Lovely piece on cricketing memories. It’s bizarre how YouTube can so emphatically raze the awe-inspiring structures we have erected in our minds. A YouTube highlights clip is so cruelly devoid of context. It tells you nothing about fans’ expectations back then. It reveals very little about the baggage that the players carried into that game. It demands that you do all the background reading and research and only then try to weigh up the magnitude of the performance. And even then it can flatten the hype that has built up around the performance.
Take Ajit Agarkar’s 6 for 41 in Adelaide in 2003-04. Was it one of the great bowling spells? Not really. There were some fine deliveries, yes. There was plenty of discipline, yes. But he managed six wickets mostly because the Australian batsmen were in a major hurry to build on their lead, and many ended up throwing their wickets away. Some more patience and match-awareness on their part and Agarkar would have probably finished with three or four wickets.
Still, we know it was a special effort because we know how little we expected from Agarkar at time. We know how remarkable it felt to have Agarkar (the butt of so many jokes) putting India in a position to win the match and take a lead in a series. In Australia. Against Steve Waugh’s Australia no less. The guy had had such a horrendous tour to Australia in 1999-2000 and many there pretty much associated him with the nickname Bombay Duck.
Fifteen years down the line, I can imagine someone watching highlights of this spell and saying something similar to what you said about Madan Lal’s five-for at Brisbane in 1977. How on earth did this happen? Against one of the great batting line-ups of all time. Seriously, how?
The other irritation I have with YouTube and other highlights packages is how they play games with my memories. Many YouTube archives are almost entirely limited to boundaries and wickets. Occasionally you will find a longer clip that takes you through extended passages (especially if the uploader is as thoughtful as robelinda2) but most clips are an amplification of that gross term that is becoming increasingly popular: “moments that matter”. Apparently there are big moments and small moments in every game. And people want to replay and recollect the so called “big moments” because that is where the game was won or lost.
What rubbish. I don’t want to remember great performances largely in reference to fours, sixes, and wickets. That is unimaginative and, often, unrepresentative of said performance. I want to recollect how a batsman was set-up. I like to go over ball-by-ball commentaries to see the scoring patterns. I like looking at wagon-wheels and thinking back to specific shots I remember. I want to see how many balls a batsmen left in the innings. In short, I want to reimagine the innings in its entirety – as far as I can. I scour the internet to see what was written about the innings or spell. And seek out books that references it.
YouTube is my enemy in this regard. Because YouTube gives a rat’s ass about the multi-dimensionality of a cricketing performance. It takes a piece of great theatre and strips it off anything remotely undramatic. There is a term that increasingly does the rounds these days: cricketing porn. I have seen it being used in reference to some YouTube clips – especially when it comes to ‘greatest sixes’ or ‘greatest wickets’. This is often supposed to be a compliment. But for me it is damning. These clips are only interested in money-shot after money-shot. They sometimes lure you into believing that a performance was greater than it actually was. And at other times, they leave you totally dissatisfied with how run-of-the-mill it all appears. They are basically in the business of dragging you away from reality and elevating the game into the realm of fantasy. They reset your expectations for a “great” performance. And they make you constantly seek out the spectacular and ignore the passages that lead up to it. It is a pathetic way to watch the game. And a pathetic way to archive great theatre.
In an ideal world, we will have more quality documentaries about cricket. We will also have people uploading ‘passages of play’ rather than just moments. I would rather watch 10 minutes of Sachin v Steyn at Cape Town rather than see all the fours Sachin hit in that innings and all the wickets Steyn took. In fact, I just saw that there is a 4 minute 55 seconds clip that shows the highlights of that day’s play. I have decided not to watch it. I have such fond memories of that Sachin-Steyn contest that anything I see from that clip is bound to leave me disappointed. Sometimes it is best to leave a YouTube clip alone.