October 20, 1999

Sidhu at 36 - A Birthday tribute

He played his first Test at the age of 20 under the label ``Strokeless Wonder.'' But it was his tight defensive technique that brought him into the Indian team for the Ahmedabad Test against West Indies in November 1983. This was the Test in which Sunil Gavaskar crossed Geoff Boycott's mark of 8114 to become Test cricket's highest run getter. In the midst of this tremendous achievement, Navjot Singh Sidhu's modest scores were hardly noticed. Indeed he was given a chance only because Dilip Vengsarkar was out of the Test through injury. He came back into the team for the final Test at Madras, made another modest score and was promptly forgotten for four years.

When the selectors announced the team for the Reliance World Cup in 1987, Sidhu was back - in a transformed role. It was as if his twin brother had been given a chance. Gone was the diffidence, the defensive outlook and the defeatest approach. Now he was a batsman who took the fight into the enemy camp. Now he did not wait for the bad ball, he even pounced on the good ball and lofted it straight for six. He was just the kind of batsman India needed in one day cricket. With half centuries in all the four matches that he batted in the league stage, Sidhu had arrived with the proverbial bang.

For the next decade, he was more in than out of the Indian team. He remained a tower of strength in both one day games as well as Test cricket, principally as an aggressive opening batsman. And he was an outstanding performer, brought out clearly by his figures. In 51 Tests, he amassed 3202 runs at an average of 42.13 with nine hundreds and 15 half centuries. His highest score was 201 against West Indies. On the previous (1989) tour Sidhu had set the record for the highest score made by an Indian outside India when he hit 286 against Jamaica. If anything, his statistics in one day internationals makes for even more impressive reading. In 136 games, he scored 4414 runs at an average of 37.09 with six hundreds and 33 half centuries, his highest score being 134 not out. He was one of the very few batsmen who was equally successful in both the longer version of the game or the shorter version.

Sidhu had everything - strokes, technique, guts, temperament. But if there is a single aspect of Sidhu's play that will be remembered for long, it is his ability to bat confidently against even the highest rated spin bowlers. The manner in which he used to hit them with clean strokes was something to be enjoyed on the spot. Down the wicket he would come, up would go his bat and then down it would come in a perfect arc to meet the ball. The ball hit, the bat could continue its smooth arc for the perfect follow through as the ball disappeared only to land in the terraces after having cleared the straight field or long on. There was never any hint of slogging, just pure, clean, textbook hitting.

Sidhu last played for the country at Hamilton in January this year. But has he really played his last match for the country? One can never write him off. For a player who made so many comebacks during his long career, one more perhaps is not beyond him. We all would love to see the trademark orthodox hitting - and a few more superbly struck sixes - before he finally calls it a day. Thank you for the music, Navjot and have a wonderful day!