The Heavy Ball

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I blame Kumble and Srinath

An impossible tail-end partnership from over a decade ago, and how it made an eternal optimist of one Indian fan

Sidin Vadukut

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India v Australia, Titan Cup, match three , Bangalore , day/night, 21 Oct 1996
Srinath, soon to be joined by Kumble, limbers up for heroism as Tendulkar is dismissed in that 1996 Titan Cup game © Action Photographics
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Players/Officials: Anil Kumble | Javagal Srinath
Teams: India

So a few days ago India was playing Sri Lanka in the final of the Tri-Nation Bore-nament in Bangladesh. Kumar Sangakkara, if you recall, won the toss and put India in to bat first. India, no longer the spineless pushovers they used to be in decades past, flatly refused to do so for any length of time. After 43 overs, the boys in blue were seven wickets down for 213. Or to put it in Sri Lankan numbers for our foreign readers, seven for "two-and-a-half Dilshans".

As the tragedy unfolded on a TV screen in the office canteen, an excited colleague offered instant analysis: "Oho! Now getting 300 is going to be very difficult. But if Zaheer stays..."

Instantly Zaheer got out.

"Aha! But if Raina stays..."

Instantly Raina got out.

And then I went back to work, leaving Lostradamus behind, my mind full of Javagal Srinath feelings.

Let me explain.

Javagal Srinath is, sans doubt, one of the most likeable cricketers to have ever played for India. Sure, he may not have struck white-hot fear into hearts as Hadlee, Wasim, Waqar or Ankola did. And he rarely uprooted stumps two or three at a time with fiendish yorkers.

For years he bowled thanklessly, again and again, on lifeless pitches, against deadly batsmen, with players like Anil Kumble effortlessly patrolling the field.

In fact, if you ask me, one of the great injustices in Indian cricket is that the one ball that Srinath deserved to have bowled in his career was delivered by Venkatesh Prasad. (You know the one. 1996 World Cup. Aamer Sohail smashes a Prasad special home delivery for four and then makes an arrogant gesture at the bowler. The very next ball an enraged Prasad runs up and, without any warning, refuses to pick Aamer Sohail for an IPL team. The Pakistani is devastated.)

But still there is one element of Srinath's 11-year-long international career that I have a grouse with.

Over the last 14 or so years Srinath has been single-handedly responsible for my wasting hundreds of precious man-hours watching the last few overs of cricket matches half-hoping India will grab victory from the jaws of unavoidable defeat.

Or that some form of power cut, rain, sandstorm or DDCA ingenuity will call off a match at the last possible moment before defeat and Duckworth-Lewis.

These desperation scenarios often call on India to score 60 runs in the last four overs, with Sreesanth being the only regulation batsman left. Or they involve opponents needing 10 runs with three overs and seven wickets to spare.

Your local cricket cynic - and this is a compulsory vacancy in offices - has already laughed off India's chances in that whiny, irritating voice. Publicly you laugh along with him and say things like "Traitors! Can only act in ads!" or "One billion people and you pick Joginder?!" or "Buy them all some Musli Power, I say!"

But that is an act. A ruse. For public consumption.

In reality, deep inside, you want to gently call the cynic to one corner and redecorate the conference-room wall with his face.

 
 
Who can forget that emotional end to the match, with Kumble's family in the stands? Who can forget Srinath's 30 runs off 23 balls? Who can possibly forget that stupendous six Srinath hit off an Australian bowler I cannot recall right now?
 

This is all because of one unforgettable god-awesome innings by Srinath and Kumble in Bangalore in 1996. Ever since that wonderment, it is impossible to sit through the most one-sided, pre-determined, un-winnable match without secretly hoping for an Indian miracle. I am cursed with this foolish optimism. And, come on admit it, so are you.

Who can forget that superb partnership? Who can forget that emotional end to the match, with Kumble's family in the stands? Who can forget Srinath's 30 runs off 23 balls? Who can possibly forget that stupendous six Srinath hit off an Australian bowler I cannot recall right now?

Most people, that's who. Because almost everyone I know had given up on that Titan Cup match long before Srinath and Kumble pulled off the impossible. They'd all switched off the TV and gone to bed confident that, at 164 for 8, India had absolutely no chance of getting to 216 in the remaining eight.

I remember that night as if it were yesterday. At first the Vadukuts were gung-ho after India restricted Australia to a paltry 215. Victory looked imminent. But then India started batting. Wickets tumbled. Grandparents mumbled. Cousins grumbled. But I held firm and my confidence never stumbled. (Ahem.)

But when he got out after making 88, there was no more hope. Everyone went to bed. Except me. I figured the match would end in minutes anyhow. Might as well see the presentation ceremony before turning in. Like any true cricket connoisseur.

A few overs later I was running around the house screaming like a banshee, trying to wake everyone up. Several older Vadukuts had near-strokes. The rest stood around open-mouthed. What a win that was. A win that truly made you believe that a match just ain't over till Arun Lal has made the presentation.

Kumble was exceptional of course. But the true surprise in that match was Srinath. Usually Srinath batted with the fluency of a train wreck. But on that day... well, he still batted like a train wreck. Yet victory was ours.

And now, in 2010, I still can't get up and leave a match till the every end. What if? What if Munaf does it? Or Nehra? I know, I know. It's impossible. But still...

Sidin Vadukut is the managing editor of Livemint.com. He blogs at Domain Maximus. His first novel, Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese is out now

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Sidin Vadukut
Sidin Vadukut has been writing extensively about cricket since he started writing this column for ESPNcricinfo. He comes from a family of footballers, who all nurture virulent hate for cricket in general and Basit Ali in particular. Vadukut is the author of the Dork trilogy of office-culture humour novels. By day he is a columnist and editor with business daily Mint. At night, depending on when he gets off work, he goes home or fights crime. His favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. By which he means Sachin Tendulkar. Jai Hind.

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Sidin VadukutClose
Sidin Vadukut has been writing extensively about cricket since he started writing this column for ESPNcricinfo. He comes from a family of footballers, who all nurture virulent hate for cricket in general and Basit Ali in particular. Vadukut is the author of the Dork trilogy of office-culture humour novels. By day he is a columnist and editor with business daily Mint. At night, depending on when he gets off work, he goes home or fights crime. His favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. By which he means Sachin Tendulkar. Jai Hind.
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