Shashi Tharoor
Indian MP, former United Nations Under-Secretary General, and cricket fan

India's lost boys

Is there something in the national character that makes young talents taper away unfulfilled? That ensures brilliance is too easily satisfied?

Shashi Tharoor

January 13, 2011

Comments: 90 | Text size: A | A

Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar on the eve of the Irani Trophy match between Mumbai and Rest of India, September 17, 2003
Vinod Kambli: played his last Test at 24 DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / © AFP

A chilly London summer evening in 1967 during the tour of the Indian Schoolboys' team: three balls left, 11 runs needed for victory. The first delivery, fast and swinging, uproots a stump. In strides a cocky southpaw, unfazed by the odds. He smites the first ball he receives for six. Five needed in the gathering gloom. The fast bowler pounds in. The callow left-hander dances down the pitch, converts the intended yorker into a full toss, and heaves it over the boundary. Match won. Cricketing India wakes up to the most exciting schoolboy batsman of his generation, 18-year-old Surinder Amarnath.

The magic doesn't last. Several similar episodes dot a maddening career that epitomises the most Indian of cricketing phenomena: that of the brilliant but erratic and ultimately unfulfilled genius. His century on his belated Test debut, aged 27, in Auckland, hard on the heels of one in his first "unofficial Test", against Sri Lanka, a few months earlier. Topping the batting averages against the touring Englishmen in 1976-77. And hitting 60 against Imran and Sarfraz in their pomp, in a losing cause, in what would prove to be his final Test series. His 235 not out against a star-studded Rest of India side in 1980-81, after which he was inexplicably omitted from the Indian side touring Australia, was an injustice he underscored with a silken 140 against a near-Test-level English side for the Cricket Association of Bengal's Jubilee XI. Surinder Amarnath, a batsman so naturally gifted that his friends sometimes forced this natural right-hander to adopt the handicap of batting left-handed, ended his first-class career with just 16 centuries in 145 matches at an average of 40, and a modest Test record, cut short by selectoral caprice, of 550 runs at 30 in just 10 matches. What potential, what results, what a pity.

And yet Surinder has a rival for the distinction of being the poster child for wasted genius. Friends, I present to you Vinod Kambli: sharer of the world-record schoolboy partnership of 664 (unbroken) with Sachin Tendulkar, a batsman who hit his first delivery ever in the Ranji Trophy for six, and who took Shane Warne for 22 in an over, the first Indian to score two Test double-centuries in a row against two different opponents, a man with four Test centuries to his name in his first seven Tests, who ended his career at the sadly young age of 24 with a Test batting average of 54.20 (not to mention a first-class average of nearly 60, including 35 hundreds and 44 fifties in just 129 matches). How could India afford to omit a player of this quality? Dark whispers speak of issues of temperament, of a fatal fondness for alcohol, of players' sleep being disturbed by a raucous Kambli's carousing after dark during matches. Whatever the truth, there is no question in anyone's mind that Kambli had potential comparable only to Tendulkar's. What one made of it through diligence and application, the other frittered away.

In 1982, when Kambli and Tendulkar were barely a gleam in a cricket coach's eye, I wrote a lament in The Cricketer International about the transformation of Indian batsmanship from the ethos of the flamboyant entertainer to "the Gavaskar-Shastri-Vengsarkar school of cricket as an exercise in attrition". Accepting the article for publication, the then editor, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, wrote back asking, "Sandeep Patil a bit of an exception?" I certainly hoped so, having caught glimpses on TV of his epochal 174 against Lillee and Pascoe in Adelaide in 1980-81 (an innings after having been knocked out by a bouncer in the previous Test). Indeed, CMJ was briefly vindicated when, in that 1982 summer, Patil creamed 129 not out off the Ashes-winning English attack, including taking 24 off a Bob Willis over. But the rest of his career echoed Amarnath's and Kambli's: inconsistent enough to be dropped more often than he was picked, with personal problems even causing him to pull out of a tour of the West Indies, Patil's Test average of 36.93 in 29 matches did scant justice to his prodigious talent. He played his last Test at 28, even though he had another eight seasons of first-class cricket left in him.

But what can you say about a player who played his last Test at 20? Laxman Sivaramakrishnan took 7 for 28 on his Ranji Trophy debut at the age of 16, and that too against formidable Delhi, followed it up by becoming the youngest Indian Test cricketer (before Tendulkar), and was still only 18 when he took six wickets in each innings to bowl India to a Test win against England in Mumbai in 1984, a match I was thrilled to watch. He had another six-for in the next Test and was adjudged Man of the Series while still a boy, then bamboozled Javed Miandad in the final of the World Championship of Cricket later that season in Australia. Yet no sooner had he attained voting age than he lost his bowling ability. Rare are the cases of such prodigious talent simply disappearing with adulthood, but in Siva's case things reached a pretty pass when he was reduced to fighting for his Tamil Nadu Ranji place as a batsman.

Parthiv Patel takes off his wicketkeeping gloves, Punjab v Gujarat, Ranji Trophy Super League, Mohali, 2nd day, November 25, 2009
Parthiv Patel: probably out of the frame for good © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Maninder Singh's rise and fall almost paralleled Siva's - briefly hailed as the heir-apparent to Bishan Singh Bedi as a loopy left-arm spinner in a patka, match-winning turns against England in the victorious summer of 1986 and against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the series that followed at home, and then a dreadful case of the yips. Two abortive comebacks later, he ended his 35-Test career at the age of 27 with 88 wickets at over 37, a far cry from the hopes he had roused as a 17-year-old.

