Leading Edge: Cricket’s subtlety sets it apart

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth

IF you blinked 25 minutes into the third day’s play at St George’s Park on Wednesday you would have missed it. Maybe Bruce Oxenford blinked, along with Nuwan Pradeep and most of South Africa’s team.

Vernon Philander delivered to Dushmantha Chameera, who defended stoutly to send the ball scooting straight enough down the pitch to clatter into the stumps at the non-striker’s end.

Chameera’s batting partner, Pradeep, who had sauntered out of his ground and then turned as lazily as a lizard in the sun, may or may not have grounded his bat before the wicket was broken.

Up went the appeal from the South Africans, which prompted umpire Oxenford to use his hands to sketch a reasonable facsimile of a rectangle in the air.

“Decision pending,” the electronic writing on the illuminated wall where the scoreboard used to be duly read even as fielders exchanged high fives. Got him!

Gunmetal grey clouds, spiked with the lightning that would fuel the visceral violence of a thunderstorm an hour later, massed above floodlights glaring through the gloom. Below, breaths were held …

But only until Oxenford and his colleague, Aleem Dar, sharpened their focus on what had just happened.

Hang on a second …

Philander to Chameera, and directly onto the stumps. Which would require a scorebook entry something like, “N Pradeep run out (Chameera)”.

Oh to be a spider in a drain in a dressingroom where a player has effected the dismissal of a teammate.

Could this be? Of course not.

And here’s law 38, chapter two, verse two to tell us why: “(A batsman is not run out if) the ball has not subsequently been touched by a fielder, after the bowler has entered his delivery stride, before the wicket is put down”.

Ah well. ’Twas fun while it lasted.

It was also a cameo of the subtlety that separates cricket from other, lesser games, where what matters is players’ ability to muscle opponents into submission, hoodwink the referee, or perfect otherwise pointless skills with a mindless obsession that in the real world would have them diagnosed as neurotic inmates of prisons of the soul.

Cricket is neither 80 minutes of choreographed thuggery, 90 minutes of passive-aggressive nothing, four days of Freudian faffing about on endless acres of landscaped fakery, two weeks of thwacking and thwocking by brattish blowhards whose parents had too much money, nor almost a month of finding ever more undetectable ways to ingest ever more illegal – and ever more dangerous – drugs in the cause of “winning”.

Cricket, and cricket played in whites in particular, is what happens when the human race holds a mirror to its better side.

There is pathos in its patterns and depth in its drama, and something like literature in the way it tells its story.

The gods help anyone who messes with that, although it often seems as if the future of proper cricket is so dark that those who want it to not only survive but prosper should wear miners’ headlamps.

It doesn’t help that monstrosities like the Indian Premier League think nothing of cannibalising the game to a grotesque degree, or that the boards from cricket’s most financially powerful countries can’t see past their own greed and selfishness.

You could be forgiven for thinking cricket has nothing to fear except cricket itself.   

That may be damned as the view, as a Port Elizabeth cab driver said this week, of someone “narrowminded enough to be able to look through a keyhole with both eyes”.

He was having a go at Australian commentators, but this columnist accepts his guilt if he is so charged.

And see if he cares. Subtlety is for cricket. Diplomacy is for wimps.

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