Rangana Herath celebrates a wicket with his team-mates
© Associated Press


When Ranga comes 'round

In praise of a spinner whose contributions are as generous as his girth

Rahul Bhattacharya

Nobody, except perhaps some of Shane Warne's opponents and text-message correspondents, has ever disputed the theory that the world is a better place with tubby spinners in it. I am not trying to be body-typist here. Tall, limby ones make a fine sight too. Anil Kumble was, so was Daniel Vettori. In his own way so was Ravi Shastri, whose "long levers", to use what might be a Shastri-ism, met above his head and ran on with his action like successive arches of a viaduct.

Neither is it my case that there is no joy in the tubby batsman. Inzy, Arjuna, Aravinda: wonderful. Yet batsmen are responders. They manipulate the bowler's energy. The bowlers are generators. The tubby spinner provides a spectacle unique in the athletic world. The ground is round, the ball is round, round is our spinner and round is his flight.

My fellow editor Siddhartha Vaidyanathan once got into a conversation about eating with Ramesh Powar, who with his happy-man midriff, red sunglasses and occasional moonballs, changed more than the tempo of a game; he changed the entire texture. Whenever Powar went home he was given sweets and other loving food by his family, and how could he say no? "It's about emotions, yaar." Somehow this answer makes me feel better about cricket than the viral video of Virat Kohli's snatch (the weightlifting manoeuvre).

Proper tribute is paid to the belly that "turns towards the batsman like a planet rotating to face the sun", to diving stops reminiscent of "the controlled collapse of a building in one of those inner-city demolitions"

The reigning rajah of round now is Rangaiyya, and in this short editorial I do disservice to his bowling by focusing on his physical charms. Andrew Fidel Fernando's superb cover story has no such failings. Don't get me wrong: proper tribute is paid to the belly that "turns towards the batsman like a planet rotating to face the sun", to diving stops reminiscent of "the controlled collapse of a building in one of those inner-city demolitions". Along with that it is a fine appreciation of Herath's bowling with its minor subtleties, his temperament ("serial optimism"), his immense impact in different formats of the game, his village world of Waduwawa with its coconut and jackfruit trees. One may conclude that Herath has been a jackfruit for Sri Lanka - a reference for which you must read the story.

There's plenty more in the issue. Movies appear in two places: one of India's leading film writers Baradwaj Rangan gives us a comprehensive tour of cricket in Hindi movies, and Brydon Coverdale recalls a few great and ghastly cricket scenes in English-language films. There is a heap of interesting numerical matter: four writers on the best stats measure, and a fascinating study by Charles Davis of dropped catches through Test history. There is an essay about a mother-daughter cricket adventure in Lima.

Not unlike a cricket team, a magazine has to constantly retire old regulars and debut new ones. You may have noticed some over the past few months. Since March, Mathew Varghese has been putting together a quiz (rating: difficult). Since July, Russel Herneman has been doing us a cartoon. In August, Simon Barnes, who finished off a series of his ten best cricket moments, revived a sawn-off regular, Wordplay. This month we begin another series, on cricket in fiction, written by Benjamin Golby and illustrated by Jeffrey Phillips. Fittingly, the first entry stars a Sri Lankan spinner.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care