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A firework lighting the skies

By Peter Roebuck
February 23, 2003 14:14 IST
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Brian Lara hit an exhilarating 50 in 23 balls. Sachin Tendulkar constructed a composed 150. Neither man played the innings of the day on an extraordinary Sabbath in Africa. Nothing in Jon Davison's previous life had prepared spectators for this day. There was nothing in his performances that alerted followers to the possibility that he might tear apart an international attack, no hint of suppressed genius, no build-up, nothing except the sight of an experienced cricketer trying to make his way in the world.

Supporters turned up in Pretoria hoping to catch a glimpse of Lara in his pomp and praying that Canada might keep the match going long enough to make their journey worthwhile. They did not expect to see one of the most glorious assaults on an highly regarded attack the game has known. They did not anticipate watching Davison score a hundred in 67 balls, the fastest century in World Cup history.

Davison is a journeyman cricketer and does not pretend otherwise. He has played for more states than existed 150 years ago, plying his accurate and gentle off-spinners that pitch on a length and now and then change direction. He could bat a bit also and even in this dotage was willing to go in as nightwatchman, a job usually assigned to a good natured fellow without any pretensions as a batsman. No one took much notice of his work with the willow and he survived as a professional because he was liked and spinners were thin on the ground. He was a tradesman. Now he is in the history books.

Few realised this traveling man had been born and raised in Canada till the maple leaf country qualified for the final stages of this World Cup. In the early matches he bowled tidily and was played respectfully by opponents prepared to bide their time. Canada started well, upsetting Bangladesh but came a fearful cropper against Sri Lanka, skittled for a lamentable total which did not bode well for their prospects against a supposedly resurgent West Indian team.

Even now it is hard to believe it was Davison under that helmet and that some other, more inspired cricketer had not occupied his body as happens regularly in those late night movies that attract the sleepless crowd. If it was him, in some ways it is more disturbing for does it not prove that we are all living far short of our potential? Davison was scintillating, dispatching the ball all round the ground with strokes of timing and placement. He had a bit of luck but everyone needs that when taking such little notice of line and length.

Repeatedly he lashed the ball to the boundary, leaving bowlers with hands on hips and a captain scratching his head. Carl Hooper had not expected such a relentless assault and became alarmed as it continued. Almost alone Davison took his team to 1/112 in 15 overs. He did not stop merely because the field spread and the slower bowlers had been introduced. Even his fall was magnificent, athletically caught on the boundary at long on from a drive that might otherwise have cleared the ropes. So much for 'it cannot last.' It did, and it was marvelous.

Of course, Lara promptly put the target in perspective with his thrilling strokes, including several against Davison's canny spinners, as the master from Trinidad stepped back from his stumps to thrash the ball over mid-off. Davison had been let down by his team-mates who fell in a heap after his dismissal. Otherwise, he might have been able to worry the West Indians. Nonetheless, and after all this years of struggle, he has played an innings to take to the grave, an innings that will linger in the memory, sitting alongside Kapil Dev's cavalier assault on the Zimbabweans in Tunbridge Wells all those years ago. Kapil took guard at 5/25 and struck 175, an innings still cherished by millions of Indians.

In Pietermaritzburg Tendulkar worked hard on a drying pitch against a Namibian side let down by poor fielding. Runs are expected from the maestro, and now India needs to beat England in Durban in a match that will decide the fate of both teams.

England has been playing well and its trouncing of Pakistan was expected. Gamblers versed in form lines are pointing out that the teams who toured Australia this summer are proving hard to beat. Sri Lanka had this same preparation before its World Cup win but it is hard to see them lasting the course this time. England is better placed to challenge the topside and the odds of 25/1 against them seem inviting. Nasser Hussain's team has survived an awful lot and remains highly motivated.

It was a most entertaining weekend and as the sun set over a fast drying Matabeleland thoughts turned to the adventures that lie ahead. Every time the Cup starts to look dull it springs back to life. Tendulkar and Lara did the expected. Not that their brilliance should ever be taken for granted. Davison soared for a day, a firework lighting the skies before returning to earth. It was splendid and unforgettable.


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Peter Roebuck