IIT-Chemplast, Bergkamp and the Ashes
I had a few spare hours this morning and I felt the time would be well spent by visiting the I.I.T. Chemplast Cricket Ground. The Ground nestled in the Indian Institute of Technology’s lush campus in Madras brims with scenic beauty. With the dense trees enveloping the sides of the Ground and a small, yet pretty, red-bricked pavilion adding to its grandeur, I would imagine this to be one of the more attractive sports venues in India.
Anyway, Tamil Nadu were scheduled to play the Railways’ cricket team in a Ranji Trophy Super League Group A game here, and I thought watching a few hours of first-class cricket wouldn’t hurt, especially considering the setting. Braving the rush-hour morning traffic, I reached the venue, on time, at 9:30 AM only to be greeted with the site of grounds-men working furiously to get the field ready. Madras during the monsoons can be rather strange. A glance outside my window in the morning had suggested that, although it was a cloudy day, there weren’t any signs of overnight rain. As it turned out, it had rained in other parts of the city, and particularly harshly at Guindy, where the Ground is located. Not one to be instantly disillusioned, I waited, sitting under one of the giant trees that surround the Ground, reading my book – The Perfect 10 by Richard Williams, in which the author portrays the careers, oddly enough, of eleven different playmakers, ranging from Pele to Zinedine Zidane – but more on that later.
The Ground, from the boundary ropes, looked dry enough, but there were apparently a few wet patches in line with the fast bowlers’ run-ups and near the popping creases on both sides that were worrying the umpires. An inspection was scheduled for 10:30 and I decided to wait patiently until then. The captains, Dinesh Karthik and Murali Kartik, both took a walk to the middle, and as did T.N. seamers, C. Ganapathy and Lakshmipathy Balaji. Any hope of immediate play though was quickly quelled, with the patches near the crease continuing to trouble the umpires. The next inspection was scheduled for 12:00 noon, and I remained optimistic, hoping that even if the action commenced at 12:15, I could still, probably, watch an hour’s play before I had other matters to be concerned with. In the end, the inspection at 12:00 did not convince the umpires enough and the next bit of scrutiny was scheduled a further hour later. So I made my way out, and thanks to Cricinfo, I now hear that only eight overs were bowled, with T.N. ending the day on 26 runs for the loss of S. Anirudha.
The conditions, no doubt, made the visit mostly pointless, but I did get through substantial portions of Williams’s book. In essence the book is a depiction of a group of players, each of whom are his personal favourites, and who were all ‘conventional number 10s’ and celebrated for their playmaking. Essays on Ferenc Puskas; Pele; Gianni Rivera and Sandro Mazzola (a chapter is commonly devoted to the Milanese pair); Gunter Netzer, Michel Platini, Enzo Francescoli, Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio, Dennis Bergkamp, and Zinedine Zidane constitute a chapter each. Having read a part of the book earlier, I reached up until the chapter in which he describes Bergkamp, by which time I found my thoughts drifting from the book’s contents to the sheer majesty of the Dutchman’s craft.
Much like Williams, I have a special reverence towards playmakers. Growing up as a Manchester United fan in the nineties and the two-thousands, it was rather difficult to appreciate Arsenal and their play, dazzling as it could be. But Bergkamp and Robert Pires – who was of course a wide midfield player – were exceptions in my abhorrence for Arsenal. Bergkamp’s technique, touch, control, passing, and shooting were all a delight, but his exemplary vision was, by far, his most laudable trait. His goal against Newcastle United in 2002, when he pirouetted around centre back Nikos Dabizas with a sublime piece of touch before slotting past Shay Given must surely rank as the finest piece of ingenuity witnessed in the Premier League. There have been goals scored, from tougher angles, with far greater ferocity, and possibly even with superior deftness in touch, but I doubt if any has been as inventive in its construction. It is for moments such as this that we watch sport and to be reminded of it, certainly made my visit worthwhile, even if conditions at IIT-Chemplast played spoilsport.
Tomorrow, the first Ashes test will commence at the Gabba in Brisbane. Unlike most previous tours to Australia, the visitors start the series as favourites, overwhelmingly so, in the minds of some. I think, though, the first test could be crucial in determining which way the series goes. Brisbane has seen unusually high amounts of rainfall this year, and while I hope there is enough cloud cover to assist James Anderson and Ben Hilfenhaus to charm us with their swing, I do hope the rain stays away, lest I be consigned to reminiscing about the clever geometry of Bergkamp’s play.