A Test cricket match in 1956 (Harrison/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Neil Harvey’s was a gem of an innings made more resplendent by the mediocre cricket that followed his exit.

Gem Of An Innings

Cricket affords immense possibilities for the play of character and individuality, and its charm lies in the unpredictable time and hour when such character will burst forth to shed its lustre. It was given to Madras to enjoy such an hour when Neil Harvey, occupied the crease between lunch and tea last Saturday.

When Harvey walked in to bat, the game was being buried many fathoms deep by inactivity. India won the toss, and on a batsman’s paradise – which, perhaps sent Lindwall into the pavilion with “sickness” after the first few overs–Mankad and Roy drove the vast, eager crowd into slumber by the most inane batsmanship. Indeed, there was a sigh of relief even from the most patriotic Indian when they got out. Umrigar and Manjrekar batted only slightly better, and India ended the day ingloriously for just 100 and odd runs. After spasmodic efforts at run-getting the next morning, the side crumpled up for a paltry 161 runs. Only the brilliant fielding of the Australians kept the game alive when the visitors began their innings.

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Umrigar brought on Gupte and Gulam Ahmed with the shine still on, after a mockery of pace bowling, and it seemed the game would drag on its slumberous course. Just then Burke succumbed to the lure of the cut, and Harvey came in to a great ovation. But the noise subsided to tenseness as Harvey faced the first few balls – the batsman had been having such a poor run in the past few months that it was feared even an innocent delivery might send him, and the match to doom. But Harvey found the touch soon and struck joy into the hearts of the vast concourse. A small, compact figure, appearing smaller in the vast setting, he set the field aglow by classic strokes to its many corners. He lay back and cut, and the ball flashed to the boundary. When the delivery was pitched up and he danced down the wicket and cracked it through the covers; then he went back and drove the ball off the back foot, through the covers again, with delectable ease. Once, he moved down to Mankad, took the ball low and full and sent it crashing over the heads of the fieldsmen to the onside boundary. It was a most vicious stroke, all its power derived from perfect timing; and it revealed the immense possibilities of Harvey’s batting when he is in form. In a few moments the fire of the Australian’s batting consumed the spin of Mankad and Gupte and only Ghulam Ahmed was able to match the batsman’s genius with his own.

Then, as suddenly as it was born, the hour set. Immediately, after ‘drinks’, Harvey swung at a long hop from Mankad, missed and was mortified to find the stumps laid low. The crowd writhed in agony, then recovered to cheer the retreating figure. Harvey waved his bat in acknowledgement but those near him could read the pain of disappointment in his face.

Harvey’s was a gem of an innings made more resplendent by the mediocre cricket that followed his exit.

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P N S

This article originally appeared in the 27 October, 1956 issue of Swarajya.

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