Howler

freddie-lee2

They looked like a sequestered jury. The eleven of them congregated; eyes flicking nervously at each other, submerged up to their tense shoulders in a solution of equal parts anticipation, hope and prayer. In reality, they weren’t the jury. But the prosecution. The defendant stood behind them a ways off, staring poker-faced at his youthful accomplice, jaws gnawing away at a fossil of gum in his mouth. A mouth now dry as the hide of a bedouin’s camel. They waited together, yet separately. For the verdict to be handed out. Beamed down in fact from the glass-fronted judge’s chamber up in the sky.

And we?

“Color television! Bah, I won’t believe it until I see it in black and white” had spluttered Samuel Goldwyn, the legendary Hollywood studio honcho. Hallelujah! Weren’t we the Goldwyn faithful that day! Scavenging for belief and evidence in the black and white footage that was running in a loop in front of our eyes? Color had proven to be ass after all. So we squinted, frowned, blinked our eyes and started the cycle again; inching closer and closer to the screen. Sifting through the few clips of monochrome evidence. Evidence that the judge was also staring fervently at in his air-conditioned chamber above the fidgety thousands at Trent Bridge.

Yes, squeaky bum time. Bums that would have shown up glowing on hot-spot.

Thus the climactic end to the riveting tale unfolded in noir-ish hot-spot black and white. A climax surely worthy of being enshrined in all its glory in Criterion’s Classics Collection. This tale had been a veritable classic for four and a half days. Teetering every which way like a drunk in an alley way. By midday on day five, we, the watchers, were dizzily and anxiously disoriented. For the tension had been ratcheted up oh so dramatically till the fate of the Australians was hanging by gossamer threads. England’s too for that matter. It was that close. The break for lunch had been spent pottering around our living rooms, anxiously muttering for the players to get back and get on with it. The denoument by now was destined to be soaked in drama for it had careened towards a guaranteed suddenness, an abruptness that would ignite delirium in one and deflate the other.

Then…

Have you ever run breathless and full tilt up to an escalator and hopped onto it only to realize that it was not working? Not moving? That feeling. The thud of realization slowly traveling through your body up to your brain. Yes, that feeling.

Let us get some things out of the way. I was convinced Haddin was out the moment I saw the live action. No, not because I am privy to NASA designed custom eyewear that offers me confidential evidence. It was Haddin’s reaction. Just the way he had turned and looked back at Prior anxiously as the ball went through. Just the way his usual mien of laconic insouciance had gone waxy as he strolled desperately casually towards Pattinson. His eyes had betrayed more than anything Prior and Cook were mustering up in their plea to Aleem Dar. Even if Anderson looked like he couldn’t be arsed initially. I really thought he was out. As it turned out to be. God bless technology. And pass me the bowl of innovation, please. I need seconds.

But I am going to exercise my right to rue the horrid anti-climactic imagery of that ending. As the second Test starts today, that feeling of utter deflation from last Sunday is still acute. The dazed looks in my living room, the utter silence whilst those long and drawn out black and white minutes ticked away and then the sweet nothings murmured into Dar’s ears resulting in the air being let out of the balloon. Followed by looks of disbelief that it was really over. In that unreal way. Why just rue, I am going to even bear a grudge forever now that this was how it had to end. That the lasting image of the climax was of thirteen players and two umpires standing around motionless like it was Stonehenge.

In the immediate buildup to that static and turgid climax, we had been subjected to endless chatter on Sky and TMS about the parallels with that glorious day at Edgbaston in 2005. The allusions and references to it came relentlessly. Just two questions into the post-match chat, Atherton had broached it with Clarke too. Sitting on my couch mute and inert looking at Dar’s raised finger which pulled the rug out from under the match, I could profess only one thing about those allusions: bollocks.

The exhilarating sights and sounds of that nerve wracking ending serve as reminders even to this day as to why Test cricket remains such a special anachronistic treasure in sports. The agonizing tension of the last day leading to those immortal images: Harmison’s brute, Kasper’s defensive cringe, Jones diving and popping up from his tumble like a jack-in-the-box, gloved hand extended overhead with the cherry nestled in it, the unbridled wide-eyed expressions of the England players as they took off towards Harmison like a starter’s pistol had gone off! And the magical and minimalistic exultation of Richie Benaud on air: ”Jones…..Bowden….” followed by complete silence from the box as he graciously let the primal roar of the crowd just wash over us.

The stuff dreams are made of.

Instead, we watched on mutely for minutes as the forensic analysis was carried out away from the field. Hunting for that elusive white spot. No one moving out in the middle. Two static huddles. Two umpires orphaned and abandoned to stand meekly in their own spots. Twenty thousand statues in the stands. Then the killer image to top it all off: the sight of ten England players who spotted the verdict flashed out and were triggered into motion hollering. Much before the eleventh, the one who really should have been moving in reckless abandon screaming – James Anderson, who had his back to the screen – even turned around to check out the text message that he had just received! The confused look on his face as he tried to convince himself that it was alright to move and join in with his mates was what I will retain from that contrived moment.

“Justice was served”, “a triumph of technology”, “DRS’s finest moment” – we heard it all in the aftermath from pundits and plebes. But no amount of justice or triumph can erase the empty feeling of that moment. A moment robbed of all spontaneity and defining imagery. And excuse me while I turn and retch into a trash can if you feel I am being “a luddite and a romantic” in this.

For it does matter, you know. And it is well worth ruing. For it is the drama and the imagery of these special moments that sustain and fuel our obsession with sport. And this match had been worth obsessing over as it panned out. The quality of the cricket may not have been extraordinary but the two teams had conspired to take us on a ride to remember. And took us to the brink of a heady moment we would have savoured forever. Like Edgbaston. And all in glorious and riveting colour too.

Then we stepped on the escalator.

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