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After the Board President’s XI match in Hyderabad, I asked an Indian player about Australia’s offspinner Jason Krejza. The poor man had been hit for 199 runs in 31 wicketless overs. The expression on the player’s face said it all. He then underlined it with an elaborate gesture which suggested that Indian batsmen would thrash him in their sleep. “I don’t think he will get a wicket in India,” he summed up.
Yet, what a strange debut Krejza has had. Most runs conceded and most number of wickets taken. Talk of meeting those two imposters triumph and disaster in the same innings. Indian batsmen loved him, and as a token of that love gave him their wickets. The grapevine is pretty efficient in cricket. Word spreads quickly. And my expressive friend would have passed on the good news: Krejza won’t get a wicket in India.
Indian batsmen in Nagpur seemed to agree. Virender Sehwag treated him with such disdain it was painful to watch. It was like a heavyweight taking on a flyweight in the boxing ring. A six in the first over, boundaries at will. I think it was Sunil Gavaskar who said on television then that Sehwag was mourning the lack of a challenge. Perhaps that is why he tried to create strokes against the offspinner, moving back to play to third man when he could have done half a dozen other things. He was bowled for his troubles, just as VVS Laxman was caught behind while trying something similar.
Perhaps it was this arrogance that enabled Krejza to pick up eight wickets. After all, had not the second string team in Hyderabad hit him out of sight? It wasn’t enough to merely score runs against him, the batsman had to show him who was boss, and in the words of Amitabh Bachchan in a Bollywood movie - Usko apni naani yaad dila do (make him remember his grandmother – that’s a literal translation; it means roughly, beat him to a pulp).
There is a sporting dictum that Indian batsmen forgot: thou shalt not underestimate an opponent. A bad ball can get you out, an ordinary ball can hasten the end as Rahul Dravid found out. Thou shalt not show disrespect on the field. Dhoni too tried something cute and was bowled.
To lose five wickets for 19 runs to a bowler no one took seriously must mean that the original assessment was wrong. It was, finally, Harbhajan Singh who put Krejza’s performance in perspective. Harbhajan must have been licking his lips in anticipation while his counterpart was taking all those wickets but hewas a little too fast, a little too eager, and seemed to be prematurely counting his chickens.
He is the No. 1 spinner in the side now, and needs to take the lead. But first he must cut down his pace, and take heart from the humility of a debutant who kept at it without compromising on either his trajectory or his pace. Perhaps the third day’s play will restore reason to its throne.
This has been a strange series. Australia’s strength was meant to be the fast bowling, yet Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma have displayed greater skill and taught the Lees and Johnsons a thing or two. India’s traditional strength has been spin, yet here is a debutant showing a 300-wicket man how to bowl to take wickets.
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Suresh Menon went from being a promising cricketer to a has-been, without the intervening period of a major career. He played league cricket in three cities with a group of overgrown enthusiasts who had the reverse of amnesia - they could remember things that never happened. For example, taking incredible catches at slip, or scoring centuries. Somehow Menon found the time to be the sports editor of the Pioneer and the Indian Express in New Delhi, Gulf News in Dubai, and the editor of the New Indian Express in Chennai. Currently he is a columnist with publications in India and abroad, and is beginning to think he might never play for India.