Phil Walker enjoys the meeting of violence and nonchalance.
I first saw it in a dusty old copy of The Cricketer and it’s stayed with me ever since. It was 1992, Barbados, and the first-ever Test match between West Indies and South Africa’s returning exiles.
It was South Africa’s first Test in 22 years, so every stride and every click had meaning. “Sometimes you have to push the narrative,” says Patrick Eagar, the greatest of all cricket photographers, but here there was no need. These two groups of men were sharing the same 22 yards.
For four days the returnees were rampant. This particular shot, of Allan Donald tearing through Keith Arthurton, takes place in the raw heat of the evening session on day three, when the shackles are off and the game’s on fire.
I already knew of Donald, Warwickshire’s blond wrecking ball, because he was literally up there on my wall (black and white A4, and from side-on: wrist cocked; short-sleeved sweater; mid-leap glare). And for sure I knew of Keith Arthurton because Keith Arthurton, so much as I understood what Keith Arthurton meant, was just about the coolest cat who ever drew breath.
Keith did not have much of a career with the bat, two (blistering) hundreds from 30 Tests, but was the greatest cover fielder I ever saw, his left-hand underarm flick worth a dozen centuries from another man. The other big thing about Keith was that he batted in a cap, because that’s what Keith felt he had to do.
In its noisy intensity this image still feels resolutely modern, and in some ways it is – 1992 being one of cricket’s great leaps forward. Only Keith’s cap dates it: Keith’s cap gives it away. Lara, in shadow at the other end, is in a helmet. But Keith? Keith’s gone with the cap. He’s rummaged through his kitbag and looked around the dressing room, and concluded that on balance the cap is his best bet. With Viv having retired and Richardson and Hooper retreating behind their grilles, only Keith was styling it out. Keith’s cap is undoubtedly a more terrifying proposition than his cartwheeling off-pole, which he inspects distractedly as if vaguely vexed by a fly on his shoe.
Violence meets nonchalance. Donald in his warpaint. Cool Keith in his psycho-cap. I love that contrast. All played out on a field sweating with symbolism. On the fifth day, Walsh and Ambrose would steal a win for the Windies from near-oblivion, so the status quo could be maintained for a little while yet, but cricket would soon be on the move, with new orders to create. The West Indies cap would rarely look quite the same.