pasted around the ball park, and the only thing left was for Tendulkar to roll his arm over. His generous offering was reverse-swept by Jonty Rhodes and the game came to a close.
People had come from far and wide to relive memories of their youth, played out by the same names but it wasn't the same game. Nevertheless, they roared their approval at the entertainment and headed for the exits, as time resumed its march.
Tick, Tock. Tick, Tock.
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