Remembering Mahendra – Tribute to an Unknown, Unassuming and Unplayable Fast man

The beads of perspiration that painstakingly formed on my forehead before slowly trickling down the face were more to do with the nervous anticipation than the sweltering heat generated by a blazing sun. As I made sure that I was reasonably aware of the exact position of my off-stump (for what might have been the umpteenth time, there being no umpire to help me in this endeavour), the bowler beset with a sense of growing unease and understandable impatience stood with hands on hips and hurled a steely glare in my direction. Possessing a barrel for a chest and boulders for biceps, the tall and strapping lad with the cherry in hand was an intimidating sight. His hair was closely cropped and stood on their ends like tiny porcupine quills that were reluctant to attain their standard and acceptable measure. With a quasi-sadistic view to heighten my sense of intimidation, the bowler turned away from his bowling mark and with an ominous sense of purpose, increased the distance from where he would come hurtling in. It was going to be nothing short of a baptism by fire. After what might seem to have been an eternity, I finally turned towards my opponent, crouched a bit and anxiously began tapping my willow on the ground. The man with the ball in hand started his run-up with measured ease and with long loping strides gathered speed and momentum as he glided into his delivery stride. The right palm that held the ball firmly in its grasp was grotesquely huge and the enveloping fingers long and sturdy. At the point of delivery, the left arm was raised, neither too high nor too very low and the right arm came into position nice and easy and released the ball in a swinging arch that was in tandem with an appreciative loose limbed leap. The ball after pitching reared off a good length and before I could even get into position to essay a protective stroke, came hissing at me with pure and undisguised venom, rapping me heinously and hard right on the thumb!

Emitting an involuntary howl and throwing the bat away, I tried flexing the tormented part of the anatomy gauging the probabilities of a potential break. Even though I was fortunate enough to have come off with a nasty bruise that transformed into an ugly clot the suffering was explicit and severe. Spurred on by a sense of foolish bravado, I decided to remain at the crease. After 8 unconvincing, uncomfortable and ungainly runs, I spooned a rare loosener delivered by my tormentor, straight into the safe hands of a gleeful mid-off. No batsman ever would have been as much relieved as yours truly to have abdicated such an abject stay at the crease. At the end of the game, the fierce fast man offered me his commiserations and also had an appreciative word or two for what I honestly felt, was a display of silly gumption. Not only had I faced Mahendra, but I had also managed to glean some respect out of him!
Hailing from a district situated at a distance of 100 kilometres from Bangalore, Mahendra was born and bought up in a modest household. Never one to be shackled or bogged down by the rigours of academics, Mahendra hardly ever used to make the grades in school and was a constant and consistent headache for family and the fraternity of teachers alike. However, when it came to manipulating a cricket ball, he had no parallel. Apparently his only stated purpose of existence was to bowl and keep on bowling till kingdom come.

Unpretentious and unassuming he had no coach to teach him the nuances of either nip and tuck or swing and seam. He perfected his bowling action by bowling for an interminably long number of hours day after day and week after week at anybody who would be willing to wield a willow against him. Since there was an understandable scarcity of volunteers, Mahendra was often times a solitary figure running in against and with the wind to keep hurling the ball against a stone compound wall adjacent to the school campus. He could not be bothered whether the seam was upright or scrambled. He had no notion whatsoever of the difference between a ball swinging into the pads (or the bare legs as was the case invariably) of the batsman or the one moving away tantalisingly past the outstretched edge of a flailing blade. In fact at times, during the non-availability of leather balls, the unimaginatively titled ‘cork’ balls used to be in employ. Bereft of a seam, these hard solid red fiends had the unerring capability to imperil batsmen in multifarious ways. The absence of basic protective gear such as abdominal guards for example could have the unenviable effect of terminating a whole lineage of a family with an unfortunate batsman! One more fascinating aspect that I learnt over the course of an enriching friendship with Mahendra was the fact that he did not believe in the concept of having a fixed run-up! The concept of a bowling mark was a veritable misnomer and an absolutely nebulous notion. If he felt like engaging in a bout of intimidation, the run-up was accordingly extended. On days of disinterest and disinclination (which were very rare and restricted to those where he was slightly indisposed), there was a dramatic shortening of the run-up to the crease! However Mahendra could generate considerable pace even from a short and curtailed run. Rumours had it that on a couple of occasions, Mahendra had clocked up such a searing pace that he was responsible for the breaking of a couple of gingery bats! Though I was not privileged enough to witness this extraordinary incident, I firmly believe that it is more of a fable than a fact. Mahendra himself though, diplomatically has neither affirmed nor disputed this claim!

