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MANISH DUBEY | 25 JUNE, 2017

Ways To View Batting Greatness

MANISH DUBEY


They may not have set the Champions Trophy 2017 afire but the late Martin Crowe’s Fab Four - Joe Root, Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli – should remain in contention for the title of the world’s best batsman for a while. An earlier phase saw five men - Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar – stake claim to the title, and still earlier, another five - Allan Border, David Gower, Javed Miandad, Sunil Gavaskar and Vivian Richards – vied for it.

The listing may be problematic but the errors are largely of exclusion. So, there may be quibbles about the names missing (I personally would have David Warner and Kumar Sangakkara around) but the names listed should pass the hardest scrutiny. They are, respectively, the most prolific current-day batsmen under thirty, the top international run getters of the nineties and noughties, and the top Test run getters of the seventies and eighties.

Running through the names, one is struck by two things. A: The number of Test playing teams that are represented, as if Providence deliberately chose to disperse its bounty far and wide rather than give one or two nations disproportionate bragging rights. B: The variety of batting styles the individuals have embodied. (Those riled at personal favorites’ omission will hopefully relax at this point. Adding names to era-specific pantheons only supports these points about providential fairness and stylistic variety.)

The yesteryears’ quintets have striking similarities. In the mix are a dasher (Richards, Tendulkar), a technician (Gavaskar, Dravid), a touch artist (Gower, Lara) and two individuals each whose effectiveness more than made up for shortness of classical poise (Border and Miandad, Kallis and Ponting).

The overall pacier rhythms of the modern game, the immediacy of the current generation stars to us and the fact that their careers are still somewhere at mid-points makes similar slotting tougher in the case of the Fab Four. Having said that, it is tough to argue that they are similar. There are fans who see shades of the assertive Tendulkar in Kohli, are reminded of Miandad’s ungainly ways while watching Smith, and find in the Root and Williamson make-up varying proportions of Dravid’s solidity and Lara’s verve.

The temptation to pick a best of the best based on nationality or statistics is strong but there are other discoveries that await more open minds. First, of how every era seems to have shown that there is space for different sorts on the top shelf. Glory has been as much for studied grammarians and poets as for peddlers of free verse and hardboiled prose. It is as strong a signal as can be for young sportspersons to be themselves and hone what they have – not recast themselves into moulds they are pushed to.

There is something also to be said for the delights that come with variety. The cricket watching experience would be considerably poorer if all top flight batsmen (or bowlers) served identical stuff. The sensory load and spice of exclusively Richards-inspired servings would be as tiresome as low-on-seasoning Gavaskar-inspired or coarse Miandad-inspired ones. What we have feasted upon instead are masterchef creations, each individual bringing his own imprimatur in terms of texture, presentation and tweak. They have all been on offer – the comfort of home cooked food, the range and twists of a restaurant spread, the primal juiciness of a campfire output.

Underlying the enduring appeal of many a cult film (think 12 Angry Men or Reservoir Dogs) or popular sitcom (think Seinfeld or Friends) is not only the distinct etching of their principal characters but also how seamlessly the characters were woven into the stories. We have, especially when notions of national pride aren’t at stake, learnt to appreciate the disparateness of batting giants. Yet another level of joy will come to those who can train themselves to view them not only as engaging, differently flavored solo acts but as an uplifting ensemble, as individuals who have collectively enriched batting. Both as a craft and a spectacle.

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