Of contemporary cricketers, at least two seem in danger of adding their names to this tragically distinguished list. No one who saw Irfan Pathan swinging India to victory in the one-day series in Pakistan in 2003-04, or taking a hat-trick against the same team two years later, or scoring a century against them the year after that, or winning the Man of the Match in a Test in Australia and in the final of the inaugural World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa, would imagine that he could be washed up at 25. And yet he is deemed to have lost his mojo to the point where he is not even in the frame for selection for the 2011 World Cup.

Parthiv Patel became India's youngest-ever Test wicketkeeper at 17 and was dropped when barely 21; despite brief appearances since, he has fallen behind in the wicketkeeping pecking order, unsure whether to make his mark as a battling one-day opener, a sturdy Test gloveman or a utility player, and so far failing to establish himself as the best in the country in any of those roles.

There's nothing uniquely Indian about unfulfilled potential, of course, and yet India seems to offer more egregious examples of it than most cricketing countries. The first seven Indian batsmen to score a century on Test debut never made another: it was almost as if ambition was satisfied at the first triumph. Is there something in our national character that ensures brilliance is too easily satisfied? Or is it the huge pressure of the expectations of the cricket-obsessed millions that many believe they can never meet? Is it, conversely, the huge rewards the game offers in India that distract the gifted young man before he can rise to the full heights of which he is capable? Whatever it is, to paraphrase the poet Whittier, of all the sad words about the cricketing scene, the saddest are these: "it might have been".

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian MP and a former United Nations Under-Secretary General

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Posted by   on (February 20, 2014, 18:15 GMT)

how can anyone forget the mercurial sadanand vishwanath behind stumps in the champions trophy India won in Australia

Posted by gov544 on (January 16, 2011, 16:19 GMT)

I don't think, it is money or fame that destroys the cricketer, Actually it is like a smart student does'nt take his studies seriously because he knew he'll pass even if he studies night before the exam..... It never occur to him that he can top the class or university if he puts little bit of hard is similar with a cricketer, because of their talent they rose to fame but the problem is they stop learning and then their slide begins.... their r many cricketers on this list some of them r:- 1. Narendra Hirwani 2. laxman Siva rama krishnan 3. Vinod Kamli 4. Maninder Singh 5. Hanumant Singh 6. Mohd Kaif 7. Surendra Amarnath some of the non- indians r:- 1. Wajah tulah wasti 2. Mohd Ashraful 3. Lou Vincient 4. Jacques Rudolph 5. Abdul razzaq(he has decent career but this guy had the ablity to be one of the greatest player pakistan ever produced) these r some of the few

And if yuvraj does'nt play test match for india in future, he will also be termed as a under achiever

Posted by   on (January 16, 2011, 5:38 GMT)

A couple of names i thought were worth a mention were the TN opener S. Ramesh and probably a more notable name missing is Mohd. Kaif. In my opinion these are two players we've lost due to mismanagement and lack of communication by the selectors and the Board.

Posted by   on (January 15, 2011, 16:25 GMT)

i think this is a good one as most of the players leave the team without being given a chance to showthemselves.

Posted by nelrod03 on (January 15, 2011, 1:03 GMT)

What about Rajinder Goel from Haryana?

Goel appeared for India against Ceylon in an unofficial Test at Ahmedabad in 1964-65 where he took 4 for 33 in the second innings. Thereafter, the presence of the "Indian spin quartet", especially Bishen Bedi who bowled similar style, restricted his appearances for India

Posted by Hurricane08 on (January 15, 2011, 0:35 GMT)

There is no dearth of talent in cricket or for that matter, any other sport. What differentiates the achievers from those that lost out, is sheer hard work. In one of the interviews on here with Sadagopan Ramesh (one of those that lost out), he indicates that he was amazed with the hard work that Rahul Dravid put in. Paul Colingwood is a great example of hard work with not much talent. We will continue to see talented players on the horizon and only those that sweat it out will make it to the zenith - India or any other country

Posted by Optimistix on (January 14, 2011, 21:59 GMT)

Well written, but weird over-generalizations involving "national character".

Let us not forget that the "huge rewards" are a relatively recent thing, be it IPL or post-1983. Certainly you can't apply that reasoning to the first 7 centurions-on-debut not going on to score another.

I think the likeliest explanation is simply that one is more familiar with cases of unfulfilled potential when they're from one's own country, since we follow the buzz from the time they make a mark in first-class cricket, and are more involved. So we remember people like Vivek Razdan, but not similar cases from other countries. I'm pretty sure few non-Indians will remember him, and so on.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2011, 20:16 GMT)

I would like to add Vijay Bharadwaj from Bangalore. He was such a good player. Dinesh Mongia, Murali Karthik join the brigade

Posted by   on (January 14, 2011, 18:46 GMT)

Other players whose dreams have been dashed by selectors include: Sandeep Patil, Wasim Jaffer, Sairaj Bahutule, Jatin Paranjpe, Amol Muzumdar, Abey Kuruvilla and now Robin Uthappa

I think these were extremely talented players who had a lot to offer to Indian cricket

Posted by   on (January 14, 2011, 14:15 GMT)

I'm from Bangladesh , I think though I agree with all you said , there is something I want to add. Mohammad Ashraful , former Bangladesh captain will be best known for the youngest person to score Test century on debut , that was in 2001 against SriLanka . He has still manged to get a recall and even been selected for WC 2011 after 10 years . His stats are 22 in Test and 23 in ODI's . Chaminda Vaas of SriLanka has a better Test average 24 in Test. The persistence of BCB with Ahraful was spectacular . Even with consistent scores of 10's and 20's , he for a moment was thought to have obtained a eternal immunity from not being dropped from Bangladesh cricket team .

