Saturday, February 09, 2008

GENIUS...?

genius [jeen-yuhs]
an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc.
- Dictionary definition

When I was in my tenth, I came across an article in the SportStar written by Vijay Lokapally (or was it Nirmal Shekar? I really can't remember) about 'Genius' that redifined the way I looked at the word.

The article started off cricket-commentator-bashing who seem to think that anything that crosses the boundary or yields a wicket is 'genius'. And then goes on to describe how some moments in sport are sacrosanct - a Maradona's run in the 1986 World Cup against half of England - for one. Only can some select moments - moments of sheer inspiration coming to an otherwise good, or at best, great sportsman.

So, what do we draw from that? Can no man be a genius perpetually? Is genius just a glorified topping to a brilliant performance that 'just' happened? Is genius being taken over by a surreal force for a brief while?

Coming to think of it, a Maradona running rings around football teams (like he made Best and Co. look like gawking mannequins that eventful day) in every match would turn out to be rather boring. So a Lokapallian 'genius' has to be rare. It cannot afford to be commercial or guaranteed of every match.

Fair enough. I've seen dozens of Tendulkar's innings. But the one shot that remains in my head is the India-Australia clash in that amazing series in 2001. The game was in Chennai, and Shane Warne was looking to redeem himself. Getting a bit of bounce, he managed to beat the Little Master a couple of times, before getting one to bounce well outside off. Sachin first ducked, then, it was almost as if the world were in Wachowskian slow-motion - as the ball came, and was about to cross. Tendulkar's initial plans were to let the ball go, but something seemed to come over him, and he seemed to say, "Hell, why not?" and just propped up the blade of his bat - and ever so cheekily - nudged it over slip, for four. It was stunning. Nothing in his previous 12 years of international cricket could have readied him for that - neither could anything Achrekar taught him in Shivaji Park, or the Don in whatever they conversed about in Adelaide. Warne couldn't believe it.

The SportStar (let's assume they are the ultimate authority on 'genius' for the sake of argument) said: "The shot of a genius, which Tendulkar surely is."

But then, it's all so subjective, isn't it? Was it truly genius? Let's assume for a moment that the shot was a well-rehearsed one, and he spent months asking a net bowler to pitch one exactly the same way Warnie did at Chennai, and he perfected that cheeky shot. Now had he done it that way, it was obviously calculated, and not borne of inspiration. Could that shot, now taking this into context, be termed genius?

It's something that's bugged me for a while how exactly do you categorize? For instance, the Gatting ball was, of course, sheer genius - right? Popular culture says so! It was Warne! First ball in England - and that too, to Gatting. How could it be anything but genius?
But then, the Lara ball which Glenn McGrath took en route to his hat-trick? That was the result of the same bowl-at-off-and-bore-batsman-into-doing-something-stupid ball. Would that be termed genius?

Okay, let's look away from cricket. Say in a Mathematics exam, a usually dufferish student suddenly gets a bright spark and solves a problem - that comes pretty easily to an average student. Genius? There are many times I've done exams and some questions I felt I tackled particularly sexily, I feel like giving myself a pat on the back. But d-uh, everyone else did it too, didn't they?

Coming back to cricket - how long can 'genius' constitute? Was Laxman's 281 a piece of genius, or just teeth-gritting, hard work? Surely, Ian Botham's 181 was genius? Could Rahul Dravid's masterpiece of a 148 be knighted with the G-word? Astle's 222? Akram's delivery to break Vaas' off-stump into two? Lasith Malinga's 4-in-4? John Davison's century in 67 balls? Each of these bring such flooding memories - but are they really genius? When Lara hit that magnificent four to go from 149 to 153 and take the West Indians 2-1 up against a rampaging Australia, the word 'genius' was blazoned from all corners.

Is genius inversely proportional to the time in which it is done? We would not accept that we are in a warp in which genius is happening - we as humans would like to think that whatever is happening around us is pretty normal. So Lara's 400 could not be genius, could it? But Jonty Rhodes' runout of Inzamam-ul-Haq in 1992? Oh, of course - that should be genius, right?

But then, writers and commentators use the term 'something special is happening'. Like when you watch Sachin Tendulkar make mincemeat of the Australian attack en route to 143 at Sharjah. You KNEW something special was happening. That was genius, right?

So, who is capable of genius? A to-be-legend cricketer at a packed Arab venue? An ageing basketball player playing his last game? A novelist who breaks his latest masterpiece to the world? A painter, who intended to just finish off his colour tubes but created a sensation instead? A bagger at a retail store who, going unnoticed to the world, places items in a plastic bag perfectly in a moment of inspiration? A blogger trying desperately to write something?

We may never answer these questions - and they definitely are not meant to be answered. Some things like 'genius' are just ways of interpreting something - that may be pretty much layman for everyone else.

"Oh what a shot... Straight out of the ground... All the way for six! What a player! Sheer genius!"
- Tony Greig, on Sachin Tendulkar, during the desert storm 143