Batting August 5, 2009

If I ever have a conversation with Warne...

I'd ask him whether he ever used the knowledge that Hooper's eyes widened and his stare grew a bit harder if he wanted to step down to the spinner

As some of you promptly pointed out, I forgot to mention Gautam Gambhir in my post on batsmen who use their feet against spinners. Hell, Gambhir even jumps down the pitch against the quick bowlers, and that takes some nerve. He was India's best batsman on their last Test tour of Sri Lanka, where some of his more illustrious colleagues struggled to decode Ajantha Mendis. Virender Sehwag's double-century in Galle was the innings of the series, but Gambhir was the most consistent and secure Indian batsman on tour.

For sheer viewing pleasure, though, I'd still go for Michael Clarke. Gambhir is quick out of crease, but he is more jerky, and he moves around a bit too much; sometimes he gives himself away by moving out too early. Clarke is more fluid and graceful and he keeps the bowlers guessing.

Traditionally, Indian batsmen have always used their feet against the spinners, as have the Australians. Good players of spin bowling don't merely hit booming shots after having come down pitch, but often knock the ball around for singles. Sunil Gavaskar, who had the surest footwork, did it all the time, as did Ravi Shastri. Gavaskar never swept. And he rarely lofted the ball.

So also VVS Laxman. Of the all the things he did at the Eden Gardens in 2001, his driving against Shane Warne was the most sensational. One ball, he'd drive Warne off the rough and against the spin through midwicket. The next, Warne would go fractionally wider and Laxman would drive it inside-out through cover. He was god that day.

Of course, no one did better for a whole series than Brian Lara. Warne has confessed to having nightmares about Sachin Tendulkar jumping down the pitch; I wonder what visions Muttiah Muralitharan had in his sleep in those days in 2001, when Lara tormented him with the most dazzling array of strokes you could ever see employed against a spinner. In picking the ball out of the bowler's hand, Lara had few rivals.

Carl Hooper, his team-mate, was one. I was told this delightful story about Hooper by a cricketer. Warne forever looked for little signs in batsmen that would give him foreknowledge about a possible sortie down the pitch. But Hooper proved impossible to decipher. He stayed still till the last possible moment, and never left the crease before the ball was delivered. Finally, after many overs, and many videotapes, Warne cracked it. It was in the eyes. If Hooper had decided to advance down the pitch, his eyes widened and the stare grew a bit harder in the stance.

If I ever have a conversation with Warne, the first thing I will ask him is if he managed to exploit this knowledge.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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