There are many innings I had imagined as epics that proved to be quite underwhelming when I got to watch them on YouTube. But for the scale of disappointment nothing comes close to VB Chandrasekhar’s hundred against RoI in the 1988 Irani Trophy.
Just the skeletal details of the script are so thrilling. Irani Trophy. First-innings collapse. Conceding a big lead. Arun Lal doesn’t enforce the follow on. Incredible comeback with the ball on a crumbling wicket. 340 to get in the fourth innings. VB out for a first-ball duck in the first innings. He is left out when the selectors announce the Indian squad before the second innings. Comes in and smashes a strong RoI attack all around the park to score the (then) fastest hundred in India’s first-class history.
You read one celebratory piece after another on the internet. His team mates think it was one of the most breathtaking counterattacks witnessed in Indian first-class cricket. His opponents concur. The innings acquires a mythical status as the years pass by. For a Tamil Nadu fan living through barren times, this was dope.
It doesn’t end there. You talk to TN cricket insiders and they will make those celebratory pieces appear like parsimonious praise. They multiply the wattage a hundred times. Machan, that majestic pull off Sanjeev Sharma with two fielders in the deep was all Viv. There was a backfoot punch through the covers that would have made Vishy proud. The way he came down the track to Hirwani on a wicket turning square and launched him over long-on was wotha chanc’e illa. If only he had been picked for India at the right time…
A few years back, on one of those YouTube cricket trips, I discovered the video footage of this innings. The title was right on the money – VB Chandrasekhar’s sparkling century. But from there it all went downhill. I still can’t quite articulate what made me so feel disappointed. Yes, there was the instinctive pull, but with him clearing the left leg, it was more Dilshan than Viv. He took the spinners apart, but so have an assembly line of Indian batsmen in first class cricket – I just couldn’t see anything special in it. If the wicket was unplayable, it didn’t appear so from the short footage. Perhaps it was my sky-high expectation or the shoddy quality of the compilation or a bit of both. Whatever it was I couldn’t conjure up the epic images that I had associated with that innings earlier ever since I saw the video.
There was a little detail that I had missed out on watching the video which Bala brought to my attention on Twitter – the uploader’s name is vbchandarshekar.
At the other end of the scale is Kim Hughes’ century against West Indies at the MCG. It is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece. Just a cursory look at the bowling line up will elevate the status of the innings – Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner. No other batsman crossed 21 in the innings. 8/3 became 59/5 pretty soon. And one of my favorite cricket writers wrote an all-time classic book on Hughes. Chris Ryan even dedicated a chapter to his right knee in the book – I didn’t fully grasp it then.
Now imagine trying to watch the footage of that innings with this scale of baggage. Can I hope to come out of the experience with anything but utter disappointment? Surprisingly, I did. The quality of coverage helped immensely. So did robelinda2‘s thoughtful compilation. But above all the two magical square cuts sealed the deal. Holding at full throttle sprays the rare one outside off. Hughes rocks onto the backfoot and plays a dazzling square cut – lifting his left leg with a flourish so exaggerated that makes Kapil’s Natraja pull appear like the epitome of batting economy. The clincher was the square cut off Garner though – a good-length ball, but Hughes goes deep into the crease, bends his back, does a half-lunge with his right knee, and creams it past point and sweeper cover for four – the still image at the point of contact wouldn’t be out of place in a Yoga studio. It is only after watching this shot that I fully appreciated Ryan dedicating a chapter to Hughes’ right knee.
I don’t think I have been disappointed on watching videos of great spells that had enjoyed an iconic status in my imagination. Holding’s spell at The Oval was as exciting to watch as it was to read about it. Chandra’s Oval magic comes out quite beautifully in the cricket classics videos. Perhaps the footages that lived up to the hype the most were L Sivaramakrishnan’s spells in the World Championship of Cricket. All the intoxicating brilliance that I had heard about shone through in the highlights reel. Srikanth often recollects how Siva told him of his ploy to get Zaheer Abbas caught and bowled with a low dipping full-toss and it appears every bit as cunningly executed as Srikanth painted it.
On videos that I would never want to watch: is it theoretically possible to pick anything other than Vishy’s 97 at the top? Even if it comes across as the greatest innings played in cricket, it might still prove to be underwhelming relative to the hype around it.
The other innings that I have conflicting emotions about watching a footage of is Sachin’s 233 against TN in 2000. I have spent so much mental energy in visualising it, spent so many hours talking about it with friends that a part of me believes I had indeed watched the innings live. Such is my imaginative familiarity with the innings that before writing this email I checked with @tintin1107 on Twitter if there was any telecast of this innings – live or highlights – on Star at that time.
On the contrary, the video I would queue up all day to watch is Madan Lal’s fifer at Brisbane in ’77. How on earth did this happen? Packer-weakened Aussie team is fine. But how? Seriously, how? Why does no one talk about it? Why did I have to refresh the scorecard page a few times to convince myself that it really happened?