From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.01 :: Jan. 03, 2009

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CRICKET / PERSPECTIVE

New crop sprouts

One of the great things about sport is the way brilliant talent emerges to fill a vacuum. Often it arrives in a rush. No one saw Warne coming, or Botham or Pietersen for that matter, they just kept improving by act of will, writes Peter Roebuck.

Cricket is starting to find the new champions needed to show that the game is alive and well. It is all very well to create new forms of the game and to excite crowds but in the end the game belongs to the players and most especially to those blessed with exceptional talent.

For all their foibles, cricketers like Brian Lara, Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar sustain the game in the same way as great writers or singers or golfers. Although the rest of us struggle to approach their standard at least the example has been set, the possibilities have been explored. And every now and then we play a superb chip or a perfectly executed cover drive and for a moment sit beside them.

Warne and Lara withdrew a year or two ago and like all great performers left a hundred imperishable memories, a few regrets and a gap. By the look of things Tendulkar intends to keep playing for another year or two, body willing, brain working, fingers crossed. But all good things eventually come to an end. Cricketers of that calibre cannot be replaced in a jiffy and the game can only hope that ambitious and gifted newcomers will dare to dream.

Amongst those remaining there is an abundance of excellence but a shortage of inspiration. Remember the buzz that went around the ground when Warne marked out his run or Lara strolled to the wicket or Tendulkar took guard? Amongst the current crop Kevin Pietersen is the most vibrant, Michael Clarke the most enchanting and Mahendra Dhoni the most compelling. But these fellows have been around a while.

One of the great things about sport is the way brilliant talent emerges to fill a vacuum. Often it arrives in a rush. No one saw Warne coming, or Botham or Pietersen for that matter, they just kept improving by act of will. I came across all these blokes play as teenagers and cannot recall anyone predicting they’d reach the top let alone thrill vast crowds and break records.

Happily a few youngsters are starting to introduce themselves. Cheteshwar Pujara’s recent achievements in the Ranji Trophy boggle the mind. Obscure a few months ago, the youngster has scored 302, 187 and 176 in hard-fought domestic encounters. Before that he had struck 302 and 309 in the C. K. Nayudu Trophy. To put it mildly the lad has an appetite for batting, to say nothing of a reliable technique.

Judging from his comments to Sportstar he is also remarkably level-headed. Certainly he is aware of the perils of early fame and fortune. In short, he is exactly the sort of emerging player the game requires.

Ajantha Mendis, the Lankan tweaker, is another exciting player. By all accounts he has more deliveries at his disposal than an experienced midwife. Moreover he is a freakish bowler who flicks the ball with his fingers and also sends down googlies.

Already he has bemused the Indians, West Indians and Zimbabweans. Apparently the Indian batsmen could read him after the first match but still could not play him. Swift leg-cutters are a tricky proposition. His rise confirms that the game is not hidebound.

Now a gifted Australian batsman is also starting to make his name. Phillip Hughes is not a flashy type of opener but like the best of his sort he is durable and effective.

Already he has struck two centuries and a 90 in the Sheffield Shield and has been pencilled in as a replacement for Matthew Hayden.

It augurs well for a game that is either busy being born or busy dying.



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