Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bowling for Valentine

Bowlers don't get no love. Their bridesmaid dresses are more worn out than 79-over old balls reeling from 305-2. It's a good thing they become used to apathy early in their lives. Remember that neighborhood kid who by his cockiness alone could walk into any Australian team? That he did not do so was only because his fielding skills were sub-Rhodesian -- non-existent, to be more precise. He never really bothered to learn how to field, forget bowling, and his arrogance was Chappells' envy, but neighbors' pride because he possessed para's most precious possession: its only cricket bat.

That of course gave him exclusive rights to pick his team, open batting, Graciously veto umpiring decisions and go home with his bat in the middle of a very tense game just because he felt like it. You do need a ball and a group of hapless boys who can supply and throw that ball to get a game going, but like everywhere else in life, economics set the rules in gully cricket. A good cricket bat was at least 20 times more expensive than a cambis (canvas), rubber or rubber deuce ball. Leather and cork balls, and the accessories they necessitated were luxuries that a para with one cricket bat could hardly afford. 20 was the operative number, and it still is. 20 wickets that India needs to win a test match.

It does not happen too often especially when the team ventures out of pitches that on the third day suddenly become very friendly to dust bowls. Admittedly, away-win ratios are getting minor facelifts in the new millennium, but miles to go before they start thinking of competing with Sensex slopes.

Even after recent improvements, the ratios are consistently poor and that fact alone makes each of those away wins famously cherished and celebrated.

Australia: Except the two victories against an Australian side severely depleted by Packer invasion in 1977-78. However, it is quite remarkable that Bedi and Chandrasekhar claimed 29 of the 40 wickets in those two tests. As if to compensate for the hollowness of those two wins, the other two are nothing but miracles. Remembered more for the Gavaskar-Lillie episode, Melbourne test in 1981 witnessed exceptional bowling performance from Kapil, Doshi and Ghavri. MoM? Viswanath, of course.

In Adelaide 2003, inconsistent and mediocre throughout his career, Ajit Agarkar with a match figure of 8-160 and an incredible second innings figure of 6-41, for once, lived up to his promise and left us pondering on what-ifs. Kumble pitched in with six wickets as well. Both were eclipsed by MoM Dravid's batting, of course.

England: India's first win in England at Oval 1971 is rightly remembered for Chandrasekhar's magical spell: 18.1-3-38-6. Bedi and Venkat assisted well with 7 wickets between them in the match. Kapil's devils translated their 83 world cup and 85 B&H winning one-day performance into a couple of great test victories in 1986. English weather and wobbly batting made the pace quartet of Kapil-Binny-Madan-Chetan appear as deadly as Marshall-Holding-Garner-Roberts. Almost quite as incredibly, Kapil managed to win a MoM by edging past Vengsarkar, but I am sure his captaincy and 24 runs clinched it, not the five wickets he took. And Vengsarkar was not to be denied as he won MoM in the following test. Headingley, 2003. 628 runs with big three scoring big hundreds, but 20-wicket rule still applies. Kumble and Bhajji combined well to take 11 of them. And we all know what happens when you throw jelly beans at Zaheer.

South Africa: A historic win at Wanderers 2006. Zaheer-Sreesanth-VRV combined brilliantly and Sreesanth was unplayable in the first innings. His MoM was clinched by his break-dance spell though, not his swings. In the first innings, number eleven VRV's 27-ball 29 was inspirational, but who remembers that?

West Indies: Three of the four victories came in Port of Spin. Bedi-Pras-Venkat took 15/20 in 1971. Bedi-Chandra-Venkat claimed all 16 wickets that fell in 1976 in one of those very rare tests where the losing team's exceptionally sporting declaration proves the 20-wicket rule. April 2002 was all about pacers though. Khan-Nehra-Srinanth who at their peak -- as seen in 2003 World cup -- arguably formed India's most potent pace combination claimed 15/20. MoM? VVS Laxman, with 69 and 74 in a close game. Kumble and Bhajji combined well (12/20) in Kingston 2006 in another tight game.

Pakistan: Both victories came in the same series after a very long wait. Kumble dominated with 13/40, but he was brilliantly set up by Balaji-Pathan combo that promised so much before fizzling out. MoMs? Sehwag and Dravid.

And it is not just the test-winning performances abroad that are memorable. What is left in Indian cricket if we forget Binny's posterior, Tendulkar's Hero cup last over, Razdan's debut fifer, Chetan Sharma's last ball, Goel-Shivalkar's unfulfilled potential, Pathan's hat-trick, Doshi's late emergence, Shiva's early disappearance, Kumble's tenner and Sandhu's inswinger?

Show some love -- but no worries, they will keep delivering regardless.


Greatbong said...

Excellent post.

bongopondit said...

Ah - nostalgia over Indian wins - one of the best adda topics. Especially sharing personal stories how we witnessed them.

My personal favorite is Sachin's Hero Cup last over - a moment of joy shared with 400 odd adrenalin-charged, screaming first year students. All of us huddled into a small common-room equipped with a 19in low-def (at the 42nd over, Doordarshan, in their infinite wisdom, switches over to National News. Finding a radio and good reception to follow the remaining overs was another adventure!)!

But I have only just barely recovered from the trauma of Miandad's six.

Anand said...

I chanced here through a Google search and I am glad I did :) This is an unadulterated cricket lover's blog.

Anand said...

BTW,you shouldn't have disregarded our Lankan and Kiwi wins there.Even those had dried up in the 90s.

Dipanjan said...

@GB: Thanks.

@Bongo: Yes, it's always a pleasure to reminisce where we were and what we were doing at those special moments.

@Anand: Thanks. Test victories in NZ and pre-Murali SL are not exactly in the same league though. And I was getting tired :)