Through fumes of headnotes, litres of Bacardi and clean shots of Scotch, you discover that the innocent-sounding preposition 'about' has lately acquired the versatility of a silicon chip. It had, in fact, gone digital. South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, after five or six Heineken's, you have lost count, tosses the preposition with abandon, trying to satiate your own cluelessness and curiosity about golf. It's about relaxation, Boucher says with a garrulousness close to intimacy. It's about hand-eye coordination. It's also about competition.
You mull over the wide swathes of terrain the 'abouts' were mustering. You figure you had to focus Boucher's memory recall. You coax him for specifics. Boucher obliges: On a Johannesburg course, I asked my caddie what iron I had to use to clear a pond. He suggested No. 8. I failed to clear the pond by about a metre. I got so mad I chucked my club in the water. Since it was my caddie who'd suggested the number, I got mad at him as well. I told him to wade in and fetch my rod. So there he was neck-deep in water trying to feel the club with his feet. It was funny. In an earlier hole the same day, Allan Donald got so mad at a shot he hit that he flung his club at a tree and it got stuck near the top. He had to climb up to get it.
This was stuff you were beginning to enjoy, you think. Golf, you figure, was about madness, anger, ponds, trees.
As you cut through flesh for a refill, social realignments find you shooting golf with Zimbabwe skipper Alistair Campbell. You've met him in five countries but don't know if he remembers you. He winks at you. Golf, he whispers after you have worked on him, is about your feel for the ball. Yeah, you say. That so? His eyes pin you down from under the red peak of his Nick Price cap. He continues, I play with Craig (Evans) regularly. Once, he shot about 320 yards. As a rule, I can't outdrive him but I hit the sweet spot and the ball travelled 15-20 yards more than his. Boy, was he mad. He lost huge.
The more you see and hear of Evans, the more you want to stay out of range of his bouncer-like frame. Who knew what madness infected that peculiar cricketer-golfer species late in the evening when Johnny Walkers, Bacardis and Smirnoffs ruled. He has told you that he has shot 64.
Intimidated by his bulk, you have already asked Boucher an asinine question: Is Jacques Kallis stronger or Craig Evans? Boucher pondered your question for a while. You begin to think that he wasn't quite willing to indulge your low-IQ query. But, says Boucher, Which cricketer in the world can benchpress 130 kg? 130 kg! I mean, which? I mean not just once but a set of 10!
That, you figure, answered your question. Evans, within hearing distance, hears this too. He turns to chew it around with Boucher. Kallis, says Evans, is exceptional. Boucher hasn't finished, I say wait a year or two and he's going to be the best. Herschelle Gibbs is strong too. Evans clarifies, That's a Morris Minor to a Ferrari. I like the way Kallis goes back and then plays straight. Man, that takes some muscles.
You have to clear once and for all the muscle hierarchy. How much can Lance Klusener bench press? you ask Andrew Shedlock, Klusener's agent, who has just started hovering on the fringes of your conversation trio. A 100, maybe, says Shedlock. But, adds Boucher, Don't forget Lance is a farmer. A bushman background, perhaps, folded some deltoids for you in the reserve.
Elsewhere, Desmond (Dizzy) Haynes has taken 'Zulu' Klusener by the elbow and gives his take on the Australia-South Africa semi-final encounter, I saw you and said 'Go Zulu, go for it. Don't cool down. Go for it, keep the momentum going.' The illustrious Gordon Greenidge chips in, Why in the name of God didn't you slow the game down? I mean, AD (Allan Donald) had just come in. You should have talked to each other about what you wanted to do. Zulu listens with a disciple's patience. He nods his head with wisdom.
Haynes has more: Man, I said when you guys lost, now the Aussies are going to lift the cup. Kiran More gives Zulu a history lesson. Says More, In the tied Test with Australia in '86, the Aussies took 11 minutes to bowl the last over. Eleven minutes. We couldn't win it because of that. Ravi Shastri was all hot and going. Their spinners on an average were taking nine minutes to finish an over.
Haynes, of course, has just been keyed on a Sachin Tendulkar-Viv Richards comparison. I say, you cannot compare players. But then, his eyes go back in the past and he leaves everybody with something to ponder on. Viv would hit a bad ball for a six. If a bad ball followed, he would again hit it for another six. If a third came, it would again go to the ropes. If Sachin gets a bad ball, he would probably hit it for a six. But if another followed, he would probably hit it to a fielder. Viv was the most consistently destructive player I have ever seen. You look at Haynes' forearms. You figure, Kallis could get a run for his money.
Someone asks Zulu where he got his nickname. Zulu's effusive in spirits. He spills into his longest sentence of the night. Says he, Malcom Marshall played two years with us at Natal. He got it going possibly because he couldn't say Klusener. Everybody laughs, Haynes loudest of all.
That's probably true, says Haynes. Before I left for India, I left a message on Malcom's machine. 'I am going to play golf in India for two days. Eat your heart out. Tee..hee..hee.' Malcolm, you come to know, is getting married this year.
Among other things that you also come to know is that on the '79 Australian tour to India, Allan Border subsisted on 'naan bread and banana'. Border adds, These days, however, any player coming to India is likely to add weight more than anything else. Campbell throws insights on the culinary habits of M. Godwin, his teammate, while on India tours: He eats just rice. Just piles it on his plate. No sauce. No nothing.
You notice that it's difficult to get too much eye contact going with the Australians. With Haynes you had struck a purple patch. But you rope in Border on his golf. Says Border, I started playing at the age of 17. Funnily, I played better golf during my cricketing career than afterwards. Once I got more serious, my quality went down.
In other parts, More coaches Boucher on Indian tracks. Says he, Even great wicketkeepers like Jack Russell have been flops in India. It's because they have a tendency to grab for the ball. Boucher extracts a promise from More to have a look at him when South Africa tours India. Don't worry, I will listen to what you have to say, he says.
The conversation switches to bowlers and More talks about an Indian bowler. Says he, He has been successful in India where it's more difficult but not abroad. It's because he has nothing in his head. More, you learn, has started playing golf a year back.
Greenidge, suddenly, is in the mood to shed some insight on why cricketers take to golf. Says he, If you play 18 holes, you will possibly play well in just two or three. It's the way you have played in those two, three holes that will make you go back to the course again and again. Haynes agrees: The damn game is too difficult to even go and practice. If you do some putting practice, your teeing goes way off. If you do some driving, your chipping goes off. It's too difficult a game to be taken seriously.
A common observation. It's easier to hit a moving ball as they are used to than trying their arms at something stationary. Says Dean Jones, I play it because it beats working. Quips Klusener, tongue in cheek, I play it because it can't jump up and hurt me.
Next day at the Classic golf course, Geoffrey Boycott is pulling Klusener's leg. He asks, Why do you drive right-handed but putt left-handed? Answers Klusener, I'm from the Shaun Pollock school of golf. Boycott smiles, That's a lot of brains, two fast bowlers coming together. Pollock, you discover, is the best golfer among South African cricketers, being just two over par. Klusener's nine over.
But as the night fades and the bar closes, an image that has stayed in you is Haynes' piquant observation on Indians. Man, he says, they go all over me and start barking 'Blackie, Blackie'. I can't figure it out. Do they think they are whites? Huh, you say.