April 05, 2007

A Joint Account of Hansie and Bob.

The first article I wrote on cricket, apart from the e-mails to friends, was a tribute to Hansie Cronje on cricinfo. Cronje's mysterious, and surreal death in a plane crash was like a metaphor for his cricketing life – one moment, dizzy heights, the next, abyss.

Cronje’s death, and a subsequent visit to cricinfo were compelling enough for me to write something meaningful in addition to the rants to friends. An incident had altered the peace of my almost benign cricketing world - something that went beyond setting targets and trivial pursuits. At that point it even went beyond the ghost of match fixing. In a strange way, it appeared to me that Cronje’s troubled ghost would lurk amongst us forever. As if the justice meted out to him wasn’t just. Partly because he was being singled out, and partly because of his unfathomable fall from grace. It was almost like that song, “when heroes go down, they go down fast”. Or that other one, “only the good die young”. Yes, in a way, Cronje’s death was akin to that of a Shakespearean tragedy, nothing short of Macbeth or Hamlet.

Apart from Hansie Cronje’s poker face, there are other images that remain – the manner in which he would bring himself to bowl that deceptive military medium stuff when Sachin Tendulkar was on song, often with the field restrictions in place. Surprisingly, he would place a leg slip, bowl a middle or leg stump line, and invariably outwit our young marauder, having him caught exactly there!

The other image of Cronje was of him coming halfway down the wicket, and lofting Muralitharan through midwicket. Then there is the earpiece for his master’s voice, Bob Woolmer. And now, that Woolmer is no more, I can almost make sense of both coach and captain. Why the leg-slip? Why attack Murali? Why the earpiece? It’s almost as if ingenuity recognizes itself in others. That and the soft-spoken studied air.

While both Woolmer and Cronje were illustrious enough to ascertain the elusive roadmap to success, it was eventually one decision that cost them dearly. While Cronje was match-fixed, Woolmer was Pakistaned. In the recent past, from the troubled England series onwards, Woolmer appeared mentally exhausted on most TV interviews. Gone was the ice cool coach accustomed to victory. The man appeared vulnerable, unsure, almost beaten by defeat and criticism. Is it any wonder after the repeated politicking, fiascos, abuse, expectations that are part of Pakistani cricket?

What’s more, the most respected man in Pakistani cricket, Imran Khan let lose his tirades against Woolmer – he openly condemned the coach and his lack of strategy in nearly every single article and show. Imagine how Imran Khan’s opinion would have undermined Woolmer’s place in Pakistani cricket. What would senior players who grew-up worshipping Imran Bhai have made of Woolmer?

But just like Inzi never batted up the order (much to Khan’s dismay), Woolmer, much to his own detriment continued as the Paki coach. Had Woolmer heeded the Khan’s advice, he may just have saved his life.

Also, what makes it so surreal in Woolmer’s case is that he seemed like this endearing plump Brit bloke juxtaposed with an enigmatic cold tech South African coaching machine. And with his Pakistani stint, it appears the balance of his two worlds were frequently disturbed.

As in Princess Di, Rajiv Gandhi and JFK’s case, the world mourns some losses more deeply than others. Perhaps, it’s that heart wrenching feeling of a dream unfilled. The sorrow of not ever knowing what could have been? And that is a sadness that tends to overpower you, because in a way, it has no answers. And essentially, human beings like answers.

written on March, 20, 2007.

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