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The déjà vu moment

Former cricekter Nari Contractor in action.

Former cricekter Nari Contractor in action.   | Photo Credit: K.N. CHARI

Cricket has served us a great coincidence of history at the Wankhede Stadium, with a nice dash of irony shaken in. I wonder if I’m the only one who noticed.

As Virat Kohli wrapped up his magnificent double century and set up the serial crushing of the touring England side, his team’s total of 631 rang a bell somewhere for me.

Nari Contractor might remember the number too. It was the total he faced as he captained at Kingston in his last Test in 1962, little knowing his life itself would hang in the balance days later as he ducked under a bouncer that never came up.

The rest of the numbers line up with eerie precision as well. India scored 395 and 218 to lose to the Windies by an innings and 18 runs a half-century ago. England recently managed the feat of scoring 400 on their first knock on a turning track in Mumbai and still losing with nearly a day to spare; their innings defeat margin was nearly the same but exactly double, at 36 runs.

Enter, Pataudi

The irony comes from the consequence of Contractor’s tragic exit on Indian cricket. The scorecard coyly refers to his hastily-appointed successor as The Nawab of Pataudi Junior — rather puzzling, since his father had passed away a decade earlier. The young Pataudi had only made his Test debut the previous season, during India’s encouraging performance against England at home. He was also just coming off a tragedy. Just a few months earlier, a sliver of windscreen glass had slashed his right eye nearly out of action, possibly robbing us of a Bradman-esque career, according to his good friend Trevor Bailey.

The new captain had not played any Tests on the tour up to and including Kingston, but was pitch-forked into the role anyway. The record does not show why he was excluded at first before being so dramatically included: maybe his form had taken a hit as he refocussed from his accident. Regardless of how well he was seeing the ball, the way he looked at India as a cricket team was profoundly visionary. From all accounts it was when Pat took the helm that the Indian team began to take itself seriously.

I recently ferreted out a priceless collection of cricket DVDs from the Films Division archives. I scanned the footage for the Pataudi moments, hoping to replay memories of him playing at Chepauk.

Incredibly orthodox

I found one, a crashing backfoot straight drive played against Chris Old during Pat’s triumphant Test comeback in 1973. That’s when I realised how incredibly unorthodox this scion of orthodoxy was. His stance was, of course, unmistakably skewed by his visual handicap; he seemed to be setting up for French cricket while showing his fine profile to the leg umpire. But the video showed more. He transferred his weight completely to his backfoot while swinging his front foot completely to the left, suspended like a ballet dancer on his toes while looking straight at the sight screen. I have to wonder if this was a critical part of the package: does breaking the mould of post-colonial submission go nicely with throwing away the rulebook of Victorian footwork?

Fifty-four years after Pataudi’s momentous ascent, his home team has claimed dominance through the unplayable yorker of a media market that nobody would have dreamt of then. Even so, Kohli has inherited richly from his cricket legacy, leading a team that believes in plain view it can and will win with dominance at least once in a while.

Kohli himself, ironically, brings us a cricket style that is throwback to an earlier time. His strokeplay looks like it escaped from a pre-War era, leapfrogging backwards over the slash-and-burn techniques of the Tendulkars and the Sehwags, and the idiosyncratic brilliance of Azhar, Laxman or Srikkanth.

It’s not just that the numbers line up. Maybe history was just meant to unfold this way.

ashnitya@msn.com

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 2:42:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/The-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-moment/article16907431.ece

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