Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Magicians

As the year comes to an end, the media and the masses have already started to float their minds back at the events that occured in the passing year. There were many fond memories and some painful ones. While many people may choose different issues, themes and incidents, for me the one memory of this year will be from the sporting arena. The Azzuris were crowned the World Champions in the Beautiful Game; China reasserted itself in the Asiad at Doha; Nadal and Federer continued their glorious run in Roland Garros and the Centre Court of the All England Club; Indian cricket team went through its usual highs and lows; Sania Mirza created some flutters; Schumacher and Agassi walked into the sunset of their careers with their heads held high. But for me the image of 2006 would without doubt be, the retirement of the two magicians from International Cricket- Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. The duo who have formed a great wall for the Australian cricket, will be the last members of the Allan Border era to bid their farewell to international cricket. As they hang up their boots, becomes impertinet to all the lovers of the Gentleman's Game.
A Magician performing trciks through revolutions in the cricket ball. That was a breath-taking sight. Shane Warne-a wizard becoming synonymous with magic word of Spin; he was truly a magician on the field. That too of the art of 'Leg-Spin', at a time when that art was dying away due to the lack of quality bowlers. Like an artist whose works were marked by clear precision and guile that would go on to bring about a final product of aesthetic beauty and splendour, Warne's bowling reminded us of the similar works of art by Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Making his test debut against India in Sydney in 1991-92 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he was thrashed all over the park by the batsmen adept playing any quality spin. Even though he went for over hundred runs, he took the wicket of Ravi Shastri, thus announcing his arrival in the test match arena. But it was in Old Trafford in 1993, with the ball of the century that he showed his real spirit and stamped his authority against the batsmen. A ball that was pitched outside the leg stump, turned viciously to hit the off-stump of Mike Gatting. Later, Warney played a pivotal role in many Ashes series wins for the Aussies over the English. Warne's bowling statistics in test matches reaffirms his class and grittiness. Warne also has a good batting record with scoring more than 3000 runs and scoring 11 half-centuries. Warne's ODI record is also impressive wherein he having played 194 matches got 293 wickets with an average of 25.73 and got a career best of 5/33. This wizard brought along with him a series of weapons in his repetoire. A whole array of different sort of deliveries which kicked and turned even on lifeless surfaces. He had the googly, the flipper, the drifter, the conventional leg break, the slider-which was a new delivery by him-and then the 'wrong un'. He also had a delivery like that of a medium pace bowler, which was so cleverly disguised that it was difficult to predict whether it was the leg-break or the off-break. With a shorter run-up and higher trajectory, his deliveries could never be read clearly by any batsmen. With his magical fingers being held across the seam, the ball came from the back of the hand, thus cleverly disguised from the watchful eyes of the batsmen across the world. With his favorite victims being the Englishmen, and the South Africans, Daryll Cullinan was his bunny. He could only name Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara as the most difficult batsmen to bowl at. Who can ever forget his duels with the Indians in general and Sachin in particular?? In his 3 tours to India, he could only have one 5 wicket haul. Indians were perhaps the only people against whom Warney struggled enough, which is also reflected in the record books. But still he played his part in the first series triumph for the Aussies against the Indians on the latter's home soil for many years, during the 2004 tour. Having been crowned as one of the five best cricketers of the century by Wisden, Shane Warne has also been given the Wisden Player of the year award on several occassions as well as the Man of the Match in the World Cup Final (the 1999 edition in England). Away from the cricket field, his private life may have been in rocks, with accusations of match fixing, doping and adultery, but he tried to hide his sorrows with his bowling. His presence was a revival for Leg Spin, which was absent from the scene since the days of Richie Benaud. Infact, Warne's legacy was followed by his contemporaries like Anil Kumble, Mushatq Mohammed, Danish Kaneria, and his own compatriot, Stuart MacGill. An ever persuasive Shane Warne is a beauty to watch on any given day-even his 700th wicket, the first by any bowler in test match cricket, was a portrait to be framed forever wherein Andrew Strauss' stumps were rattled by a ball that pitched outside his off-stump. The batsmen around the world can rest easy with departure from the scene by this assassin.
On the other hand, Glenn McGrath made his test debut against New Zealand at WACA in Perth in 1993/94. He was a pace bowler with great accuracy and penetration. He did not possess express pace or a great amount of swing. His strength was to pitch the ball in the right areas and stick to an off-stump/outside the off-stump line, thus never allowing the batsmen to get away. Through that long career, McGrath rose to be the No.1 strike bowler for Australia thereby getting into the shoes of Dennis Lillie, and Craig McDermott. His bowling record in test matches bowling tell the accurate story. He was also a good batsmen at the tail for his country with him scoring even 1 test fifty. This being the case in the middle of the Boxing Day test of the Ashes series. However, it was his ODI record that needs further mention. More than that he was part of two World Cup winning teams (Along with Warne, he was also part of the team that was beaten by the Sri Lankans in the 1996 final at Lahore). With he going to be part of the team to defend the World Cup in the Carribean in 2007, it would be fitting climax to his long and chequered career if the team bring the trophy for the third straight time. In Test match cricket, his bunny was Michael Atherton whom he has dismissed 19 times, with Lara and Tendulkar also being among his high profile victims (Sachin was his victim on 6 occassions!!). The Pigeon as he was fondly called, had been thinking for long of calling it a day to spend more time with his wife, who has been suffering from breast cancer.
With the end of the New Year test match of the Ashes series both the legends will walk into the sunset in the longer version of the game; however, McGrath would be free in formal terms only after the World Cup. The world of the batsmen will heave a sigh of relief with the moving away of these greats. However, the world of cricket will be never be the same like before. The magic may have ended, with many pundits and doomsayers even predicting the downward trend of Australian cricket. Fortunate are we souls to have lived in an era, when these two magicians performed tricks with the ball, mesmerizing cricket lovers and enthusiasts world wide, encouraging more and more generations to take up the art of leg-spin and pace bowling. In a game where the bowlers were always the underdogs when compared to the batsmen, Warne and McGrath showed different paths. As the sunset approaches, Murali may overtake Warne and McGrath may have opened the doors for a fresh bunch of young blood to come and stick to line and length, thereby forcing us to engrave in our minds that there is also something to pace bowling beyond express pace and high swing. But then like the Kohinoor which comes only in one generation, Warne and McGrath are the wealth of this generation, who have thrown open the vistas for further expansion of the game. Their footprints lie in the sands of time, undulated and undeleted, telling each of us that the Gentleman's Game was a fine work of art, with they being the artists. Those were memorable days!! Adieu mates, and Thank You for the Golden Memories................

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