It's Srinath's season now - V.Krishnaswamy

It is not a very happy experience to sit on the sidelines, especially when one knows that one is perhaps among the best, if not the best itself, in the country. Such was Javagal Srinath's plight for more than two years.

The lean, strapping Bangalore pace bowler, who according to many struck terror in the hearts of the South African batsmen with a superb spell in the Cape Town Test in 1992, was all but forgotten once India returned home.

He was part of the team, though not always certain to be included in the playing eleven whenever the Indian team played abroad. And at home, it was Manoj Prabhakar and Kapil Dev and the spinners. Srinath at best would do the drinks duty. If it was the one- dayers, Srinath would still be considered and even play.

After all who can forget the one-dayers against England, when they last came here and were wiped out. Srinath time and again was their tormentor in the early stages. But it was back to Square One, when it came to Tests.

It probably even hurt him, when many around him suggested that he was probably India's non-resident bowler - that is, he played only abroad. But no one knew it better than Srinath, that it was not just cricketing merit that was keeping him out. The 'supposed' balance of the team and the presence of an ageing legend called Kapil Dev were two of the major factors. Kapil may have been ageing, getting slower than during his peak, but he was approaching the world record, albeit slowly, for maximum wickets in Test cricket.

With the presence of Kapil and Prabhakar, who played the dual role of both opening bowler and batsman, there was no place for a third seamer.

It is somewhat ironical that a landmark Test, the first after Kapil Dev announced his retirement, was also Srinath's first at home. Against the West Indies Srinath not only cemented his place as the Number One bowler but also as more than a useful batsman, with a couple of good and authentic fifties.

It had taken some time but now Srinath had arrived and he was here to stay. In the three Tests he played he took eight wickets and the 60, his highest in 15 Tests, was instrumental in India winning the Bombay Test of the 1994 series against the West Indies.

By the time the series was over, so impressed was the rival captain, Courtney Walsh, that he agreed to Srinath's request to find him a good team to play for in England in the summer. 'Gentleman' Walsh went one step better. He managed to get Srinath an offer from his own county Gloucestershire. Walsh himself was not going to be available, as the West Indians are due to tour England in summer, so the West Indian skipper gave the county Srinath's name as an alternative. The suggestion was accepted. Now only the formalities need to be completed. Srinath is over the moon. Ever grateful, he sings paeans in praise of Walsh.

In recent interviews Srinath has admitted he was frustrated at being left out most of the time. And then when the chance came he grabbed it. He told a sports magazine, "Once Paaji (Kapil Dev) got injured, I knew this was the best time to shoulder additional responsibility and make a permanent place for myself in the team. So I gave everything I had and luckily things started working."

The 25-year-old Srinath, born in Mysore, made his first class debut for Karnataka against Hyderabad in November 1989 and in 1991 earned the India cap in Sharjah against Pakistan. The Test debut came in 1991-92 at Brisbane and in that series he played all five Tests and took ten wickets, but India's overall failure overshadowed everything.

It is somewhat incongruous that the man who is now universally considered as India's fastest bolwer, played as many as 71 one- day internationals and just 15 Tests. Despite so much of Test cricket at home in the past two years, it was only against West Indies that he got a chance. India blanked England and Sri Lanka 3-0 and also played against Zimbabwe. But Srinath was in the pavilion. But his grit and determination to hang on finally paid off. And now he is going all out to make the best of it.

Even as the series against the West Indians was getting over he was already scouting for more cricket during the summer lay-off. He feels that the lay-off period between April and September is too long and often rusts players. Which is why he was keen on playing in county cricket. He was even willing for a league team.

As for his own bowling, Srinath wants more continuity and feels he could be more consistent. The problem of continuity would be solved when he plays in England, but consistency will improvr as he plays along. Now that he no longer needs to bother about his place in the coming Tests, his confidence is bound to go up by leaps and bounds. That alone would give an extra yard or two in pace and that's bad news for the batsman at the other end.

Many cricket critics feel that Srinath is on his way to becoming a reliable all rounder. But Srinath himself is not too sure. Batting is a mere bonus as far as he is concerned. He has a mere 100 runs in 71 one-dayers but he hardly gets to bat, as he comes so low down in the order and he has 277 in 15 Test matches, with two fifties to boot. As for his bowling, he has just crossed 100 victims in one-dayers and in 15 Tests has 41 wickets. Maybe that is not enough. But then he has not been given enough chances either. Now that he has it all, only sky is the limit.

Source :: India Mail, 26 Jan - 1 Feb 1995