Pity Mrs Tahir
The scene: the Tahir’s living room.
Mr and Mrs Tahir are hosting some family and friends. The occasion is another Test match appearance for their son, Imran. It is the third afternoon of the Test match at Newlands. Tahir has just been brought into the attack. He’s cut for four behind square by Perera. The commentator reassuringly advises, ‘He [Tahir] won’t mind that.’ Next ball, Tahir pitches in the same area, but the leg-break turns out of the bowlers’ footmarks into the left hander, who cannot adjust his shot and is bowled, falling backwards, the intended cut shot tailing off into a chop down, but over, a ball veering towards and past him.
At home, the Tahir’s cheer and rise from their seats, backs slapped by their guests, smiles and laughs , sharing their pleasure.
Head tilted upwards, he continues his dash which takes him in a wide arc and into the empty outfield. He slows and takes his right arm back and hurls an imaginary javelin into the Cape Town crowd and pounds his chest three times before clenching both fists and turning back to his teammates gathered on the square.
At home, eyes back on the screen, the laughs and compliments are quelled as Imran’s extravagant celebration proceeds. Before he gets to his solitary position in the outfield, Mrs Tahir has turned to her guests, not accidentally obscuring the screen, asking for drinks orders and a route out to the kitchen. Mr Tahir invents interest in the performance of his neighbour’s business, ‘accounts? no, insurance?’.
The gathering settles back to watch Imran bowl to the new batsman. Their pleasure has been tinged with embarrassment. Spirits, despite Imran’s success, are deflated.
[Tahir’s dismissal of Sangakkara and similar celebration can be seen on a recording of a TV news show.]
What fuels my imagination of this scene is my experience as a father who cringes when my five year old celebrates a goal at his football club with a sprint and a knee slide, arms open wide. Watching Tahir celebrate brought to mind the contrasting footage I remembered seeing of Jim Laker taking 19 Australian wickets at Old Trafford in 1956. Tahir had dismissed the Sri Lankan number eight. It didn’t break a significant partnership, win the match, let alone set a Test and first class cricket record – the second on a list of cricket records that are predicted to never be broken.
Laker’s response to each batsman falling to his off-spin was off-hand, matter-of-fact. Even his teammates seem to me low key in the presence of his achievement and their destruction of the Australians. The video on YouTube bears out this impression. Laker’s response to taking a wicket got no more animated than wiping some sweat from his face or hitching up his trousers.
Generationally and celebrationally, I am found somewhere between Laker and Tahir. Their reactions appear to me equally disproportionate to their achievement but in opposite directions. But that’s judging them by my own standards. What does the response of their peers tell us? We see Jaques Kallis looking amused – can I assume by Tahir’s antics? None of Steyn, Morkel, let alone Kallis, charges around the outfield when castling a tail-ender. Tahir has also drawn criticism from his countrymen. In Laker’s case, his teammates are as mellow as the bowler is when taking a catch or having an LBW appeal upheld. Much as I’d like to think they’re wishing Tony Lock was wrecking destruction from the other end so they could see him turn some cartwheels and nail a few hand-springs, it just wasn’t so.
It seems that Imran Tahir may be a little out of kilter with his age and Laker in tune with his. But some great change in men’s public displays of emotion has occurred in the last 65 years. When did the fall of a wicket occasion more than a pace down the wicket and brief handshake with the catcher and instead feature raised arms, a bound and bared teeth? Sexual intercourse, according to Larkin, began in 1963, seven years after Laker’s achievement. Was that the point in time? Or was it 1966, the year of the first and only football World Cup victory by a Test playing nation? Can anyone remember when, on the cricket field, austere, deferential England gave way to punchy, proud Eng-erland?
And so I go back to my imagined scene in the Tahir family home.
His parents are continuing to watch. They are nervous for their son making his way in Test cricket, and anxious too that he may embarrass them: wishing him success and a more humble way of celebrating it.
The Laker family may have watched the Old Trafford Test on television, too. Maybe ..
Mrs Laker chuckled that James always did bottle up his feelings, but better that way with the toffs from Lord’s ready to drop any professional who didn’t fit the mould. James even seems reluctant to lead the team from the field when he bowls the Aussies out the first time. Such a modest lad. But what’s that? Just as he approaches the boundary. What’s he doing with that finger? Not picking his nose? Oh no. [1min 48 secs into the clip]
Pity Mrs Laker.