Entreaties and impassioned pleas from kindred souls to for an enrolment at a decent coaching centre at Mysore elicited no action. Though he would listen to our arguments with rapt attention, nodding his head at frequent intervals, the ‘porcupine’ never considered such a prospect to be appealing. He was contented doing what he had taught himself and he also had this baffling notion that all coaches would be merely cantankerous task masters. Using the physical instructor of our school as a sphere of influence was also an exercise in futility as Mahendra did not find the timid soul to be a catalyst that could rouse him from his self-imposed mental slumber. In my humble opinion of the dissuading factors could have been a trouble which he had over the English language and about which he felt extremely uncomfortable and regarding which he was overtly conscious. Being an avid cricketer himself, it was an unbelievable fact that he religiously shunned watching cricket matches on television. He would instead spend time aimlessly wandering the streets near his residence accumulating company of various hues and cries, some tolerable and the majority, undesirable.

As I completed my schooling and shifted base to the Garden City of Bangalore, I lost touch with this splendid character. Internet and instant messaging were concepts about the advent of which we had little or no prescience. However a few months ago, an old acquaintance called to inform that Mahendra had met with a horrific road accident and was paralysed below the waist. It was unthinkable to envisage this effervescent cricketer and more importantly, an exuberant personality being confined to the four corners of a bed. Friends who knew him sensed that it would only a matter of time before the dignified spirit and the dour self-esteem would be replaced by a sense of despondency and dread. Unfortunately the naysayers and doomsday prophets were right in their prediction as soon afterwards Mahendra developed some serious complications and decided to end his earthly sojourn. He was all of 35 years old.
With the requisite coaching and thrust Mahendra might or might not have matured into a cricketer of merit with a genuine prospect of making it to higher levels. Since most of the cricket played by us as kids was in the hinterlands without much exposure to cricket and cricketers of more illustrious and bigger cities, Mahendra as a fast bowler might even have been an exaggerated figment of an overworked collective imagination. Maybe the warmth he exuded and the bond of friendship that he shared might have clouded many a rational judgement and lent a personal bias that might have accentuated his feats with the ball. But there was no doubt that when it came to passion, practice and performance, there could be few who were as genuine as this affable ‘porcupine’.

All those batsmen of repute who have already met their Maker better be ready as they might be jolted out of their reverie of complacency. And the willows they employ up above better be sturdy and strong! RIP CHAMP! YOU WERE THE BEST!

Hughes

“Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play” – Mike Singletary

Philip Joel Hughes was given an opportunity to play, and play he did! He played the life affirming sport that he not merely loved but lived. He played, insouciant to the inherent perils, inevitable praises and the intimidating pitfalls. On the 27th of November 2014 Phil Hughes made an untimely and entirely unexpected transition – a heart wrenching transition that shocked and ravaged the very soul of this precious game. A transition that mercilessly led to this bristling talent being referred to in a past tense just when a beautiful future beckoned.

But still such time he was felled by that ominous, yet innocuous looking bouncer, the young lad played. Unorthodox in style and unconstrained in stroke making, he enthralled and enlivened friend and foe alike. The fact that he was not devoid of limitations was nullified by the fact that he played within and despite any obvious and apparent flaws. For Phil Hughes knew that he played, therefore he was there. The cold contrivance of fate and an attempted forceful stroke that was a fraction of a second late has ensured that Hughes is lost forever to the cricketing world. This was a stroke which this gifted cricketer would have essayed a million times in the ordinary course of tenure at the crease. However when he attempted the hook against Sean Abbot, after having made a solid 63, destiny had other ideas. It was a score that was reserved for posterity, permanence and preservation. Now we all realize that Philip Hughes was meant to be 63 Not Out until perpetuity, not a run more and not a run less. It is only that we will never accept the occurrence. While the inescapability of mortality is purely acceptable, in this particular instance it is the isolated manner that causes intolerable grief and uncontrolled anger.

