For a reflection on cricket, its essential nature, try the intriguing documentary on the footballer Zinedine Zidane, A Twenty-first Century Portrait. Seventeen cameras follow the great Frenchman — and him alone — through the entire length of a match. There are no embellishments other than interludes of a dreamy background score, sometimes accompanied by subtitles of Zidane’s abstract thoughts on the experience of playing. The result is a meditation on the shaolin art of this singular sportsman, and something a little beyond that.
Zidane is beautiful. His body is a ridiculous mix of strength, speed and litheness. His face is as chiselled and imposing as something on Rushmore. Only a face like that—strong bones, deep creases, the intimation of an uncontainable force—can hold together a whole film, as Daniel Day-Lewis did when he appeared in virtually every scene of There Will Be Blood. He even perspires attractively, without desperation.
Novel as it is watching Zidane, it occurs to you that this sort of compulsive focus on a single player is less unusual in a long, slow sport like cricket. Captains are routinely subject to this visual scrutiny. When the game is getting away from a fielding side you see them losing their cool or their spirit. You see them chiding fielders, glaring at bowlers, throwing their heads back in resignation or trying to look dementedly busy. Sourav Ganguly crinkled his nose, Steve Waugh chewed gum, Ricky Ponting spits into his hands, Graeme Smith makes like a grumpy grizzly bear. It is part of the story.
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