He is a classic example of being a prodigy with a score 100 run in his 1st test match . I wish he had not done that . BD might have seen something better of him if he hadn't score those runs . He could have been even out for 99 . But there was something very special in his 100.

Posted by StaalBurgher on (January 14, 2011, 11:25 GMT)

I dare say that the reason India has more unfulfilled genius is because you have a billion people? That is more than double all other cricketing nations combined.

Posted by itssudeep on (January 14, 2011, 8:17 GMT)

Anyone here remember one Vivek Razdan? He was drafted straight from the MRF pace academy without any first class experience, upon Dennis Lillee's recommendation. And in the mid-80s, when your chances of encountering abominable snowmen were more than that of coming across genuine pace bowlers in India, he got 5 wickets in an innings in his 2nd test against Pakistan, including that of Salim Malik. I still remember thinking here was our answer to all those prodigiously talented fast bowlers that Pakistan used to churn out those days. Sadly, I don't think we ever saw him again. I guess the blame has to be entirely on the system in this case.

Posted by itssudeep on (January 14, 2011, 8:06 GMT)

@Prash Ganen - It was not just you, but the great Don himself was reported to have said that it was Kambli who was the one, when asked which of the two (Sachin & Vinod) was the one to watch out for. A real case of what might have been...

@indianzen - In my opinion, no one in your list of past players were good enough really. But it maybe a bit early yet to write off the current players you have mentioned - although I'm not really convinced if any of them are really that prodigious a talent.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2011, 7:25 GMT)

I think sometimes players are unable to step up to the next level. Talent alone cannot ensure success, you need to be able to handle the extra pressure and have the temperamental to go with you. The prime example of this is Collingwood who punched above his weight, played and achieved beyond his natural talents.

Sometimes selectors run out of patience as is the case with most prodigious talents who don't perform. The English selectors persisted with Ramprakash for over 50 test matches because he had the potential to be a great batsman. Of all the incredibility talented batsmen out there, he is unique because he got so many more opportunities than he deserved but he failed to deliver.

Posted by Yorker_ToeCrusher on (January 14, 2011, 5:07 GMT)

Mr Tharoor,Great to see your artcicle in cricinfo.Your observations must be true and i can remember things from the mid 90s and as kids we were fascinated by Kambli's exploits in the early 90s.I couldn,t vote fror you this time around from the constituency,but i will make it a point next time:-)

Posted by a1234s on (January 14, 2011, 5:05 GMT)

i did like to mention Subhash Gupte. Reading the statistics, I can only think of what might have been, had Subhash played more.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (January 14, 2011, 4:31 GMT)

great article. hope you can do one on each country.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2011, 2:56 GMT)

But isn't that true of every country. It seems that some cricketing moths just dive into the flame while others can skirt around it amassing runs and wickets.

Posted by dr.jha on (January 14, 2011, 2:31 GMT)

too much free time eh... mr tharoor ???? :)

Posted by   on (January 14, 2011, 1:20 GMT)

Praveen Amre is another guy. The man who scored his debut hundren in a lively track in South Africa. After that he's gone. A wasted talent. One more from Mumbai is Salil Ankola. The tall lad who could extract lot of bounce and promised more to start with and waned off. Seems they made their debut at a wrong time. Now we see players half their talent given innumerable opportunities.

Posted by malharsire on (January 14, 2011, 0:35 GMT)

My God! You forgot the quintessential "teaser: - Ashok Mankad. The King of Ranji with one of the best techniques, could never make it to the next stage...

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 23:50 GMT)

All those calling Southpaw a genric and boxing term must read this. mscommerce is right...Origin of Southpaw lie in Baseball and USA. Early ball fields were built so that home plate faced to the east. That way, the late afternoon sun wouldn't be in the batter's eyes, a dangerous situation when a baseball is thrown in your direction. The pitcher faced west, and if he was left handed, the ball would be thrown with his south side hand, his "south paw".

Posted by passionate_cricket_follower on (January 13, 2011, 23:34 GMT)

the other names i can think of are Navjot Sidhu and VVS Laxman (for ODI). Sidhu was a far better batsman than his record of only 51 tests speaks of. his career was cut short by controversies and inconsistency. Laxman played only 85 odd ODIs and scored 6 centuries. a player of his caliber not playing a WC for India is simply unbelievable. players like dinesh mongia, sanjay bangar, kaif were picked ahead of him for WC. his ODI career was cut short by politics from ganguly and co., when it had just begun to flourish.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 23:01 GMT)

Pavan Aditya are you aware that Kambli was dropped from the test team in 1995 and Rohan Gavaskar made his first class debut in 1996? i mention this because RG wasn't even an established cricketer when Kambli was dropped and I remember even before Kambli was dropped there was talk of his weakness against the short ball+bad attitude and this was justified on the pitch, when he strugged against the west indies.Dont get me wrong Kambli was a wonderful player of spin and medium pacers but he had a kink in his technique and bowlers found it out in 1995. I even remember one of the commentators mentioning they need to bowl further outside off stump to him to get him chasing balls and dig it in short. He was a wonderfully straight player mainly. The selectors ran out of patience and dropped him.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 22:49 GMT)

wow this is nostalgia and I love it. I remember getting up at about 2.30am to listen on radio 4 long wave) to India V England in 1993 and I remember Kambli's 224 as if it was yesterday. Amre batted very well too and in many ways he should also be included on this list. It was a unique series as it brought three players Kambli, Amre and SRT together who had been trained by the same coach. Kambli played spinners with ease but i recall him being vulnerable to fast swing bowling. When he scored that second double i remember telling my dad he was going to be the next Bradman.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 22:27 GMT)

Great article. I would like to add another name to that list from the late 60's - Ambar Roy. A fine left hander, hit 10 fours in test knock of 48. But personal habits came in the way....what a waste.

Posted by KingOwl on (January 13, 2011, 22:19 GMT)

Isn't the reason simple than sinister? India is a country of over a billion people. There is so much good (though not exceptional) cricketing talent, and it is easy to be kicked out of the 'in' circle.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 21:48 GMT)

a few other people you should add to this list are guys like RP singh, all these guys are good for are IPL now and its just a sorry sight to see what happens to our countries young fast bowler, the one fast bowler who has sutained his place in the indian side and has consistently performed is Zaheer Khan and the catch with him..............he played in England in the County system, Zaheer Khan came back a different bowler after playing in England and if you look at it, some of the most succesfull bowlers in national cricket all play cricket at one point in their careers in England or Australia. Up coming fast bowlers like Sreesant, Ishant Sharma and Sudeep Tyagi should be sent to England to solve our bowling woes. The batting future looks good for India with dhoni, raina, yuvraj, gambhir, vohli, Vijay, Badrinath and Sharma along with Pujara in test cricket. Indias main concern is bowling and they must start sending their bowlers to england for county cricket

Posted by apradhi on (January 13, 2011, 21:25 GMT)

May I add Narendra Hirwani and Yograj Singh to the list. Hirwani had a sensational debut, in fact the best ever by a bowler, when he took 16 wickets at Madras against the West Indies only to fade away a few years later. Yograj Singh, Kapil Dev's contemporary from Chandigarh was considered by many as an equally talented fast bowling allrounder in his teenage years. However, he faded into obscurity while Kapil grew leaps and bounds in his stature to become one of the greats.

Posted by niraj13 on (January 13, 2011, 21:03 GMT)

Very thoughtful article! A good learning lesson for young players and selectors alike. The pressure at the international stage is just beyond imagination. For a teenager or a guy in his early 20's, it is extremely difficult. To add to that, there are off-the-field distractions like money, fame, parties, etc. So, even if a cricketer is gifted with the highest skill level, it is very important to keep your mind and emotions in balance. I think the amount of pressure that these young men have to deal with is more than a 50 year old matured man can handle. At least, we as Indians should be glad that we have some heroes to sing about. We have also produced the greatest of them all in Sachin. I just hope that we don't let young talent unused and wasted in the future.

Posted by peeam on (January 13, 2011, 19:50 GMT)

Indians of certain age would recall that till the seventies, the cricket power resided in Bombay and any one not part of it had to blow the door down to play for India. Later this shifted to Delhi when Bedi became captain and with arrival of Kapil Dev. Surinder Amarnath's short career was a result of him being the great 'Lalaji's son (not many fans in CCI of this loud, proud man from Panjab) and hailing from an unfashionable cricketing part. Mohinder overcame all of that by sheer dint of performance and persistence (any one remembers the gap between his first and second test ?). On the other hand, an amazing number of fairly mediocre player from Bombay represented India- Suru Nayak, Parkar etc. The money or adulation was lot less in those days.

Posted by Sanks555 on (January 13, 2011, 19:21 GMT)

Kambli's permanent exclusion from Test cricket, after 1995, seems unfair. He continued to play domestic cricket in India for 9 more years and maintained a very healthy average of 59.67. He certainly deserved a second chance and if he did not get it, it was due to the plenitude of talent and /or ineptitude of sports administrators rather than his mental weakness.

Posted by Jags1 on (January 13, 2011, 19:16 GMT)

Mr. Tharoor,

I think your comments while applicable to the cricketing field also apply as a larger metaphor to Indians in other sports and the way we live our lives. if you look at Tennis we have had the Krishnans and the Amrithrajs but no one who ever reached beyond the last 16 of any Grand slam. I think we peak quickly because we are precocious in our talents. As kids we receive adulation and praise but there is no adult guidance to other qualities needed in sports and life such as an iron will, fitness and maybe even some amount of Kautilyan ruthlessness. I am sure that the last even played a part in recent events in your own political life. I think that our role models start and end with a Mahatma who believed so much in non violence that we even take that onto the arena of sports. The sports arena as with the gladiators is a place of violence even if it is not meant to harm another as in contact sports. Thats why our life,sports and politics resembles a gentler Akhada

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 18:39 GMT)

Would Add Brijesh Patel,Chetan Sharma,Sanjay Manjrekar,Pravin Amre,Narendra Hirwani & Sadanand Vishwanath to this list of sadly unfulfilled potential !

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 18:38 GMT)

Here is the reaason for dropping Kambli.

Gavaskar's son Rohan was a left hander and Gavaskar ensured that the left hander slot in the team was unoccupied. It was only when Ganguly came in to th team that Gavaskar was left helpless. That is the reason why Ganguly had become infamous... there was a huge clout from Mumbai killing the team Harbhajan, Yuvraj, RP, Dhoni, Raina , even laxxman, all these guys had a foot hold only when this regional bias was broken and talent was given priority.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 18:35 GMT)

You missed Laxmipathy Balaji, The Peshawar crowd even chorused the now-famous chant: 'Balaji zara dheere chalo..'

Posted by vlsubramanian on (January 13, 2011, 18:34 GMT)

Very well written article. One more name that comes to my mind is Narendra Hirwani. His brilliance too faded away very quickly.

Posted by mhsabir on (January 13, 2011, 17:57 GMT)

@Puranjay - He averaged 110 in his first 7 Tests & 23 in his next 10 - Thats why he "slipped" from 110 to 54 cumulative - bottom line 23 in 10 Tests that too mostly in India -- not good

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 17:20 GMT)

You could include all the Indian fast bowlers of this decade as well. Let me start with Munaf Patel. When he debuted he seemed to be bowler with a combination of Mcgrath's control aligned with Alan Donald's pace. He could bowl in the high 140s mind you. But then the customary injury happened and now he is just the shadow of his previous self. Then you have RP Singh he had prodigious swing to complement his brisk pace ( touching high 140s). But injuries hampered his career like other Indian fast bowlers. There also was a certain Nehra who touched 150kmph and had late swing as well and we all know what happened to him. And don't get me started with Ishant, Irfan Pathan and Balaji.

Posted by A.Ak on (January 13, 2011, 17:19 GMT)

Its simply the mind, which couldn't stand properly with the fame and money. Particularly the contemporary, with lots of media focus (particularly batsman). Only very view batsman survived who got fame right from the beginning, in this era. Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Dhoni. I couldn't recall more (except Laxman, who got fame very lately). Dhoni is got good head, almost the whole world is watching him since he won the t20 world cup till now.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 17:14 GMT)

We can never really hope to understand this can we. In some cases it's like a singer who was really promising at age 10 - but then there's puberty, voice becomes hoarse and chances are he will never be the same again.

Some others maybe simply weren't good enough. Parthiv for example showed promise. He was even a pretty good bat. But he never really improved his keeping.

Pathan played too much. Lost his pace. Lost his action. Lost his place. And now lost the limelight to his brother.

Of the 70s i guess one might say that, television was a distraction. ;)

The only cricketer that makes me feel really sad, is Kambli. For some reason I have never stopped beleiving that the '96 semi-final against SL was when he really lost favour with the public and - as i suspect - with team mates and the board who might have been looking for a scapegoat. His antics were hardly reason enough. Not when the same are used to portray Yuvraj Singh look like a 'take me to your mama' cutie pie.

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (January 13, 2011, 17:05 GMT)

Maybe they were just rubbish? Ever thought of that.

Posted by ARad on (January 13, 2011, 17:02 GMT)

I don't think there is one reason for this universal phenomenon and it is not restricted to sports. For some, reaching a level is satisfying enough and they are not interested in more aka lack of ambition. For some, they lack the support system to let them overcome the drop in confidence when they come across failure aka lack of determination. For some, the 'system' is there to only get what they can from them rather than nurturing them to achieve more aka systemic 'exploitation'. Some only have a bag full of tricks and not real talent so when their bag is empty (when the opposition figures out how to handle them), they run out of steam aka lack of growth to meet new challenges. There are also cases where racism/'ethnicism', regionalism cronyism have limited their chances so temporary drop in performances has lead them to be discarded too early.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 16:54 GMT)

How can a bowler stop swinging/seaming the ball , in case of irfan pathan?? even if he coudn't handle money and expectations , what happnd to his wrist position movement etc and watever is required , can some 1 explain the technical details behind this

Posted by BlueTrain on (January 13, 2011, 16:35 GMT)

@ mscommerce - 'Southpaw' is generic term for a lefty. It is also a boxing term for a left handed boxer's normal stance

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 16:28 GMT)

*mscommerce-ji, Southpaw is not an American Baseball term, but rather a term used in an International Sports - Boxing (Paw?) and is used in general, all over the world for the left handed sportsmen/women. It is used as a term to identify the lefties as a standout - but not in a derogatory sense - in the world where righties are a majority. It is not a coincidence that the word for the Right (as in correct) is same as the Right (as in the opposite of Left). In the world of duality - the world is always biased in favor of North-Right and West. So when somebody Lefthanded OR something from the South OR something from the East does something notable - The "Right" people celebrates the oddity by saying - Oh wow ! Really? Southpaw etc.

By the way, I am not a Southpaw or from South (as in Southern Hemisphere or from South India) but of course, originally from the East (Jai Hind !).

Shashiji, nice article but I expect a lot more from "Think Tanks" like you !

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 16:25 GMT)

Good one,Dear Honourable MP Mr Shashi Tharoor you forgot to mention the rise and fall of famous leg spinner NARENDRA HIRWANI ,who took 16 wickets in his debut Test match against WI in Madras.

Posted by pbhoraskar on (January 13, 2011, 15:43 GMT)

Another one to add to the list would be Narendra Hirwani. 8 wickets in each of his first two test innings is the sort of big bang that you expect would catapult ones career. Not for him. liked the concluding line for the article. Well written Mr Tharoor.

Posted by vparisa on (January 13, 2011, 15:43 GMT)

I do not know why Kambli was dropped immediately following 1996 world cup. He did score a century(against Zim) and was not out in that semi final disaster. He got emotional at the end. But he was roped in after 2-3 of years then had a serious injury by stepping on the ball while fielding and we never saw him again. Too sad. I remember him scoring double centuries and hitting Warne out of the park. He did play Warne better than Sachin in one of the ODI's (if my memory serves, it was Australasia cup..) .

Posted by vparisa on (January 13, 2011, 15:31 GMT)

Great Article

@mscommerce I have seen lot of English Cricket/Tennis commentators use the term southpaw.Even our very own SMG uses it once in a while. But then i have also seen lot of folks unrelated to cricket use the term Bradmanesque.. whats the surprise mate?

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 15:30 GMT)

I think Yuvaraj Singh can also be added to that list. He has not done any justification to his talent in Tests and is on the verge of loosing ODI spot too. Rohit Sharma seems to following his footsteps wasting opportunity by playing reckless shots after a good start. He reminds me of young Yuvraj who did exactly what Rohit is doing now.

Posted by cmloga on (January 13, 2011, 14:55 GMT)

To mscommerce - you obviously have not listed to commentary on All India Radio when Surinder Amarnath was playing. The term 'southpaw' was a very common reference to left handers than. Anyway if IPL can introduce cheerleaders southpaw by comparison is totally harmless.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 14:52 GMT)

@Puranjay Kambli failed repeatedly against the short ball, just like what Suresh Raina is doing now

Posted by ut4me87 on (January 13, 2011, 14:46 GMT)

Well written article. But in the not so distant past, I remember Praveen Amre - not being picked. I did not know what was wrong with him, may be his face did not fit. I think it is important to have a captain who will back a player to the hilt. Until Ganguly, we did not have that and saw those wasted talent. Remember Harbhajan was going that way as well, until Ganguly insisted him being in the Indian side against Australia.

Posted by cmloga on (January 13, 2011, 14:34 GMT)

Wonderful article. Brings back nostalgic memories of what may have been. I don't think money is the sole cause for wasted talent - there was no money in the game when Suriner Amarnath and Sivaramakrishnan were playing (at least not comparable to what it is today). I think exceptional talent needs to be nurtured and the Indian Cricket Board have done a woeful job of this. I don't think they even recognise their responsility in providing gudiance to young talented palyers. The sad thing is while this may be forgiven in the days gone by the Board has the same callous attitiude even today - someone with Irfan Pathan's talent being wasted is criminal.

Posted by aruntheselector on (January 13, 2011, 13:48 GMT)

There are many such cases but Mr. Tharoor has given good examples.It is more about how a young talent handles his success and get along.That is why probably Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest ever.Rohit Sharma also looks to be a guy who may end up in this league Kambli.Agree with Raaakz too regarding Sadanand.Sivaramakrishnan was a disaster.Who knows had he not faded away,we may not have seen Anil Kumble.But again Anil Kumble was a perfect example of having feet on ground,head on shoulders and a fighter who played the game in true spirits and maintained dignity.And I agree with Mr. Tharoor,Kambli had so much talent that he could rub shoulders with no one but Tendulkar and also Lara.Who knows with Kambli and Manjrekar we may not have seen Ganguly and Dravid and these 2 were the best thing to happen for Indian cricket after which Indian cricket started transforming.So not having Kambli,Siva & Manjrekar was a boon to Indian cricket.Talent alone is not enough to become a successful sportsman

Posted by indianpunter on (January 13, 2011, 13:08 GMT)

Evocative piece, Mr Tharoor. Never knew that your understanding of Indian cricket was so profound. No wonder you were championing the Kochi team with such gusto and genuine passion. you can add another one to this list shortly, Rohit Sharma. Unless he mends his ways, will be lost to Indian cricket. that would be a crying shame.

Posted by Prashantsays on (January 13, 2011, 13:01 GMT)

Even if everybody takes away all the runs from all forms of cricket scored by Sachin Tendulkar, the one thing I think that cannot be taken away from him is his poise over the years. Cricket has changed so much since he arrived on the scene. But he has maintained a Zen-like calm. To be bombarded with accolades even before he made his mark at the international level and to be paid as much as he has been, and still maintain that balance is not an easy task. He may have had his fact, the entire country is his backer..but the ability to keep improving and keep improving is what separates him from other talented players. I guess, if the modern day cricketers learn to take to bat and ball like a cocky kid wants to immediately after the school is through, all the mega-bucks and strappings shall take care of themselves. I guess it is this love for the game, which has kept Sachin in good stead through more than 20 years and still counting...

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 12:50 GMT)

Shashi, whats stopping you from taking up the reigns of this sport, or sports in general for the country. Is there ANYONE more qualified than you in this country ?

Posted by HarishRao on (January 13, 2011, 12:12 GMT)

Extremely well written. When we look at the final performance vis-a-vis the potential offered and then match Sachin upto these benchmarks, his actual achievement becomes much more clearer. His determination to avoid the common trappings and to continuously adapt himself to the changing environment has made him the success he is. Kambli gave up when he faced the smallest obstacle. The genius inside him could not face up to the reality that he had chinks in his armor. Sachin, on the other hand, always questioned his genius and strove for perfection.

Posted by yasserrizwan on (January 13, 2011, 12:07 GMT)

Mr Tharoor,nicely written & it was delight reading it.Great points made in very eloquent manner.Irfan could soon be an IPL wonder seen sparkling once in the glitzy event.He's player of immense potential & i do not need to put any cogent argument for justification,Shashi has done it.Mohammad Kaif could have been India's Miandad,acme of crisis situation batsman kinds.Instead we seem overly obsessed with underperformers like Ravinder Jadeja & Dinesh Mongia till sometime back.To add to woes, BCCI, to me appears, should not be run by people who do not have sports background.What does Sharad pawar knows about Cricket.Zilch.I can bet a month's salary on that. I mean it's sheer injustice to Kapil Dev,Mansur ali khan Pataudi & Sunil Gavaskar to keep them out of business of running the board.Financial clout keeps other boards in agreement with us & not rapport we share with other boards. They rake profits in millions & do not invest in coaching academies,stadiums,drainage facilities etc.

