Wrist assured, Rishabh Pant & Suryakumar Yadav will ensure Virat Kohli & Rohit Sharma wouldn’t be missed

Once, Imran Khan asked Abdul Qadir to grow a goatee for a tour of England. If he’d had his way, he’d have made him wear a turban too.

The ‘Magician from the East’ look had to give his cunning leg spinner – with those hypnotic eyes and hypnotic run-up – an extra layer of mystery. By the end of the tour, the English couldn’t stop talking about the cunning spinner who had tricks hidden in every joint of his magic wrist.

Until a week ago, a couple of Indian cricketers were touring England. Most wore stubble. It was not a management decree, they were not characters in the script written by their captain. This was the team’s signature competition face, they couldn’t have passed for an exotic illusionist.

Still, a few of them – Rishabh Pant and Surya Kumar Yadav – managed to win over the locals and enchant them. The two elicited collective sobs of wonder in the stands and in TV/podcast studios. As in the case of Qadir, the magic wrists were mentioned.

The effortlessness and innovation of the un-English battering caught the eye of eyes more accustomed to watching handbook strokes mainly over elbows and arms.

When India grew angry and anxious over Virat Kohli shoving the ball behind the stumps, England, in a trance, digested two touching centuries – Pant’s 113-ball 125 in the Manchester ODI and Surya’s 55-ball 114 in the Nottingham T20I.

They showered them with praise and burdened the two new stars with grueling expectations. In the country known for lyrical cricket writers with poetic freedom, they made some rather bold comparisons.

The popular podcast The Analyst, presented by top cricket expert and former first-class player Simon Hughes and BBC’s Simon Mann, took a leap of faith, the kind that even Indians don’t dare. Pant, they said, was better than MS Dhoni, with only a little reluctance.

There was also discussion of Surya’s 360-degree play and his ability to explore the less guarded unexplored areas of a cricket ground. His unconventional play behind the square, still fresh in his mind, was called Surya the ‘Next AB de Villiers’.

Other most-listened talk shows around England’s shores called Surya’s the ‘best T20 innings ever’. All post-match dissections of his stroke play had the mention of the flexible wrists reinforced on the Mumbai girls.

Hughes mentions left-handed Pant’s unique way of dealing with James Anderson’s deadly inbound balls that are thrown fractionally short in length. It is the favorite variation of the English master pacer to test the best in business.

The ball shoots in diagonally from the edge of the crease, further toward the batter and threatens to grab the edge of his bat or knock over the stumps. It is a tight ball that restricts the movement of the batter’s hands and even cramps their feet. Hughes says the batters are usually tucked in and have the ball in on their tight pads.

But Pant is different. He quickly jumps to the hind foot and frees his front leg. “This allows him to clear the ball toward the leg with a wrist movement,” Hughes says. The wrists again.

It is these late delicate maneuvers, accomplished by a subtle wrist movement, that baffle even the keen observers of the game. A slog sweep to the cow corner, a screaming cover drive hit by a free-flowing bat, or even a straight drive are results of full contact with the forest and lack mystery. They are beautiful to look at, but speak for themselves. You see the powerful action of the bat and anticipate the subsequent reaction of the ball flying towards the fence. You see power and expect acceleration – it’s simple science.

Pulses follow a microscience, their nuances are too complicated, they are invisible to the naked eye. From beyond the boundary line, it’s hard to fathom how a simple tap can send the ball to the parking lot outside the stadium. They trigger ‘How did that happen?’ curiosity. It also arouses interest, arouses admiration. Everything inexplicable and invisible is wrapped in a cloak of enigma. It’s also overwhelming.

Magical things

These emotions abounded when Surya played a blinder on Trent Bridge. Despite the awesomely sublime innings, India lost the game, but those on the ground shook their heads in disbelief. Surya took advantage of impossible angles by getting into hitherto unimaginable positions.

He would extend his left foot to the ball thrown far beyond the stump. He would come within the delivery line and wave lovingly over the fine leg for six. For the same ball, he had other options. He would get into shape like he was about to play a down cover ride. But then that would have been a very English shot. Surya, squatting on his haunches, would cut it across the point for six. Again, it all came down to those famously flexible subcontinental wrists.

There are shades of ABD in him, but he is still very different. The South African usually directs the ball to the fine leg by changing the angle of the bat. Surya does more with the ball. He has the skills of a hockey drag flicker. His involvement with the ball is deeper.

The two heroes of this English series followed a long tradition that the great Ranji started when he showed up for Sussex. He, too, stunned the English with his new series of blows.

Neville Cardus would be on hand to capture the first major change to batsmanship. Cricket would be described as if it were the review of the Great Indian rope trick. Cardus would write about Ranji belonging to the land of “Hazlitt’s Indian jugglers, where beauty is subtle and not clear and unambiguous”. Something Imran had in mind.

He would say that the Indian prince of Nawanagar’s cut was a “blinding lance of batsmanship”. His club was like a “yielding stick that made swift movements that circled those incomparable wrists”. The fascination with that particular part of anatomy is centuries old and continues to this day.

For Pant and Surya, this was a coming-of-age tour. The bigger stars – Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma – didn’t quite bring down the roofs of stadiums, but their failure went unnoticed. No one missed Kohli’s cover drive or Rohit’s appeal. There were new stars, newer strokes to celebrate.

If Transition had a photo, it was Surya walking back to a standing ovation from the packed Nottingham crowd and Vivek Razdan from the comment box pulling out one of his instant couplets.

“Buland iraadon se likhte hain taqdeer apni, hamari kismat hath ki lakiron ki mohtaaj nahi hai,’ he would say as if Surya’s thought bubble. It is loosely translated as ‘the fate of those with lofty ambitions does not depend on palm lines’. He was right, in the case of Surya and Pant it is the pulse.

Send your feedback to sandydwivedi@gmail.com

Sandeep Dwivedic

National Sports Editor

The Indian Express

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