Not since the immortal Archie Jackson was taken away in his pristine prime, has the death of a young cricketer evoked such passionate and poignant feelings (notwithstanding the absolute tragedy befalling India’s prodigious youth cricket Dhruv Pandove). Today tributes the lengths of the Nile are flowing in from all corners of the world. While some are melodramatic, others are beautifully minimalist. A most evocative one being the beautifully austere scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval displaying just the name of Philip Hughes. But they all are united in their purpose and intent – celebrating the short albeit memorable career of a cricketer, a sportsman, a colleague and a son.

Sean Anthony Abbot was also given an opportunity to play, and play he did as well! By a wretched quirk of circumstance, he has also delivered the ominous, yet innocuous looking bouncer that felled his friend and countryman. But the greatest tribute that Sean Abbot can pay to Philip Hughes would be to continue to play – to play the game that has made him what he is and to play the game that will define what he will be. Sean Abbot faces the sternest test of his character, mettle and nerves. We all hope and pray that this promising fast bowler will face the winds of change head on and succeed by resorting to the method which was the hall mark of his departed friend – PLAY ON!

Philip Joel Hughes – THANK YOU & REST IN PEACE!

The Strange Death of English Leg Spin: How Cricket’s Finest Art Was Given Away – Justin Parkinson

Spin

“Four hundred wickets is 400 more than I thought I’d get” – Shane Keith Warne

The Blonde God of leg spin with his mesmerizing machinations went on to add a few more wickets to the tally of 400 before finally calling his innings a close. During the period that he set the cricketing world alight,there was an aura of invincibility firmly attached to his craft and a myth of dangerous proportions alluring his variety.

However the phenom from Down Under was by no means the pioneering purveyor of this glorious cricketing art. As Justin Parkinson goes to great lengths to clarify in his meticulously researched book, leg spin first reared its uncertain head in the Old Blighty. Popularised by the indefatigable B.J.T.Bosanquet (to whom the words “google” and “Chinaman” are attributed, albeit incorrectly), taken to new heights by the immortal Sidney Francis Barnes, leg spin bowling made its mark in England way before it was taken up in earnest by the world in general and Australia in particular. Before the dreaded duo of Clarie Grimmett and Bill “Tiger” O’ Reilly hounded hapless batsmen with their devious spin, inveterate toilers in English cricket had already perfected this Seemingly Mephistophelean bowling form.

That being the case what was it that triggered a plummeting decline in the fortunes of English leg spin bowling? A decline that now has England scrambling all over to even find a solitary leg spinner of acceptable caliber and worthy contention. In this book of valuable importance, Parkinson strives to arrive at the very root of the malaise. He reveals that a deplorable combination of mindset, methods and match conditions contrived together over a span of many years to lead England firmly onto the road to perdition.

Add internecine political wranglings, favouritism and a rigid stereotypical mindset and there emerges a roiling recipe fit for absolute and unmitigated disaster. The lamentable injustice done to the likes of “Tich” Freeman (ignored for most part of his career in spite of a first class haul of 3776 wickets) and Chris Schofield (dropped after a single Test Match) being classic cases in point.

The author also provides a few remedial measures to get the lost art back into recognition by suggestion a revival of the game Twisti-Twosti (a game involving the use of billiards balls on felt/baize that require cocked wrists, and a game that incidentally led Bosanquet to perfect the ‘Bosie’ a.k.a Googly) and a more concerted action on the part of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Meanwhile, the first Ashes Test has culminated in a resounding victory for England. But in a small footnote marring the body of victory, while Moeen Ali played the game (and with distinction at that), there was no room for the leg spinning potential, Adil Usman Rashid of Yorkshire and England.

VIRAT KOHLI – THE MONOPOLISTIC SUPPLIER OF A BILLION DEMANDS

Al Capone once said, “I am like any other man.  All I do is supply a demand”. Virat Kohli seems to echo the sentiments of this legendary and notorious persona, albeit in situations that are more circumspect and sober. The stylish Indian Number 3 has of late morphed into a universally acknowledged monopolistic supplier of demands involving improbable run chases. Seemingly insurmountable targets in the shorter and shortest formats of the game are battered down by Kohli and the impossible transforms into the inevitable. A clinical demonstration of this extraordinary ability put paid to the ambitions of an Afridi led Pakistani side which was hoping to end their wretched jinx of having never defeated their arch rivals in a World Cup encounter. As the dust settled down at the magnificent Eden Gardens and the victors retired to celebrate, the vanquished were left licking their wounds and rue over a statistical incongruity which read 11-0.

However there is absolutely nothing incongruous about the way in which Kohli goes about his cricket. There is a refreshing joie de vivre with which this marauding yet assured phenomenon goes about dismantling his opponents with a cricket bat. Like a master artisan meticulously sculpting a masterpiece, Kohli has a patented method to his lethal madness. A method that massacred Malinga and Sri Lanka at Hobart; decimated George Bailey’s Australians at Jaipur; took the wind out of the collective Bangladeshi sails in the Asia Cup finals; and ran roughshod over a bunch of gregarious Pakistanis at Eden Gardens.

Having miserably crumbled to New Zealand in their home opener, India, even if not tottering, was in an extremely uncomfortable position having lost 3 wickets for only 23 runs. Having put into bat in a match curtailed by rain to 18 overs, Pakistan had garnered 118 difficult runs on a pitch that resembled more a treacherous mine field than a pristine featherbed that is usually the preserve of T20 games these days. Ashwin and Jadeja got the ball to turn square and at right angles. Hence it was something of a mystery when the Indian skipper decided not to back their spinners to complete their full quota of overs. An obdurate partnership involving Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal ensured that the Pakistani bowlers had a semblance of a competitive target to bowl with.

The Indian reply did not exactly follow the script when the extremely talented, but incorrigibly complacent Rohit Sharma had departed first after Shoaib Malik poached a mistimed skier off Mohammed Aamir. An inexplicably scratchy and tentative Shikhar Dhawan soon followed suit playing a fast Mohammed Sami delivery back onto his stumps. And when Suresh Raina, struggling for proper form was castled first ball not only was Sami on a hat-trick, India’s impeccable record of having never lost to their arch rivals in a World Cup encounter was being seriously imperiled. 23-3 and the momentum was totally with the guests. An added historical fact of Pakistan having never lost a game at the Eden Gardens seemed to have bestowed on them an infectious spurt. Yuvraj Singh joined Virat Kohli at the crease and managed to safely negotiate the hat-trick delivery.

Embodying the resolve of the indefatigable Michael “Terminator” Bevan and the unique assuredness of one of the best finishers of the game, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli decided to take matters into his own hands. Initially proceeding to work the ball both sides of the wicket, Kohli put his fabulous wrists to magisterial use by deftly flicking and driving the ball. A beautifully timed pull off Wahab Riaz through the mid wicket region provided a much needed release from the pressure that had enveloped the Indian batting. This was soon followed by the first six of the Indian innings when going down on one knee; Kohli slog swept Shoaib Malik to send the ball soaring high over the square leg boundary. The maestro was just beginning to warm up to yet another challenge. A breathtaking inside out shot that burnt the blades of grass at cover before thudding into the boundary provided ample testimony to the sheer class epitomizing the wrist work of Kohli. Spotting the length of the delivery in a flash, Kohli using lithe and nimble footwork employed his wrists in devastating fashion slapping the ball past the cover region. However the shot of the day was to follow soon. Mohammed Aamir was reintroduced into the bowling attack to dislodge a partnership that was attaining dangerous proportions. To a ball pitched slightly outside the off-stump, Kohli displaying the full face of the bat, timed the delivery exquisitely, placed it to perfection, before dispatching the ball to the cover boundary. Time seemed to stand still paying homage to an imperious genius in imperial form. Kohli however was not bent upon impressing a phalanx of Gods. He was paying his tribute to the one preceptor whom he revered and the only God whom he worshipped – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The greatest batsman the world has been grateful to witness since the Bradman era, acknowledged this honour with equanimity and pride as he applauded his protégé’s accomplishments from the stands. Another inside out shot with a predominant bottom hand whipping the ball towards the cover boundary brought Kohli near the brink of a landmark half century. When he attained the milestone, the rafters at the Eden Gardens came down in a thunderous chorus of approbation as thousands of fans gave vent to their feelings of euphoria.

