Great cricketers are admired and loved everywhere. But there are a few who transcend the parochial and patriotic affiliations of fans from countries other than their own.
Their appeal and appeal flattens the world of fan prejudice as it were. Among my earliest and most enduring memories of watching cricket comes from the 1966-67 Test against the West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium when Garfield Sobers walked out to bat.
For a moment the packed stadium went into dead-drop silence, as if transfixed by the sight of the man with the loping strides and a hint of swagger walk out into the middle, before erupting into a rousing reception that still rings in my ears.
As a 10-year-old, I wondered what the ado was about, as also whether my fellow home fans shouldn’t be eager to see Sobers’s back. After all, he was arch enemy, the biggest threat to the Indian team.
It didn’t take long for the great West Indian to change my mind. Over the course of the match he did just about everything — bat, bowl and field — with style and aplomb. He was brilliance personified and I was an overnight convert.
The genius of Sobers grew exponentially in my cricketing sensibilities thereafter. There are obviously others too in the long history of the game, but not too many I would venture. ABD belongs to this club today. The roar that went up when he walked out to bat on Saturday could have carried from Bangalore, where the second Test is being played, to Pretoria where he was born. But more than just the decibel levels, this was a salutation by the crowd in acknowledgement of his genius. True, this was de Villiers’s 100th Test and his bond with this city runs deep since he represents the Royal Challengers in the IPL. But this was something beyond the usual fan accolade: veneration, awe, respect, and a deep desire to see him succeed were all rolled into one.
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