The second Test ended with rain, which is a shame chiefly because it prevented me from watching more Darren Bravo. More than one cricket fan has pointed out his resemblance to Brian Lara (the pair share blood and a high left-handed back-lift). Part of that is nostalgia and aspiration — who wouldn’t want another Lara on the cricket scene? — but Bravo seems to have the talent to at least justify some comparison. The similarity raises a bigger question: how much of cricket is a derivative exercise? To what extent do cricketers carve their own creative path?
Recall the comment that K. Brathwaite made after his marathon innings in the first Test. He learned to bat and bat and bat, he said, from Shiv Chanderpaul, who prefers to accumulate his runs through attrition and patience rather than explicit intent. Recall Virender Sehwag when he first burst on the scene, and how difficult it was to tell him apart from his partner, Sachin Tendulkar. Recall Ishant Sharma, who blamed his wayward career on his dire need to be just like Zaheer Khan. Literary critic Harold Bloom once said that all poets suffer from the anxiety of influence; that is, they all get the urge to write poetry by reading great poetry and then feel trapped by what they have read (at least I think that’s what he said; it’s been an increasingly long time since college). Do you think cricketers suffer from this? I wonder if every left-arm fast bowler secretly wishes Wasim Akram never walked a run-up; no one will be like him, and even if they were, they would only earn a back-handed compliment: “You bowl just like Wasim Akram.”
So what separates the Akrams and Laras from the Zaheer Khans and Bravos? Why don’t we think anymore of Gary Kirsten or Mohammed Yousuf? I think the chief test for any cricketer isn’t necessarily most runs or most wickets, but leaving behind a style of play. Of all the tributes to Rahul Dravid, I was interested most by Sambit Bal’s, which argued that Dravid’s retirement meant that we were unlikely to see future Test batsmen value toughing it out like he did. The kind of batsman who likes to beat the passage of time as much as the next ball. As a cricketer, you want fans to like you not just for the runs or performance, but because of the way you play. We all know what a “Dravid-esque innings” means. Maybe this is the cricket circle of life: you start off emulating your models; you learn some lessons and either stumble or adapt and try to become your own person.
But I wonder: will we remember Ricky Ponting or J. Kallis when they retire? Will future players hope to be like them, or Kevin Pietersen?