Speaking the language of cricket

LIKE professionals in other fields, cricketers have their own language. Bankers, engineers, doctors and people from the film industry speak in a special bhasha which others find difficult to understand whereas netas use words which nobody wants to understand. Cricketers communicate in a language which is special to them - it contains, as one would expect, plenty of technical stuff. But there is a lot which is spicy and interesting.

In cricket's unique language, batsmen are searching not merely for runs but tadi, an example of which is Gilchrist disdainfully smashing fast bowlers over the top as though they were lobbing flighted lollipops at him. Or in the imperious manner of Sachin slamming a ball through cover - on the up - and not bothering to run or even see where the ball has gone.

Of course the all-time greatest tadi-master was Viv Richards whose brutality, raw power and dominance was such, good bowlers looked the other way when captains tossed the ball towards them. Richards was a butcher, a merciless player whose awesome authority no player has come close to matching. Tadi, as signified by him, was not about hitting boundaries or scoring runs but about arrogance and power, and the manner in which he took bowlers apart. It is difficult to know what he enjoyed more - chewing gum or chewing the bowlers.

A notch below this supreme quality is chabuk batting. In these situations the batsman is in command, he controls the game, dictates terms and the quicker a bowler bowls, the faster the ball disappears into the outfield. Faced by such aggression, bowlers seek divine help, and protection, to stem the flow of runs. The batsman, on the other hand, is on a roll, he can't do anything wrong.

But sometimes the very opposite happens and poor batsmen, when subjected to a tough examination, concede that bowler ne hila diya. The bowler, on these occasions, bowls dil se, which means, in a loose way, that he runs nicely and lands the ball in the right place. During a spirited spell the tappa is good, the ball has nip and batsmen wish they were somewhere else.

Good bowling (and batting for that matter) is a consequence of rhythm, an elusive, mysterious quality where things somehow work out. When a bowler hits this the ball moves and turns alarmingly, it falls in the corridor and plays all kinds of tricks. But with rhythm absent, there is no venom, the bowling is flat and the bowler appears weary, his run up resembling the last lap of a marathon runner. Balls slide down leg, which means free hits anywhere between fine leg to mid wicket, or are directed miles away from off stump.

Poor bowling is paidal, good fielding is goli, an unprepared wicket is an akhara, there are other buzz words as well which become fashionable from time to time. Among the current favourites is intensity, all teams emphasise the crucial need to remain on red alert, making sure there is no lapse, this is the effort every captain demands from his players. Earlier, teams talked of concentration; nowadays one has to maintain focus, which is another way of staying on the ball.

Both intensity and focus are only tools, teams don't only play but are supposed to fight. In contemporary cricket each game is civilised battle, that is why it is necessary to ensure the body language is right. Every coach will caution his team about keeping chins up and not appear dispirited, however adverse the situation. Part of his pre-match pep talk is invariably about keeping steady eye contact and not letting shoulders stoop. Teams must always be kadak.

Teams, from C. K. Nayudu's time, have always stressed the need to fight but the words used to convey this now are new. It is trendy to be up there, this latest phrase means one should be ahead of others and always strive to be on top.

Modern cricket language also covers other aspects of the game, and one popular word is compulsory which conveys several things, depending on the context in which it is used. A loose drive, when the ball is not pitched up, is compulsory, so is a defensive shot when the ball should have been smashed without a second thought. A practise session when nobody is in the mood is compulsory; faltu advice, which should be disregarded, is compulsory gyaan.

By and large, all cricketers, whether in Lahore or Lord's, talk the same way. The game has become global, cricket knowledge is quickly shared, most teams play, practise, train the same way. They think alike and are connected so deeply that expressions of affection, or abuse, are the same. No surprise that sledging, in Punjabi or Angrezi, sounds and means exactly alike.

Modern cricket is such all players are athletes first, cricketers later. Because the game is fitter and faster, cricketers count calories as carefully as runs. This changing priority is visible when players check into a hotel and demand to know quickly, first their room number, and thereafter, directions to the hotel gym. In days past, players downed beers after a game but as drinking went out of fashion, players remain rooted to their rooms and evenings are spent watching TV and ordering room service food.

Now, the players are driven differently. Therefore Zaheer Khan will visit the gym AFTER bowling 20 overs in a day's play BEFORE heading for his room. Dinesh Mongia is so addicted to training he has done enough cycling to travel from Chandigarh to London! Parthiv Patel may not know much biology but when the physio talks about skin folds and other complicated things he nods knowledgeably. He understands this language.

International cricket produces stirring battles between players who are separated by country/culture/history/identity. Yet everyone is connected by a common bond and in this unifying process language plays an important part.