When Ajaz Patel twirled around in nervous excitement as the ball started to descend towards Rachin Ravindra, Taqi Raza cleansed himself of emotions and watched from the Grand stand at Wankhede stadium. He would give millions watching the game on television a peep into the mysterious art of a spinner with his spin-cam, the mechanical eye that reveals the ripping release and the revolutions of the ball across the 22 yards in slow-motion.
Now he held his breath and waited. Ravindra, who would later say how his peripheral vision had made him nervous as it had revealed his team-mates were already celebrating the historical moment, managed to safely pouch it. The crowd erupted, the commentators lost their heads, living rooms in New Zealand and even in India filled with joy but Raza struggled hard to check his emotions spinning out of control.
“Sadly I can’t show my emotions because if I express then I can’t concentrate and the world cannot see what is happening inside the stadium,” Raza told The Indian Express. The eye of the world can’t go blind in joy even on a moment that has only occurred thrice in the 144 years of cricket history. A tiny shake of a camera would deprive the viewers. Raza is a ‘slip’ cameraperson, beaming home the fingers of the bowler on the ball at release.
As rare as the epochal moment was, Raza has been there, done that. He had captured the incredible ten-for twice. He was there at Feroz Shah Kotla in 1999 when Anil Kumble snared 10 Pakistani batsmen.
In the company of a snake charmer. But we are getting ahead of the story. Here and now to Ajaz’s and his own tryst with destiny.
Well before the historic moment, Raza had begun the countdown in his mind. 7 down, 8 down, hoping for a historical reprise. “When eight wickets fell down, I asked myself will I have a chance to see history again? I’m the only one in the camera crew who has recorded this achievement before while everyone has retired,” he says. “As a cameraman we don’t have liberty to talk to anyone. Our job demands lots of concentration.” So the internal monologue continued. “When Ajaz took ten wickets, I was overjoyed.”
22 years back, he had witnessed another ball travelling across 22 yards towards history. That memory rebooted now. It was a turbulent time. The political party Shiv Sena had warned of dire consequences if Pakistan were allowed to play at home in India. Uncertainty, tension, fear was in the Delhi air. Raza recalls how the Delhi police had locked all the gates of the stadium to prevent the protestors.
However, the Delhi police also feared the humans might outsource the vandalism to reptiles.
“There was fear that protesters could send snakes inside the ground, so I remember the authorities had kept a snake charmer near the boundary line, incase snake entered the playing area, they could catch it.”
In the end, the only spitting venom that stung the Pakistanis in Delhi winter was released by Kumble. Ajaz’s date with history was captured by 35 cameras. Kumble had got eight. One of which was in the hands of Raza. “Just 8. Now we have around 75 units compared to 30 earlier. There was no technology earlier,” Raza says.
Five years before Kumble had Wasim Akram poking to VVS Laxman for his glorious moment under the smoggy sun, Raza began his job as a technician. He has travelled the world since then, covered all cricket World Cups, including India’s triumph in 2011, trained his camera at Tiger Woods at golf courses, spent time capturing blurs at Formula 1 races, beamed Pro-Kabbadi to homes, and spent his life in various sporting arenas.
He has evolved; so has the broadcasting technology. “In 1999 there was no DRS and Ultra Edge, too much relied on human judgement but now with these tools, bowlers have more chances which wasn’t the case earlier.”
It’s a no-brainer choosing between Kumble and Ajaz’s achievements but the question is asked nevertheless. The answer comes quicker. “For me Kumble’s performance will always be on a higher plane. First it came against Pakistan and the team won because of him. Kumble was under more pressure because he was playing at home. I’m not taking away credit from Ajaz but Kumble was more special for me,” Raza says.
The job of the human behind the camera is one of the most difficult ones in the circuit. The pre-game rigging and testing of equipment and the match-day fatigue. Nature might yell, leave alone call, but they can’t abandon their post.
Raza chuckles at a memory from the 2019 World Cup in England. The body screamed for a release at the toilet, but he had to resist. “I somehow controlled and waited.”
Good he did as he could catch priceless moments of the World Cup . “I saw how Virat Kohli was consistently looking to his left side. First I felt there might be some family members seated there but between breaks, Kohli ran towards the stands and told the crowd not to boo Steve Smith, who had come after being banned by Cricket Australia after the ball tampering saga.” Eagle eyed, as ever, Raza didn’t miss the moment.
“I was the only cameraman who got that shot, it showed the other side of Kohli,” he says.
More often than not, it’s a lonely job in some ways though in some stadiums, they aren’t left on their own. “In Multan stadium in Pakistan, Virender Sehwag used to come to our area, which was near the dressing room, and chat up,” Raza says. The new stadiums with segregated spaces don’t allow for that coziness. They are isolated in their corners. They do what the producer tells them to do. They stand for hours under baking sun or chilly winter to get us as close to the action. They stand there, in a cocoon, trying to drag us into the heat of the battle.
Jim Laker, 1956. Anil Kumble, 1999. Ajaz Patel, 2021. And one man with an umbilical cord to two of them – Taqi Raza. Remember the name.
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