Letter from my friend Ollie Taylor in Anapolis, Maryland. Hard to read. Not that his handwriting is unclear, because it couldn't be clearer. It's in inch-high letters, blocked across the page, and it's very hard for me to accept that Ollie is writing like that. He's losing his eyesight, and using these big letters is the only way he can see what he writes.
And I think, it is through Ollie's eyes that I saw a much-loved game in a new way. Those very eyes that are now failing a perceptive, funny, sharp and thoughtful man.
Two weeks ago, I watched part of the Bangalore Test between India and Pakistan. On the second morning, Younis and Youhana took a number of quick, risky runs: a tactic that must drive a fielding side bananas. But the Indians were equal to the task, and didn't make it easy for the two Ys. Harbhajan (twice) and Tendulkar actually hit the stumps on their throws, though without damage to the Pakistani cause, and others came close. The arrow-straight flight of the ball, the compact athleticism of these men as they flung it, were things to behold.
And all through, there were the retrievals from near the boundary. Irfan Pathan was particularly splendid. His throws shone like small works of art, in the way they hummed across the field, right over the stumps into waiting wicketkeeping gloves that didn't need to move one little bit, except to applaud in appreciation. Again and again.
The precision, the beauty in these throws, the spare ballet-like elegance of the players as they move across the field: Ollie it was who showed me I could look beyond 4s and wickets, India and Pakistan, winning and losing, and revel in the nearly choreographed beauty of this game. It was through those eyes, dimming today, that I learned anew to observe and appreciate that beauty.
For when he visited us in India in February 1998, I took Ollie to the Brabourne in Bombay to see this match. It was the first time he had ever seen cricket played. I remember still the way he leaned forward and focused on the players, spoke to me of their graceful athleticism. When we got home, he wrote out a note to his wife that I later sent for him by email. He explained to her how much he had enjoyed the day spent at this gorgeous game, with its "precision" and "pinpoint" skill, the "ballet-like" yet "powerful" moves of its players.
And suddenly as I typed those words, I saw the game in new light. Not as the Aussie-walloping that set the tone for a series -- which it was -- but as a thing of beauty that several men painted on a green field with their strength and graceful power.
Others have seen cricket like that. Writing of the bane of patriotism in the Times of India (April 4), Bapsi Sidhwa has near-hushed tones for Imran Khan's "ballet-like grace." And in his Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins writes that he has "never forgotten the spectacle of my Oxford contemporary, the Nawab of Pataudi (one of India's greatest cricketers, even after losing one eye) fielding for the university and throwing the ball with devastating speed and accuracy at the wicket."
Khan and Pataudi -- not unlike Harbhajan and Tendulkar and Pathan in Bangalore. And I know Ollie would smile in appreciation. Go well, my friend. I'll write your letters, any time.