India has been blessed with great talents in the 90s, pace bowlers breathing hell, fire and brimstone. There was Srinath, of the whippy action, who would throw his hands up in the air whenever the ball was creamed past point with a “I would have caught that you slow-moving fielder” and seemed to be still grumbling about it, as he round-armed his throws from the deep. There was Prasad with his slow and slower ball about whom it has been said that many of his deliveries, like light from distant stars, have not yet reached the batsman many years after he released them from his fingers. There was Debashish Mohanty, all gangly arms and legs, Harvinder Singh, Abey Kuruvilla, Doda Ganesh, David Johnson, Thiru Kumaran—a line of carving stations at a sumptuous Vegas buffet, that would get batsmen from across the world melting in their own saliva.
And yet above of all them was this one man. A colossus. A legend. My personal favorite.
The fastest to get 50 wickets in One Day Internationals. A century at Lord’s. A match-winning 6 wickets in Australia. Great corkers, like that late-leaver which bowled Kallis. Montages like this.
But the thing about Sir Aggie, as in what makes him special, are not those glorious moments, few and far in between as they are. It is how he went from one of those moments to the other— the pleasure, as they say, of his journey.
An important match on. India has set the target. Opposition chasing. First spell of Sir Aggie. 5 overs for 18 runs and 2 wickets. Second spell. 2 overs for 11 runs. Some reverse-swinging. All good. Now it is the 46th over. The game in balance. Project submission due tomorrow. I have spent the whole night awake.
India has to win, to make it worth the pain.
And then Sir Aggie comes in for his final burst. Like the crack of doom.
Short and wide. Cracking square-cut. FOUR. The legend is just getting warmed up. The second. Overpitched. FOUR again. The next ball. WIDE. Down the leg side. The third ball gets the batsman one-run as Sir Aggie gets it into the blockhole. The fourth ball he misses the yorker, it becomes a full-toss. SIX straight into the crowds. Next one is hustled to deep-square leg for two. Captain moves fielders around, brings up fine-leg. With an impish delight, Sir Aggie spears it down the leg-side. FOUR. Game over, folks. Required run-rate is now 3.5 off the remaining with the only suspense being which of the two opposing batsmen hit the winning runs.
96 overs. Wasted. No sleep. Anger gurgling up like lava from the pits of Hell.
Sir Aggie has come through. Yet again.
What made Sir Aggie so brilliant, and this I have realized after years of experiencing joyous teeth-gnashing , was his sense of timing. Lesser geniuses would have had their meltdowns earlier in the innings. At least then I could have gone to bed earlier. Lesser talents would have given a string of bad performances forcing them out of the side for good. But no. Sir Aggie..he was never like that.
He was always mixing things up. Good with the bad. The holy with the naughty. Which made sure that he would always be in the team. Yes sometimes they would drop him but then, like a lingering tune that drives you mad , he would be back.
With that whippy, flappy run-up of his. Easy, measured. And that pace. Consistent throughout his career, unlike some of the new wannabes who drop their speed after a season or so. It was almost as if Sir Aggie wanted to bring his gifts to the batsman as fast as he could, like Santa on Fedex Next Day Delivery, and then run back to his mark and return with another loaded sled.
Santa Claus. No. Sometimes I saw him in something even greater. Like when he would walk out to bat during that amazing sequence of seven zeros, like the Son of God trudging towards Golgotha, carrying his bat like a cross, wearing a helmet like a crown of thorns, amidst the taunts of the spectators. The Australians would crowd him like Roman soldiers, their eyes gleaming with the delight that comes from inflicting pain on the innocent. Then he would be mounted on the cross, his hands and toes nailed to the wood, to be crucified. Not once. But again and again. Zero after zero. And yet each time he would walk out, knowing well the inevitability of his crucifixion . Such was his passion that he cared not, except to look upwards and say silently “Forgive them oh Father, for they know not what they do”.
Sinners love their friends. But only the truly heavenly love their enemies. Like Sir Aggie.
Which is why I was saddened to hear of Sir Aggie’s dropping from the Mumbai team. For a second, my faith wavered. Is it all over? Have the forces of darkness finally won?
Because I believe. Sir Aggie will be back. Like someone else was resurrected three days and three nights later on a glorious Sunday.
And only then will those who had come to scoff remain, once again, to pray.
[Image courtesy: Rediff.com]