Srinath to retire from international cricket
No more tough days out in the middle for Srinath © Neil Lane
Javagal Srinath was fond of saying that he considered playing for his country a privilege, rather than a position. It's a privilege he won't be enjoying anymore, as he announced his retirement from the game at a press conference in Bangalore on the eve of India's TVS Cup match against Australia. Unlike in the past, when he had been coerced back, he indicated that this time, the decision was final and "irreversible".
There was a definite moistness in the eye as he addressed the media throng, and his earnestness suggested that the resolution hadn't been reached lightly. "You don't need any special motivation to play for India," he said. "But sometimes, desire alone is not enough. When you have been playing for over a decade, injuries become chronic, and it's the state of your body that overrules any desire."
Jagmohan Dalmiya, BCCI chairman, was seated next to Srinath when the announcement was made, and he appeared stunned by the decision. "As recently as last Friday, I had talked with him about going to Australia ... about how we needed him there, how he could groom the youngsters. I'm still in shock."
Dalmiya, however, was fulsome in his praise, saying that Srinath was no less a national treasure than Kapil Dev. "It's a mixed day for Indian cricket," he said. "We can look back with pride on the achievements of one of its stalwarts. But knowing that we will not see him in action again, it's also one of the saddest days."
Srinath finished with an impressive tally of 551 - 236 in Tests - international wickets, despite playing the first half of his career in an atmosphere where pace bowlers were treated almost with contempt. Time after time, he was deemed surplus to requirements, despite Kapil being almost toothless as he toiled in pursuit of Sir Richard Hadlee. Time and again, he was asked to turn up just to take the shine off the new ball so that the spinners could take it from there.
Looking back though, he said he had no regrets. "My career has been filled with fond memories. I have basked in the glory and also taken criticism in the right spirit," he said. He thanked his loved ones and friends for all the support, while marking out Roger Binny, Kapil, Mohammad Azharuddin and his current team-mates for special mention.
But he reserved the greatest praise for Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar. "My cricket reached new dimensions under their captaincy," he said. "Sourav often made me look a better performer than I am, with the calls he made. But everyone from Kapil down to young Parthiv Patel has contributed."
When asked for the highlight of his career, he mentioned the World Cup victories against Pakistan. That led to a query about the last World Cup final, when he, and the rest of India's pace attack, were straws in the wind against Australia's gale force. "You have to remember that we played the World Champions," he said with a hint of irritation. "We did our best, but things didn't go well. We were just outmatched by the strongest batting line-up in the world."
Dalmiya hinted at a position as coach or consultant to up-and-coming quick bowlers, but he refused to divulge any details. As for Srinath, his visage was a combination of pride, relief and the merest tinge of regret. You don't know what you've got till it's taken from you. Indian cricket might find that out the hard way in the coming few months.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.