From the moment Javagal Srinath announced his arrival on the international scene, taking 3 for 59 in Australia's first innings at the Gabba in the 1991-92 tour, the belief was that he would take over from Kapil Dev as India's strike bowler. It was a huge ask, and while there were periods when performance didn't quite match expectations, Srinath's 11-year career had its share of high points.
The first of those was at Cape Town
in 1992-93, when Srinath tore through the South African top order, dismissing Kepler Wessels, Andrew Hudson, Hansie Cronje and Daryll Cullinan to return magnificent figures of 27-10-33-4. It didn't quite win India the match, but his hostile spell got him his first Man of the Match award, and more importantly, suggested that India had at last discovered a genuine fast-bowling talent.
Srinath didn't better that effort in his next 11 Tests, though - a period when question marks were raised about his ability to deliver on the early promise. Then came another Test series against South Africa - this time at home - and Srinath's first matchwinning performance - 6 for 21 on an Ahmedabad dustbowl
, which swung a close Test India's way.
In fact, like most of the top fast bowlers from the subcontinent, Srinath revelled more in home conditions, averaging 26.61 in India and 33.76 abroad - a difference of more than seven points. His greatest performance
in a Test match came at home too, at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, when he singlehandedly wrecked the Pakistan batting with figures of 5 for 46 and 8 for 86 (match haul of 13 for 132). As was the case so often in Srinath's career, though, his display wasn't enough to win India the match. Lack of support from the other end and Saeed Anwar's classy unbeaten 188 secured Pakistan a famous victory, leaving Srinath with only the joint Man of the Match prize for consolation.
That was a story which repeated itself often: of the ten five-wicket hauls he took in 67 Tests, only two translated into Indian wins. Apart from the Ahmedabad triumph, the only other occasion when Srinath's five-for won India the match was at Delhi
against Zimbabwe in 2000-01.
The later years hardly suggest it, but in his early days Srinath was extremely handy with the bat too. His average reached a peak of 25 (after his 19th Test) and stayed above 20 till his 21st. On the tour to New Zealand in 1998-99 he notched up a fine 76 at Hamilton
, but that remained his highest score, and the last of his four half-centuries. The batting slump began soon after: in 22 Tests starting from the tour to Australia in 1999-2000, Srinath mustered a mere 125 runs, with not a single 20-plus score. The batting form came back in his last Test series, though, with 137 coming from four innings at home against West Indies in 2002-03.
Srinath made no bones about his dislike for the ODIs, but given the opportunity to bowl in seamer-friendly conditions in New Zealand (in the five-match series) and South Africa (in the World Cup), he excelled. His last 18 ODIs fetched him 34 wickets at less than 17.
By opting to retire just before the Australian tour, though, Srinath has denied himself the opportunity to rectify a huge blot in his resume: in eight Tests in Australia, he has managed 20 wickets at 50.70, figures that hardly do justice to the man.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.