Saturday, February 12, 2011

The joys of watching Damien Martyn bat

[Also posted at:]

There have been innings’ of superior significance and greater totals, but Damien Martyn’s unbeaten 88 in the finals of the 2003 World Cup must rank amongst the most elegant knocks played in the history of the Cup. Martyn at his best batted like an angel. At the crease he was always serenely disposed, making batting look like child’s play. A dreamy back-lift was often followed by smooth strokes executed with what seemed like wanton carelessness. But the truth couldn’t have been more starkly different – his hands were always tender, helping him find gaps in the field which we thought never existed. Like most great batsmen, Martyn was endowed with a sense of timing. Mere prods off his bat would send the ball scurrying to the boundary. But he wasn’t averse to using a flashing blade, especially to send the ball over point, a shot which as brutal as it may have been, was a pleasure to behold.

His innings in the 2003 final is often overlooked in favour of Ricky Ponting’s bludgeoned 140, perhaps rightly so. But frequently forgotten is that Martyn was the one who got to his half century first – in spite of a six over handicap – the one who provided the impetus to a partnership that set the tone for a victory of resounding brilliance.

The nine editions of the World Cup have provided many excellent batting performances. The nature of the shortened format, though, has usually meant that an innings constructed with graceful ingenuity is reduced in its prettiness by grotesque hitting that is seen as a necessity in the slog-overs. Martyn’s elegance, however, was never cheapened by the layout of the game – he could make a swish over extra-cover look like a stroke from Picasso’s paint-brush. That he played the 2003 Final with a broken finger was never apparent. A batsman couldn’t have looked calmer at the crease.

If one were to generalise, Australian batsmen would fall into a prosaic category, ‘the gritty and the determined’. But the country has also been blessed with some of the most artful batsmen in the history of the game – Doug Walters, Greg Chappell and Mark Waugh to name the finest of a class, in which Martyn, most definitely belongs. Peter English once wrote that ‘Martyn can make Mark Waugh’s strokes look ugly and hurried.’ The knock in the 2003 finals explicitly paraded the truism in English’s words. It was compiled with a perfect amalgam of crafty placement and sublime timing. Martyn played the spinners so late, almost after the ball had passed him, and yet not once did he look ruffled. Although punctuated by seven fours and a six, the hallmark of the innings was the manner in which he found the gaps off the spinners, rotating the strike with metronomic ease – an aspect of the game that is often ignored in highlights packages. The pick of his boundaries was a six over extra-cover off Zaheer Khan – a graceful six if ever there was one. He may have eventually only played second-fiddle to a rampant Ponting, but there was enough in his innings to leave an indelible mark in my mind. We will be lucky if the upcoming World Cup produces a performance half as elegant as Martyn’s was.


Vishnu Chari said...

great piece, Martyn was a laconic legend, i wonder who u'd put in a "elegent 11"

Suhrith said...

I had actually put down an Elegant Eleven once. Here is the link: