Why Sidhu is missed

By Carlton Samarajiwa
As the Cricket World Cup fever sets in with millions of cricket fans the world over remaining glued to their TV sets, the rising expectations are not only about batsmen and bowlers and fielders, but also about cricket commentators. They are the people, who mike in hand, add lustre to "the game of the flannelled fools" that is sometimes drab and always time-consuming, compared to other games such as football or rugby.
How dull would watching cricket on the little screen be without all the incisive comments and delightful asides we hear from the commentary box?

Who will sit in the commentary box in South Africa as it hosts the World Cup 2003? We know the players but not the commentators, but one expects Navjot Singh Sidhu to be among them.

We were accustomed to watch Sidhu opening the Indian innings gracefully and then fielding dexterously in the deep, but it was a pleasant surprise to note that this likeable cricketer had made his presence felt in another role.

He now sits mike in hand in the commentary box, immaculate in elegant turban and gorgeous beard rather than in helmet and all the armoury of the protective gear of batsmen.

His utterances in English, as colourful as his turbans and his neck ties to match, flow in an endless stream to describe and analyse what's happening on the field. "Straight as a candle" was the simile he used to describe the strokes that sent the ball to the boundary line off Marvan Atapattu's and Mahela Jayawardana's bats.

My thoughts drifted to the lengthening power cuts in those days when we had to use more and more of our locally produced candles, none of which happened to be straight!

When fellow commentator, the inimitable Tony Greig displayed on the screen statistics of test cricketers who had reached great heights in the past with bat and ball, Sidhu argued that cricket statistics were "like mini skirts": what they reveal is very suggestive but what they conceal is very vital.

Mahinda Wijesinghe, in his column, called Muttiah Muralitharan "the smiling assassin" and Ravi Nagahawatta, in his, "India's destroyer" after he had taken eight Indian wickets in the final Coca Cola test. For Sidhu, Murali was the "wily old Fox", a term we would have thought only fitted the late JRJ. At other times, Sidhu dubbed Murali as “the Executioner”.

Cricket has produced its own English idioms and phrases, which have acquired extended metaphorical connotations. "It's not cricket", for any foul play and injustice, "a straight game" for an honest deal, and "playing for time" for delaying tactics and a myriad other such expressions have been absorbed into the language.

Now we have a host of delightful Sidhuisms to enrich and enliven a cumbersome game.

In Galle, during the Coca Cola Trophy series, Sidhu lamented that the Indian batsmen had "loads of potential" put to no use because of "woeful batting", and when the camera focused on the Indian coach John Wright in the pavilion, he called him "John Wrong".

The Galle pitch was for Sidhu, "a minefield of a pitch". A curious subtlety and clever elaboration reside in the lurking affinities that Sidhu creates between the real and the imagined.

Sanath Jayasuriya, who Ranjan Madugalle referred to as "the Lion of Matara" and who Shastri described as "a man with arms of steel", was seen by Sidhu as "a thorn in the Indian side" and when he was dismissed cheaply in some innings, as "a wounded lion". And, the umpire who gave him out was "the man with the dreaded finger". These are comparisons that represent "what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed" as Sidhu does.

"A brooding hen over a China egg" was his analogy for a batsmen sent back to the pavilion with a low score.

When the Sri Lankan victory in the Final Test became a foregone conclusion, Sidhu had this to spare: "It ain't over until the fat lady sings," (taken from a US basketball commentary, which produced an analogy between a sporting event and an opera).

The series ended with Sri Lanka recording countless centuries, leaving the silver-tongued Sidhu tongue-tied.

Will you be there in the commentary box in South Africa, Navjot Sidhu, to talk about our boys as they vie for "the cake with the red cherry on top"?

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