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Sunday, February 26, 2017

High and Handsome, An Immortal Sixer-shooter did that in style

Baird would have found this a most gratifying moment. The very toy that he had built was telecasting an absolute cracker of a contest between bat and ball. The one-day match between India and England was cresting to a sensational finish, keeping the audience on the edge of the seats.  Being a Scottish man himself, Baird would have liked England to be the victor than the vanquished in a match that held promises of a close finish.

It was a run riot. There was sumptuous meal for the batsmen from this batsman’s paradise. It proved right with England posting their highest ever score in India. The seesaw battle for win saw the game swinging in England’s favor, though a distant Indian win was spotted in the horizon. The last lap of the match had begun and it was a solitary run that separated India from victory.

Patrolling the crease was a sly fox in Ashwin ready to lay its trap, this time with the bat. Standing like a gladiator with the bat resting on his shoulder and eyes betraying the I-know-how-to get-those-runs looks, Ashwin did the final honors. The heave to script an Indian victory was just enough to send the ball high and handsome over the ropes, send my pulse soaring.

There was nary a chant of Six Six Six punctuating the din or so I thought. There was also the easy way to wriggle out of this situation; tap the ball into the gap and run hard for the single. Ashwin defied all logic, decided to go the aerial route. The sudden rush of adrenaline, desire to stamp his authority must have got the better of Ashwin.  Then the heave sent the ball hurtling into space. The six-for-something Ashwin had turned into a Sixer-shooter.

Sixer-shooters are a special breed, born to entertain. They get their due with red carpet reception, to begin with. Then the charming presence at the crease takes over. Just like the tiger waiting to pounce on its prey, these are men hovering around the wicket with a penchant and flair for striking the red cherry, fearless nature and the chutzpah to torment bowlers. Big hitting is second nature to them.

Then orchestration of fireworks would be near perfect. The eyes would give the cue for their hands to make a parabolic swing, feet to dance down the wicket and send the ball to another planet. The elegant power and the timing were more than one could ask for. Eyes watching the game would gorge on the fireworks they lit, ears on the music of the reverberating sound of their bats timing the ball. The thirst would go unquenched, yet. They make greedy, addicted spectators swell in numbers, so easily. There was something similar. It was like craving for another of Goran Ivanisevic’s ace, it was akin to the football fan’s desire of watching Zico’s scissor kick for one more time.

Not all sixes that come crashing from the bat are created equal or the situation provoking the big one for that matter. Beyond doubt, pyrotechnics from sixer-shooters leaves you excited, entertained and energetic. It leaves you thirsting for more – you become the child bent on having one more chocolate.

A wine connoisseur loves the wine that has aged. A cricket enthusiast loves to reminisce, regale and relive heroic cricket moments of the past. Sixer-shooter exploits don’t fall out of this regaling radar nor do they fail to evoke enthusiasm. None has been more exhilarating than the exploits of a great Indian all-rounder in the English summer of 1990.

Lords, Mecca of cricket, a packed house to start with, and the Englishmen milking the Indian bowling only intensified the charged aura. This was no smokescreen to hide the six-hitting drama that was to be staged by a passionate cricketer. An electrifying demonstration that turned the tables on England would go down as one of the best cricketing moments in the annals of cricket. That is mere understatement.

India’s nonpareil all-rounder Kapil Dev was about to be let loose in the devil’s playground – the devil of a follow-on coming so close to wreck havoc on the Indian side. Our man was the only vestige of hope in a situation that was hopeless and lifeless. For at the fall of the ninth Indian wicket, in walked the colt of a Hirwani to give England the delight and India the creeps. This happened in a test match that witnessed ‘Some More Runs’ flow off Gooch’s bat. Gooch was only to be conquered at his pit stop at the third Nelson, thanks to the generous Kiran More for dropping a lollipop. The inimitable Shepp would have had a field day at the sight of the third Nelson – third big occasion for him to stage his dance or was he there staging one?

The mind is a sieve. It leaves out what’s unwarranted and takes in what’s the most needed. At this very hour, any remaining speck of doubt that remained in Kapil’s mind had vaporized as he took the leisurely walk to square leg. The bowler, an off-spinner was himself a lure, and the fielders dotting the boundary were his accomplices. The trap, if it had been, was well set. Nothing could undermine him.

So there was Hemmings at the bowler's end, no hemming and hawing at the batsman's end. Kapil's mind was made up. The gravity of the situation was not lost on him.  He would get into his attacking zone and do it himself. That, after all, seemed sane in a situation that was precarious. Kapil then got to his work. The four-ball drama was about to begin.

The ball spills out of Hemmings’ hand and Kapil steps out, just a couple of steps down the wicket mind you. Then comes the lovely swing of the bat to send the ball sailing over the long on fence; head still all along and eyes following the ball in its flight. The flair, style and grace, nothing was amiss. That was the first one of the four towering sixes.

The second six was hit wider and well into the stands. It was the same two-step dance and the same graceful swing of the bat to hoist the ball over long on. Now Hemmings seemed to have woken up from his reverie. A flatter delivery, he thought, would keep Kapil in check. How utterly wrong he was for Kapil was not deterred, to say the least. The onslaught would continue. All Kapil had to do this time was to keep his feet in front and in line with the delivery, launch into his stroke and hoist it straight to come up with the third successive six. He did that with ease. The smile sitting on the Englishmen’s face vanished. Another big blow by this fella, and they knew it would save the face for India. There was only one ball left in that Hemmings’ over.

That last delivery was to be bowled. Hemmings bit his captain’s ear or it was the other way around. It looked as if a secret had been shared to turn the ball in Hemmings’ hand into a magic wand. That was not to be. When he came into bowl, Hemmings held the ball a bit; delivered it late in the same loop. Kapil was not to be tricked. He planted his left foot in front to meet the line of ball, waited perhaps for a second and swatted the ball over long on for the fourth and the final six.

Four sixes on the trot and the deed had been done. Kapil just pumped his fist in the air and flashed a smile. His celebrations were limited to that. No dancing, shouting and nothing that could mar the game. The 100-watts smile was the smile of a champion - A pity that the leading dental brands did not have the gumption to ride on this champion smile to make products fly off the retailer shelves.

This six-hitting chapter is not a tale of bestial, brutal, or barbaric big hitting. It so happened to come from the blade of an immortal sixer-shooter. That was charming, graceful and a spectacle that would last a lifetime. Kapil had proved that sixer-shooting is also about elegance and timing as it is about power.