Javagal Srinath retires November 11, 2003

The man who kept beating the bat



Javagal Srinath: time to say goodbye
© AFP

And finally, after 67 Test matches and 229 one-dayers, after 11 years in international cricket, after many reluctant retirements from one form of the game or the other, Javagal Srinath has decided to call it a day. There will be no more column inches wasted about whether he will tour or not, there will be no more agonising spells willing the ball to travel a bit fuller. The only lines Srinath will think about from today on are the ones he writes in his column.

Luckily for Indian fans, the Srinath they will remember best is the man that bowled like a charm in the twilight of his career. From the stubborn gent who refused to pitch the ball up, Srinath was almost-magically transformed into the elder statesman who showed young turks like Ashish Nehra the ropes, and helped them grow into matchwinners. Srinath began funnelling balls through that corridor of uncertainty outside the off stump with metronomic efficiency. A few kilos heavier than before, he ran rhythmically, rather than sprinted, to the crease. There was still enough in the old shoulder to get the ball to kick off a length and hurry past the bat.

Too many times for Indian fans, though, the ball beat bat without yielding results. No phase brings this out more than India's tour of England in 1996. Srinath bowled beautifully, and yet ended with an average of almost 40. There were shades of this during the recent World Cup, when he bowled some fine spells but obtained his just rewards only against Sri Lanka, when he picked up 4 for 35 and was the Man of the Match. He managed only one other four-wicket bag in the tournament - against Holland - yet ended up with 16 wickets.

But the change in Srinath was not merely his effectiveness as a bowler. Suddenly, he was the elder statesman of the team - it was Srinath at the centre of the much-hyped team huddle. Usually a reluctant speaker, Srinath was suddenly the life and soul of the party. He spoke the most, and often in animated tones. He was doing for younger cricketers of his tribe what he had needed most, and never received.

On his first tour, when Srinath went to Australia in 1991-92, he fell all too easily into the trap of trying to bowl a length that did not allow batsmen to get onto the front foot. The extra bounce and carry of the wickets in front of him deceived him into believing he was quick enough to bowl a slightly short length and get away with it. Kapil Dev was the senior pro on that tour, and word has it that he did not once stop to take Srinath by the hand and show him where he was going wrong. The habit he formed early on stayed with him far too long, and this will be the most significant criticism of Srinath.

These are different times, though, and Srinath has taken great care to ensure that young fast bowlers trying to make a mark benefit from the wisdom he has accumulated over the years. Nehra, just about the last person you expect to hear a sensitive comment from, said recently in an interview, "If I'm having problems when I'm bowling, I'll look back at mid-on and he [Srinath] won't be there. I'll miss not having him there." That, if anything, tells you how much the current Indian team valued Javagal Srinath.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.

Anand Vasu is a former associate editor at Cricinfo