SPORT

Inzamam's sublime composition

HE turned his bat into a baton and wielded it like Zubin Mehta in a hallowed Viennese Opera House. The mesmerised bowlers, fielders and his own batting partner were willing members of the string, wind and percussion sections of a Symphony Orchestra that Inzamam-ul Haq conducted with typical unfrenzied elegance.

Such a feat is not trivially achieved in sport; especially not when your team is down 1-0 in a short Test series and you are invited into the middle within a quarter of an hour of the start of a make-or-break match with the side already staring down the barrel, two down for seven.

The invitation clearly demanded that Inzamam don battle fatigues, dig in and fight with the sort of in-the-trenches resolve which saw a precious few survive the First World War frontlines.

But fantasy rather than fight was on Inzamam's mind at Bangalore on Thursday. And the visiting skipper composed rather than played an innings of sublime majesty to mark his 100th Test appearance.

Beethoven's fifth

"It must be generally admitted that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that ever penetrated the ear of man," wrote E.M. Forster in Howard's End.

It is debatable whether the euphonious crack of Inzy's willow is the most sublime noise ever to reach the ears of India's close in fielders; but it must be right up there with the mellifluous best.

Inzamam's face betrays very little. Whether the team is struggling or coasting, whether he is batting or fielding, the big man goes about his business with the inner calm of a Zen master, displaying an old-fashioned brand of equanimity.

The unhurried style — not quite as pro-active as a Wasim Akram's or a Javed Miandad's — has swelled the ranks of his critics back home. But Inzamam is unlikely to change. He is a man who has his priorities right. He knows cricket is very important. But he is also sure in his mind that it may not be quite as important as a set of culturally imbibed, time-honoured values.

Yes, Inzamam is a good man. But, then, it was not his moral fibre that was in question this morning. With Lakshmipathy Balaji picking up a wicket with the first ball be bowled and Irfan Pathan grabbing one in his very second over, it was a disastrous start for Pakistan.

One among best

And it was in these circumstances that Inzamam conjured up an innings that should rate among the best witnessed at the Chinnaswamy stadium. Perhaps the finest played on that stage was Sunil Gavaskar's last Test innings against Imran Khan's team in 1987. Caught in a snake-pit from which his team-mates departed in considerable hurry _ like all sane men would _ the great man bobbed and weaved and cut and drove his way to a magnificent 96 which capsulated the very essence of Gavaskar as a technically perfect batsman.

Inzamam is a different breed. He makes batting look easy. Natural talent is not about numbers. It cannot be measured because it flies in the face of commonly understood logic. It is what you see, it is what you feel when it is on display — as it was in Bangalore today — and the only way it can be quantified is in terms of the enjoyment it provides you.

Sport is mostly about sweat and toil, about hard work and steely resolve and the will to win. But there are times when these virtues seem secondary, times when gifted men like Inzamam elevate sport to an exalted realm, providing us the sort of watching pleasure that is only rarely on offer.

Quite fitting

Late in the day, as shadows lengthened on the field, a TV cameraman chose to focus on a short, squat man in the VIP enclosure in the stadium. It was quite fitting that Inzy's innings was watched by Gundappa Viswanath.

Neither man would have achieved much in a football team's forwardline, as a striker in hockey or as a tennis or badminton player. And Inzy and Vishy could have hardly hoped to model for a company selling jeans. Neither has ever boasted a six-pack.

But cricket is a game that makes room for all types. Batting is an art that does not demand Shwarzenegger's waistline. And the ones that happen to have one may not ever be able to raise batsmanship to the levels to which Inzy took it today and Vishy pushed it in days gone by.

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