Posted by hgopalkr on (January 13, 2011, 11:46 GMT)

Nice one. Couple of observations. In the case of patel, its not a mystery. He had more than his fair share of chamces and them dhoni arrived and given u only have room for one keeper..the rest was natural course..even karthik got lots of chances.he infact had chances as a pure harder to lament. Pathans case irks me..i can only hope we find a way to salvage him..and how about piyush chawla..whom sangakarra rated as indias best spinner..and if we arent careful raina could go same way. Besides the money, fame issues, we seem to be looking for the next tendulkar..18 yr old kid who will lite world on fire..and treating 25 as a sell by a result, matured players get left out and young turks get in..and at first sign of slump we take them out and go for the new flavor..pujaras case seems to be an exception where we seem to have taken atalent, let it mature a bit before taking to big stage..

Posted by indianzen on (January 13, 2011, 11:37 GMT)

Whats about these - Past players? Vikram Rathore,Abey Kuruvilla, Debashish Mohanty, T Kumaran, Sairaj Bahatule, Hrishikesh Kanitker.

What about these current players whose talents are just wasted? S Badrinath, A Mithun, I Pathan, Piyush Chawla?

As per my thoughts, its all the hard hitting and entertaining knock that is required to gather selector's and Media attention to remain and persist in the national team.

Posted by Raaakz on (January 13, 2011, 11:28 GMT)

Forgot to mention about Sadanand Viswanath...

Posted by mscommerce on (January 13, 2011, 11:19 GMT)

"Southpaw"? Dear Tharoor-ji, please do not inject American baseball terminology into a discussion of cricket, please. You of all people should know better than to do so.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 10:29 GMT)

It's MONEY. Young lads with brilliant sporting talent are not, for the most part, matuire enough (and why would they be?) to deal with the psycology of being paid huge sums. The fact that someone is pumping dollars into their bank account at the age of 17 / 18 / 19, when their peers from school whose gifts are in other areas, such as academic brilliance or technical talent, are struggling through University on subsistence grants, loans and parental support, "goes to their head" and they think they are King of the Universe. Just a few of them DO have that maturity - Tendulkar has always had it - and they do very well. Yet others (Stuart Broad as an English example?) have parents or other adult mentors who keep their feet on the ground, buit the ones who are left to do as they please often fall victim to their own testosterone-fuelled egos. In the UK the problem is most evident in Association Football, where there is the biggest money; George Best is the best example. It killed him.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 10:16 GMT)

I was a little too young when Kambli made his debut, but surely, there must be a logical reason for dropping someone with an average of 54?

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 9:37 GMT)

For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been!". Nice article, but the problem of wasted potential is not restricted to Indian cricket. Instances could be found around the world in almost all the fields.

Posted by sandyram on (January 13, 2011, 9:27 GMT)

Is there any topic on which Shashi Tharoor cant write or speak upon... and has in depth knowledge of all topics .. Great article ..

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 9:10 GMT)

There is one more way to look at it, system is not good enough to get best out of them. Its more of a systematic problem. The domestic cricket should be strong enough to make them handle their failures.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 8:50 GMT)

@Majr - good point. I know this is unrelated.... but maybe Gary Kirsten and Mohinder Amarnath should have both coached the Indian team in its run-up the the SA tour. Maybe we could've done better with the bat there.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 8:40 GMT)

Wow. One of the bes.t articles that I have read to date on cricinfo. Thought provoking way to put it, about the brilliance being too easily satisfied. I'd say its a combination of the pressure of expectations as well as the huge rewards the game offers in India as compared to other cricketing countries.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 8:28 GMT)

Well written, Mr.Shashi.

Posted by gopavarma on (January 13, 2011, 7:26 GMT)

Very thoughtful, indeed...Sasi Taroor himself was "almost" swept over to the political garbage bag so soon after his initiation to the sphere of politics...! Sasi Taroor's story must have been 'similar' in, how do we draw a reason..Lack of orientation..? Lack of a morale coach...? We all know that society would allow peace of mind only through the honeymoon phase...after that, one has to know to stand on his feet alone.....!!?? gopavarma,Bangkok

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 7:22 GMT)

why u forget to name narendra hirwani? and same going on for yuvraj singh

Posted by svenkat02 on (January 13, 2011, 6:56 GMT)

Another example would be Lakshmipathy Balaji, who shot to fame during that 2004 Frienship series between India and Pakistan. He was hailed almost as the next best thing to happen to Indian fast bowling. Suddenly he got an abdomen injury and he lost everything good about his bowling. Now he just plays for CSK and Tamil Nadu. He is not the same anymore.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 6:15 GMT)

@Ravi Kumar sentiments echoed by u mate....

Posted by Pathiyal on (January 13, 2011, 5:44 GMT)

Well written by Mr. Shashi Tharoor. Now a days, the young generation cricketers in India have started to consider themselves greater than the game itself. Money kills and when the fame gets into their heads, the game gets out. Thats the law of any sports. The Indian players whom we admire - the fab 5 (its actually fab 5, including the legend Kumble), the Sehwag, the zak, the Bhajjis are products of passion, dedication, focus and perseverance.... these qualities could be rarely seen among the young gen Indian cricketers. Instead of considering themselves as part of the system/ process and working towards a common goal, they deviate from it for their materialistic benefit. Anyways, best of luck to the Indian cricket.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 5:31 GMT)

another Indian bowler who fell through similar cracks was Narendra Hirwani, who took 8 wickets in each innings of a test against West Indies on debut at the age of 19 ... and played only 16 more tests claiming 50 wickets in those.

