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February 20, 2001
There are few Indian cricketers more polite and well natured than Madhya Pradesh legspinner Narendra Hirwani. After emerging on the scene with an amazing 16 wicket haul in the Chennai Test match against the West Indies in 1987-88 Hirwani slowly drifted out of favour with the selectors. Never giving up hope, Hirwani plugged on in domestic cricket. "God is really great," Hirwani said when asked how he felt about his inclusion in the squad for the first Test to be played against the Australians at Mumbai. "I never gave up hope at any point. That's why I have continued to work so hard over the years," revealed Hirwani.
It was the injury sustained by Anil Kumble that paved the way for Hirwani's return. Even when it came to that, Hirwani was at his charming best, "Kumble is a great bowler. He has always down well for us, especially in India." However, Hirwani added quickly that even when he heard of Kumble's non-availability he did not really harbour any serious hopes of a comeback. "I felt a bit hopeful. There was something in me crying out that I might get a chance. I knew that if I worked hard and had faith in God, success would come at some time," said a humble and obviously devotional Hirwani.
In the recent past, many people raised doubts about Hirwani's fitness levels. Although no spring chicken, Hirwani has always been excessively disciplined and hardworking when it came to cricket. A bit old fashioned in his approach, Hirwani had this to say for himself, "I may not run around the ground ten or fifteen times my friend. But everybody knows that I have been bowling in the nets for two to three hours a day for the last fifteen years. If the captain wants me to, I will bowl all day."
If nothing, that is sheer determination for you. Having achieved the remarkable figures of 16/136 so early in his career, there really is very little left to achieve in terms of personal statistics. That is the last thing on Hirwani's mind. "Even when I was bowling against the West Indies in 1988 I did not think, or even hope, that I will take 16. You can't go into a game with such an aim," said Hirwani. "What is important for me is to bowl well against a strong team like Australia and contribute to India's victory," he continued.
Shane Warne today, is arguably the best legspinner in the world. Did this put any extra pressure on Hirwani? "No doubt he is a great bowler. We all know that. But I have my own skill and experience. Also don't forget that I have a point to prove. I feel that this time, I can do that," concluded Hirwani with an air of confidence that was heartwarming to see in an Indian spinner.
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