Yuvraj Singh after essaying an innings of impact had departed the stage, but not before sending a ball sailing over the mid wicket boundary for a vintage Yuvraj six. His innings of 24 was punctuated by a six and a four each. By the time Kohli reached his 50, the target was whittled down to a mere 14 runs. As is the custom towards which M S Dhoni seems to possess a religious addiction, a towering six followed by a single finished the game off with 2 overs and a delivery to spare.

Yet again Virat Kohli had proved his mettle. Combining a Zen like tranquility with a controlled fury finding expression in an exuberant array of regal stroke making Kohli had once again drilled home the fact that when it comes to chasing down targets, his presence and performance was an indispensable factor. The progress of India and the performance of Kohli were now two factors that had an inextricable nexus between them incapable of being severed. An anomaly against New Zealand found its atonement against Pakistan. However, lest we forget this is just the beginning. Not only during the course of this World Cup, but long into the future, weighty demands will be ceaselessly placed on the sturdy shoulders of this great batsman in whom Sir Vivian Richards saw shades of himself. The demands will be relentless, rigorous and remorseless. But there is every reason to believe that Virat Kohli will deliver. The monopoly is under no threat and the supply stream shows no sign of abating!

IN KOHLI WE TRUST!

The Wrath of Virat Kohli

During the course of a magnificent, marauding and merciless century which took the wind out of the collective sails of the Sri Lankans at Hobart, when Virat Kohli essayed a powerful cover drive, an impressed Ian Chappell exclaimed that this stylish right handed batsman had a bit of ‘swagger’ about him. The former Australian cricket captain undoubtedly knew what he was talking about as during his playing days he himself was not bereft of a ‘swagger’ or two! Virat Kohli, the enfant terrible of Indian cricket, though not boastful of an imperious ‘swagger’, such as epitomized by the incomparable Sir Vivian Richards, has sans a semblance of doubt created a strong impression during his short and illustrious tenure on the cricketing field till date as a fiery competitor and a fascinating cricketer.

An ‘in-your-face cricketer, who firmly believes in the tried and tested adage of ‘an eye for an eye’, Virat Kohli exudes self belief and has in his repertoire an abundance of determination and fortitude along with an envious armoire of searing drives and controlled pulls. Whether it be mouthing expletives after the completion of a century (a fact which provoked the original little Master Sunil Gavaskar to complain that Kohli had a ‘school-boy temperament’), or giving a bunch of hostile and taunting spectators the ‘middle finger’ salute, Kohli’s actions and antiques convey neither a contrived effort nor a casual aberration. Giving  an impression of possessing taut nerves of steel, Kohli is like a coiled serpent which at the least provocation would bare its venomous fangs and strike with extreme rage. Controversy, to this extraordinary bundle of talent is as natural as the exhilarating strokeplay that he employs to thrill millions across the length and breadth of the globe. The former Under 19 World Cup winning captain does not seem to believe in either remorse or repentance, but only in consequences. The inappropriate gestures, the irascible flood of obscenities in combination with the incredible array of batting firepower, are all but mere means to achieve the more important and permanent end. An end which for this temperamental youngster is nothing less than a victory for his team.

His philosophy of aggression is implemented with singular conviction in every facet of his game. The never-say-die attitude is reflected in every elbow grazing dive, maniacal running between the wickets, lobbing some innocuous but wary lollipops as a part-timer, spectacular lunges to get his hands on a flying ball leaving him spread eagled on the ground, and also in every kick of disgust and a lamentful holding of a hand upon his head whenever his tenure at the crease comes to an end. The end of every single dismissal, for this remarkable cricketer is, in his convinced mind, a pre-mature termination of a knock, irrespective of whether he is yet to get off the mark or has blitzed a breathtaking hundred! This hungry and wolfish attitude, has certainly gone a long way in raising the standard of Virat Kohli as a batsman, and more importantly as a cricketer.

This is a man for whom playing the game that he loves and playing it in the way in which he feels is the best way to do it, constitutes  a veritable douceur de vivre. Some stellar statistics, especially in the shorter version of the game also provide ample testimony to the fact that the performances of this mercurial cricketer are in no way restricted merely to his antiques. Boasting a commendable average and an inspiring strike rate, he at times, has combined with a perpetrator in crime, and at others, produced solo virtuoso performances to bestow India with some memorable wins. So when he pummeled, pulverized and put to sword, a stupefied Sri Lankan bowling attack in general and a pole-axed Lasith Malinga in particular, on his way to a match winning, undefeated knock of 133 off only 86 deliveries, the cricketing world would have been forgiven for being stunned but not for an expression of surprise!