Posted by Ananth-Natarajan on (January 13, 2011, 5:16 GMT)

Isn't Surinder already left-handed? You must mean right-handed handicap...

Posted by Percy_Fender on (January 13, 2011, 5:01 GMT)

I feel Surinder Amarnath was lost to Indian cricket because of this long term prjudice that the cricketing establishment against Lala Amarnath even if there may not be any hard evidence to sustain this line of thought.It is just a tacit bias that gets passed on from generation to generation. It may have been the same for Mohender after he was felled by Rod Hogg in the Bombay Test in 1979. But then he was made of sterner stuff possibly because he came back as probably the finest player of fast bowling in the world. The difference between the two brothers will show that mental charecter and determination plays a big part in making comebacks or in sustaining a great beginning. I wish Surinder had had the patience to realise that he could achieve greatness with a bit of dedication. Vinod Kambli was talented just as Siva was. But I think they went astray because of not being guided on how to handle it after their initial brilliance. Irfan is different. I think he will make a come back soon.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 4:49 GMT)

Great start which had me hooked, some excellent examples, but unfortunately the article ended up promising more than it delivered.

Posted by kapilesh23 on (January 13, 2011, 4:16 GMT)

it is not the pressure of cricket obsessed millions it is normal Indian tendency to not do justice to the talent given by god .you can find such examples in every street of India .also the factors contributing to this kind downfalls is over hype done by Indian media .the humongous popularity generated in short period of time and money involved .this factors easily sips into the head .Indians take popularity very seriously and emotionally .and than the downfall .i remember lara saying same thing about west Indian cricketers .in the interview he said that when OZ players start they look very average or below average but with time they grow into something really big .and when west Indian cricketers start they look exceptional and great and than fall apart in the long run .this article makes me even prouder of sachin tendulkar he didn't let anything go into his head for a very long time now .

Posted by Arachnodouche on (January 13, 2011, 4:12 GMT)

Tharoor is a wonderful writer, whatever his recent political peccadilloes might insinuate. I urge cricinfo to retain his services.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 3:41 GMT)

A really interesting article, and something I've pondered over the years from Down Under.

I wonder if starting young has something to do with it - precocious talent that is unable to be prolonged? All nations have had a taste of those sorts of cricketers.

I think the huge rewards that are given to cricketers in India could be a factor for those without the determination of a Tendulkar - rewards can trick the mind into thinking you have already made it, when you've only just begun.

I wonder too if the powers that be (captains, coaches, cricket administrators) are too soft on young talent? Some cricketers can be driven internally, but others need someone to drive them.

Cheers, Roger

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 3:36 GMT)

How about Sadanand Vishwanath? He was a great wicketkeeper too.

Posted by Jayanth.R on (January 13, 2011, 3:31 GMT)

To the list, also add Sadanand Viswanth, who was one of of India's finest keepers and a worthy successor to Kirmani. It was ironical that he lost out on a Ranji place to the very person he succeeded in the INdian team - Kirmani. What a waste of talent...

Posted by   on (January 13, 2011, 3:17 GMT)

great article by Shashi Tharoor. Truly depicts the fading talents in India. Irfan Pathan's downslide (in large part thanks to Greg Chappell) is the most disheartening of all. You can add Sanjay Manjrekar,Praveen Amre,Debasis Mohanty,Mohammed Kaif etc to this list as well. Ishant Sharma too looks like he will end up the same way.

Posted by Daveptee on (January 13, 2011, 3:12 GMT)

It is not a case of unfulfilled promises but more about unrealistic expectations be it sports,politics or filmdom.Human beings are inherently indisciplined and are more likely to develop a false sense of security.India is not an exception,several talented Pakistani cricketers have fritted away similarly.Having connections or being privileged in certain ways helps,Ravi Shastri being an example but it doesn't take you far.Again,a Shastri could never become a Kapil.Arrogance and Laziness as in case of Irfan pathan,who could never find time to seek help from legends like Kapil and Wasim, while Zaheer did.The Great Indian Tamasha,IPL,has been destroying cricketers.Money is the only reason players participate in this monstrosity .Legends like Sachin,Kapil,Gavaskar,Kumble,Dravid,Ganguly,Laxman,Sehwag are the ideal role models for budding cricketers.Current players are more interested in hanging out with celebrities,participating in fashion shows and appearing on mindless shows

Posted by NaveenBL on (January 13, 2011, 3:10 GMT)

Welcome back Mr. Tharoor. Whatever happened with you because of the IPL is sad. But its great to see an article of yours on cricket after quite a long time. I have always considered you as one of my favorite writers in India. To talk specifically about this article, I think one of the other reasons why we have had such a trend in India is the existence of partisan administrators. Whatsay?

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Shashi Tharoor Shashi Tharoor watched his first Test match at age seven and has been hooked ever since. He wanted to play cricket very badly, and that's what he has done, playing cricket very badly in such hotbeds as Singapore and Geneva. He also managed a three-decade career at the United Nations, rising to the rank of Under-Secretary-General, and was India's candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as Secretary-General. After coming a close second in that race, he returned to India and was elected to Parliament by a near-record margin from the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. A former Minister of State for External Affairs, Tharoor is the author of 12 books, including Shadows Across the Playing Field: 60 Years of India-Pakistan Cricket (co-authored with Shaharyar Khan). Among his many awards and distinctions, including the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman and a Commonwealth Writers' Prize, he captained the Ministry of External Affairs cricket team in its triumphs over the British High Commission and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in early 2010.

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