Which is the better catch – Eknath Solkar’s blinder to dismiss Alan Knott, or the photographer’s capture of it?
Rahul Bhattacharya | August 12, 2022
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This picture of Knott c Solkar, The Oval, 1971, could be a tableau: “a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history” – in this instance India’s first Test and series victory in England, in four decades of trying, a quarter-century after Independence. Seven people are in a reasonably tight frame but it has a beautiful spaciousness. There isn’t a logo in sight. The only busy detail is the striped V of the trim on the wicketkeeper’s sweater. Everything is muted, placid, except the emotional investment of the participants that leaps out at us.
A fine balance of animation and poise is at play. Look at the bowler, Venkataraghavan. He has something of a park uncle making for a back-bend, when the electricity of youth and the moment shoots through him, to the very tips of his splayed left hand. Across the pitch from him, Luckhurst’s back is Englishly phlegmatic. The umpire conveys his approval of such deportment with his own clasped hands, his umpirical forward lean. These developments must be dealt with.
Go over to the main end. Look at Engineer with his open gloves and open mouth and his sideburns dropping to the earth. Look at Gavaskar at slip! Not leaping but levitating, which in 1971 was the least of his powers. Knott is wonderful, the flat of his bat pleasingly parallel to the pitch, his torso and neck supplely rotating to see just what the unaccountable Solkar has done. And although in a photograph we cannot see how he’s done it, and we cannot see the ball at all, we can still see what Solkar has done. He is in a remarkable sashtang, only the legs have come off the ground in the effort. Can you remember a picture of a short-leg fielder to a spinner quite like this? Where must he have started from and how did he get here? It is a picture, then, that captures not just history but also genius, which is the harder to do.
Twenty years ago I was lucky to interview Solkar about this photograph. The venue was a seafront gymkhana on Mumbai’s Marine Drive (at one of which, Hindu Gymkhana, his father had been a groundsman). He remembered that he had been wearing a heart-shaped pendant at the time and when he dived forwards, it scratched his chest, making it bleed. His best catch was Keith Stackpole’s in Madras, 1969, but “no occasion could have been bigger than this”.
We know much about the big occasion: the year, the place, the players, that no less than an elephant graced the Test on Ganesh Chaturthi. I have no idea who shot this iconic photograph and it is unlikely you do either. The agency credits give us a clue: Stringer.
Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care
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