'I ran out of steam'
Javagal Srinath: aggressive in his own way
Javagal Srinath's was a stellar, if not spectacular, contribution. Dileep Premachandran caught him in a candid mood back in the July 2002 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket
Why did you retire from Tests so suddenly?
It was a question of body and mind. It had been on my mind for a while and I got enough signals from the body during the series in the West Indies. I really wasn't prepared for that, and my body didn't respond during the last two Tests. Like the team, I started the series well, but things fell away after the first two Tests. Also, I don't think I was bowling upto to my expectations on a consistent basis. I was looking for a green patch or two to help me and to be honest, at this point in time, I don't see myself in the Test squad on Indian wickets.
I've always advocated that only the best fast bowlers should play and I had reached a stage where my body couldn't do what my mind asked of it. I was running out of steam and I was depending on helpful wickets, regardless of the fact that I was still bowling a decent line and length. The results also played their part. Had we won in Jamaica, I might have changed my mind and played through the tour of England.
Why did you want to carry on playing one-day cricket then?
A lot of wrong signals have been given by certain sections of our board. I love one-day cricket with its entertainment value and high intensity, but the real game is Test cricket. Having played so much cricket - and bowled so many overs in both forms of the game - it wasn't possible to keep going without a break. I did ask the selectors to rest me for one or two one-day tournaments just so I could be fit for the Tests. The bowlers who are playing now will face the same problem soon enough, with so many matches being played.
I still maintain that Test matches are special. You win one, you'll cherish it for life; and if you lose, it might haunt you forever. In the one-day game, you can win today, lose tomorrow and then win again the day after. It's not right for people to say that I pick and choose my matches. I took the break because my body needed it but when I'm not playing, I really miss the game. I don't think it's right to perform well below your best - but just about good enough - merely to keep your place in the side. In such a case, it's better to take a break and come back refreshed.
Disappointed to miss out on the one-day squad?
Not really. I expected these things to happen. A few people in the system haven't understood me. After all, how many have bowled for the country as much as I have? Only someone who has done that can understand the plight of fast bowlers in this country.
Wasn't the English tour a big temptation for you, having done so well the last time?
You could say that, but the West Indies tour was very disappointing, especially after we started so well. If we had won in Jamaica, things might have been different. But by then I was tired, body and mind, and bitterly disappointed with my own performance.
When you look back at your Test career, are you satisfied?
There are highs and lows.
But do you feel you've underachieved?
To some extent, yes.
You once said that you were a mediocre performer compared to someone like Glenn McGrath...
I don't like to make excuses for myself. For example, I could say that I have played half my cricket on docile tracks that aren't conducive to fast bowling. Even if it's a good grassy pitch overseas, you still have to bowl well to take wickets. At the end of the day, it comes down to your own performances and how they've served the team, and in that aspect I don't think I'm in the same bracket as Waqar [Younis], Wasim [Akram], McGrath and a few others.
Your strike-rates and averages are much better at home...
I think one of the biggest problems when we go abroad has been the lack of a third seamer. The situation is getting better now. But over the last 10 years, how often have we had an effective third seamer? Why didn't the third seamer deliver most of the time? We invariably got breakthroughs in most of the games but the third seamer failed because he had no experience at that level. Why is that? Because he can never find a place in the team when we play at home. I think the change has to come at the grassroots. We need to see pitches that allow you to play three seamers.
One of the biggest criticisms directed at you down the years has been your comparative lack of aggression...
I respect those opinions but I'm aggressive in my own way. It's just that my brand of aggression is not for the TV. I just take the ball and do my job.
But could your body language have encouraged the opposition?
Body language doesn't get you wickets. I don't believe that aggression can get you wickets...
Of late though, you had taken a different approach to your bowling, pitching the ball up a lot more...
Things were getting better, yes, but the results still weren't there. I was trying my best to do that. You have to adapt as you go along and this was one of the changes that paid dividends. When you're a young fast bowler, there's always a tendency to pitch it a little short. It depends on the conditions too, to an extent. But sooner or later, a bowler realises that pitching the ball up is the key.
Did you get the right advice in the early stages of your career?
Yes, I did. Kapil [Dev] was great and I used to speak to him all the time. Dennis Lillee was another great influence. The sad thing is that I didn't get to play enough with Kapil.
But did any of them tell you to pitch the ball up more?
Yes, they did but I used to get wickets even otherwise. Maybe if I had pitched it up more, I might have got more wickets. That is certainly one of my regrets.
You once said that most Indian captains were batsmen, which was why you never got bowler-friendly pitches here. Can you elaborate on that?
That's a matter for the captains and the team management. They need to realise that if we are to win consistently abroad, we need to produce pitches that give at least some encouragement to the fast bowlers.
How disappointing was it for you to see a grassy pitch shaved off on the captain's instructions?
This was one of the factors that contributed to my retirement. Earlier, I never used to think about how the wicket might play, whether it had grass or not. But with age catching up, you look at these things.
Did your relationship with the captain have anything to do with the decision to retire?
A lot of people have been talking about my relationship with [Sourav] Ganguly. As such, there is no problem between us. Why would my decision be based on someone else's actions or reactions? Ganguly and I go back a long time. I'm much senior to him and I know him very well.
Expressing your emotions on the field doesn't mean that we don't get along well. People have read it wrong. As long as our expressions are directed towards winning the match, there is no problem.
We are both very frank people who have known each other a long time. People just try too hard to read something into certain gestures.
Any regrets when it comes to your batting?
It was disappointing, but with the amount of bowling I did, it was hard to concentrate with the bat. The injuries and the fractures didn't help.
Talking of injuries, how much did that shoulder injury in 1997 set you back?
Tremendously. That was a period when I was peaking and had I maintained that form for three or four years, I might have been a very different bowler. That pushed me back to square one and it took eight to nine months just to get back.
Who complemented you best with the new ball?
Look, I don't have any favourites. [Venkatesh] Prasad and I got the chance to bowl together for quite a long time; Zaheer [Khan] is a very good bowler. So is Ashish Nehra. He moves the ball well. Tinu Yohannan is one of the best athletes I have ever seen in Indian cricket.
You were a young man when you first toured abroad. How did you think the touring experience can be made easier for rookies?
Long tours are always hard. I think fitness is key, and in that regard Andrew Leipus has done a fantastic job for us. The physiotherapy aspect is just as important. You need to get to the root cause of the injury and treat it...
But from a mental aspect?
That's all part and parcel of the game. When you go abroad, you have better conditions, better practice facilities and the best food. There is nothing to complain about. The only thing is, when you lose, your mental state can become quite fragile and you start doubting your own capabilities. The food, the travelling, the different culture, that shouldn't really bother you. It's for the seniors to buck up the young players if they're going through a bad patch.
Were the seniors very supportive when you were starting out?
Yes, and that's still the case. The players take a great deal of interest in each other's game and the youngsters get a lot of encouragement. Some of the youngsters - [Mohammad] Kaif, [Dinesh] Mongia and the fast bowlers to name just a few - have a great attitude and that helps.
What does the future hold for Javagal Srinath?
I believe I just need to work hard and keep myself fit for the World Cup. I'll make myself available and it's up to the selectors to pick me. It's only right that they groom players for the future but I'll keep working and see how it goes. I really want to play the World Cup though.
That would be the logical conclusion to your career...
Yes. I don't see anything beyond that.