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The Legend of Pradeep Mathew: A Novel
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew: A Novel
Shehan Karunatilaka
Graywolf Press, 2012
416 pp., $16.00

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Alister Chapman


The Subtleties of Spin

Cricket and the aftermath of colonialism.

In 1989, the Derbyshire county cricket team played a local high school. Think Red Sox against Greenfield High. The professionals batted first, scoring a formidable total in a game where each side would bat one inning. (In cricket, runs are more easily come by than in baseball, and a team bats until all but one of the players are out. Scores of 300 or more are common.) When the school came out to bat, all eyes were on Derbyshire's Michael Holding, a fast bowler who played for the world-beating West Indies. In a game where there is no equivalent of the pitcher's mound, fast bowlers will run in before they bowl, gathering pace for thirty yards or more before hurling the ball towards the heavily padded batsman. That the ball typically bounces before it reaches its target makes things even more interesting, with bowlers like Holding able to bowl the ball short and make it fly up toward their opponent's head. Holding had mercy on the schoolboys, however, trotting in and sending down very playable balls.

It wasn't long before Derbyshire had dismissed the school's best batsmen, and the tail-enders were coming in. Last of all came the youngest and smallest of the lot. He was in the team as a bowler, but one very different from Michael Holding. For while Holding used speed and power to beat the batsmen, the boy used guile. He was what is known as a spin bowler. Spin bowlers take just a few steps before they release the ball, but a variety of grips on the ball and a flick of the wrist can make for surprising results once the ball is in the air and especially after it has hit the ground. Spin bowlers are cricket's artists.

On that particular day, this young spin bowler had claimed the most famous scalp of his career: Michael Holding. But when the boy came in to bat, Holding saw who it was and decided to play with him. He walked all the way to the back fence and steamed in to bowl. The ball he released was, in the end, just as gentle as those he had been serving up all afternoon. ...

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