Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The 2nd Annual OB Innings Of The Year Award

Some innings - a very few - are instantly and evidently great, usually because of their context. For most others, time adds to or subtracts from them; it reveals their weight. In February in Durban, Phil Hughes made 115 and 160 for Australia against South Africa. Cricinfo wrote: 'The transitional period is over. An emphatic series win in South Africa will imbue Australia with confidence that, after a harrowing six month search, they have uncovered a crop of cricketers capable of competing with the world's best'.

It was hard to see then that the year would close with Shane Watson in Hughes's place, and making a debut hundred of his own. Time has weighed a little on Hughes's achievements, but those innings have stuck in the memory. He's a weird, wild talent, and he is playing in the right era.

The criteria for the OB Innings Of The Year, as set out in the inaugural effort of 2008, are simple and arbitrary - an innings I've seen that upholds the noble and aesthetic principal that a great knock is worth more than the numbers in the book. Lord's is one of the places you might choose to play it, and both Andrew Strauss and Michael Clarke did so in the Ashes Test there. Strauss, like Gooch, is a different batsman as captain. Clarke was simply the best batsman on either side, and at Lord's he was at his best, low-slung and wristy.

That clamor for Mark Ramprakash to play at the Oval feels like it happened in a different century, a century in which Ramps seems to have been engaged in one long, unbroken innings for Surrey against the rest. It was more of the same this summer: he's still one of the best value tickets in town. But two other domestic innings broke through the drowsy joy of watching the master. Eion Morgan's 161 for Middlesex against Kent at Canterbury in an FP Trophy game was a ridiculous thing, as adept as it was absurd. It probably skewed his batting a little too far towards the offbeat for a while, but it was astonishing to watch. Even better was Vikram Solanki's dreamy 47-ball hundred for Worcester against Glamorgan. It was as beautiful and as magnificently melancholic as anything of Ramps' too, a late, pure flow of not-quite-fulfilled talent.

Yet this was the year that batting changed, shifted, moved on and the men who were moving it were openers. Tillakaratne Dilshan is 33 years old, a late-flowering freak who has reinvented himself and the game. T20 cricket has set his mind and his method free. The 96 not out against West Indies in the World T20 semi-final simply blistered. He made six Test hundreds in the year, five of them at almost a run a ball, and at Galle against New Zealand made 92 from 72 balls in the first innings and 123* from 131 in the second. 

Chris Gayle is even more terrifying than Dilshan because of the ruinous power he holds in those giant shoulders. Australia were this year's victims of choice. The 88 from 50 balls in the World T20 game at the Oval contained the most gargantuan straight hit I've ever seen. But even that wasn't as good as the 72-ball 102 at the WACA. There was an almost zen quality to the stillness of his head as he struck the ball. 

Virender Sehwag is another warrior from that distant outpost. The 293 in Mumbai came from 254 balls. In the way that he can sustain his assault, Sehwag is a man apart, flat deck or not [and while that criticism of him is valid, there aren't many scores of that size made on any other kinds of pitches]. I even dreamed about him. 

But the innings of the year is none of those. When twelve gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore last March, Thilan Samaraweera was at last in the form of his life. A career that had spluttered and stuttered had finally blossomed. He'd made two double hundreds in two weeks, the second of them just a few hours before he found himself laying on the same cricket ground with shrapnel in both legs, the madness of the world all around him.

If the attack had been on England or Australia, things would have assumed a whole other scale. Instead, the courage and modesty of the Sri Lankan team was embodied in Thilan, who returned a few months later, physically healed, mentally redoubtable, to make 159 against New Zealand in Galle, his tenth Test hundred in just his seventh innings back. Forget the venue, forget the opposition, ignore the number of balls it took, and the strike rate and all the rest of it, and just applaud the humanity of the man and the team and the game. Thilan, the innings of the year is yours.







10 comments:

Naked Cricket said...

Beautiful OB. I didn't know where this piece was headed, i can't remember most of 2009, except for today's results, but as I read this, I knew it.

I followed Samaraweera's cricket, and I felt the game's triumph in the Galle innings; it's time had come

Ghanshyam Nair said...

I don't know if it was in that innings or in another in the same series, but Samaraweera also played the shot of the year, for me, stepping down the track to Vettori and driving him inside-out for four. The commentators rhapsodised about it for about fifteen minutes. I used to think VVS Laxman plays that shot like no one else can, but Samaraweera pretty much surpassed him on that occasion.

medibot said...

An inspiring choice of innings, well worth watching too (click on my name for a link to it)

Also, i have to say, another superb piece of writing.

SarahCanterbury said...

I have finished reading this and quite unexpectedly got tears in my eyes - what a wonderful choice. Agreeing wholeheartedly with Medibot - superbly written.

The Old Batsman said...

Thanks - and happy new year!

SarahCanterbury said...

And to you!

Anonymous said...

This is lovely OB! As stated before, beautifully written. Looking backwards into the past season, and forwards into the new, I have a lump in my throat over the evocative description of Mssrs Ramps and Solanki's innings. Lovely! Thank you.

Ceci said...

Graceful as ever OB - looking forward to 2010 filled with your felicitous phrases (and some delicate but murderous stiletto wounds to inflated cricket egos). Happy New Year!

The Old Batsman said...

Thank you Ceci, and to you!

Abrar Ahmed said...

Great Congratulations...

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