Patrick Eagar started his career under unusual circumstances. After turning pro at 21, he tried his hand at news photography and went to Vietnam a year later in 1966 to cover the war.
Call it passion, foresight or pure instinct, something within compelled him to focus on the battle between willow and leather, and Eagar has come to hold a place in the history of cricket photography that can perhaps be compared with what Neville Cardus means to cricket writing.
Probably the only photographer to have seen all the World Cups, the 63-year-old comes across as a modest person. With a gentle smile, Eagar says Bangladesh is the only country he has not seen. “Apart from travelling, it is about concentration. You have to watch each ball and wait for the right moment. It’s not about chance or using sophisticated equipment.”
Cricket runs in his blood. Father Desmond was the captain of Hampshire, but it was his grandmother’s hobby that attracted him more. “I saw films being developed at home and interest developed naturally.”
Cricket happened accidentally, when in 1972 the rule of awarding exclusive rights to certain news agencies to shoot at venues in England during Tests was abolished. “I was not so regular at cricket before that. I came to Barbados the next year when Australia toured the West Indies to figure out what the game was about.”
Eagar reckons a packed Eden Gardens hosting the ’96 World Cup semifinal was his best experience. “Even Lord’s or Melbourne can’t offer what Eden was like on that day.”
He picks Sobers and Warne as his most interesting subjects. “Sobers was the most wonderful batsman to photograph, while with Warne there was not a dull moment.”
Eagar derives satisfaction from the knowledge that his work can bring people closer. “Cricket unites. It feels good to have tried to convey this through my photographs.”
To many, he means much more. His landmark works like the shot of an airborne Rodney Marsh catching one in front of first slip, off the bowling of Gary Gilmore in 1975, helped foster interest in cricket in quite a few. Reminded of that, Eagar sets off camera on shoulder, for the next shot.