Even though the blitzkrieg at Hobart might not be enough for India to make the finals of  the Commonwealth Bank series, Virat Kohli’s veritable objet d’art has left no one in doubt that a part of the future of Indian cricket is bright and boisterous. It is a unique part indeed, for, in addition to possessing a middle finger, an occasional mohawk, a good deal of wrath, and a motor mouth, it also has ‘masterclass’ written all over it!

Rahul Dravid and the Assurance Factor

On an overcast August day in the year 2002 at Headingly, Leeds, Sourav Ganguly won the toss and, much to the bewilderment of experts and laymen alike, choose to bat. The skeptics seemed to be justified in their dissent with such a move when the explosive Virender Sehwag perished after notching up eight measly runs. When the naysayers were wrinkling their noses and rubbing their hands, out strode Rahul Dravid wrapped in a jumper to ward off the biting cold and also with a clear mandate to thwart an upbeat and encouraged English attack. What followed next was an unbelievable story to revel in and to store for posterity. In the company of a brave but inexperienced Sanjay Bangar, Dravid provided an exhilarating and exemplary exhibition of the art of facing, and equally the art of leaving a cricket ball! Swing, seam and spin were negotiated with equal equanimity and sharply-rearing deliveries were either played with soft hands or allowed to thud into the body. When his epic innings finally terminated at a gritty 148, it was a job admirably well done and a job that provided an assurance of victory.

Cricketing greats have graced this pristine game with factors and attributes that have been their prerogative. While players such as the legendary Sir Vivian Richards, and the famous fast bowling quartet of the West Indies evoked a fear factor in the opponents, class acts such as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara instilled a sense of awe amongst competitors and comrades alike. With Dravid it is the singularly unique factor of assurance that has endeared him to millions of admirers across the globe. An assurance that the broad blade will come down upon delivery after delivery with candour, courage and conviction; an assurance that once he has marked his guard, the crease will be his for the taking for an inordinately prolonged duration; an assurance that deliveries pitched just millimeters outside the off-stump would not be met by a fishing willow, but by a broad opening up of the arms or by an expansive leave; an assurance that the players in the dressing room can put up their legs, relax and enjoy the beautiful technique of batting; an assurance that magnificent and mediocre bowling would be meted out the same treatment and the respect which they respectively deserve; an assurance that the crouch at slips would invariably result in a safe poaching of a ball that has ended its fleeting tryst with  an edge; an assurance that the need for a specialist glove-man can be compensated with a makeshift, but honest wicket-keeper to accommodate the proverbial extra batsman or bowler!

The sight of Rahul Dravid pressing down his helmet to allow a rivulet of accumulated sweat to stream down has now become part of the cricketing folklore. Possessing unbelievable amounts of concentration (a fact which would be wholeheartedly endorsed by an army of fatigued bowlers around the world), Dravid has more often than not been an insurance against catastrophe for India. Reveling in moments of crisis, he has on innumerable occasions put his hand up and ensured that his team wriggles out of a seemingly impossible entanglement. He has also put up his hand with a willow in it to acknowledge adulation and applause on many a memorable occasion. Instances of Dravid warming the cockles of a plethora of hearts with his staggering deeds are too numerous to recount. And his heroics with VVS Laxman – his perpetrator-in-crime at the Eden Gardens and at the Adelaide Oval – represent stuff that legends are made of.

It is also totally unnecessary to either sing his paeans or account for his accomplishments as doing so would merely mean stating the obvious. He has also distinguished himself severely as a gentlemanly cricketer and a great ambassador of the game by always exhibiting an impeccable behaviour both on and off the field – an added assurance that controversies and chaos would never ever be part of a repertoire of flowing drives, controlled pulls and delectable cuts. A purist’s delight and a purveyor of the textbook style of batting, Dravid’s tenures at the crease have more often than not been a reflection of the resilience of a Rocky Balboa, the intuitiveness of an Inspector John Rebus and the instinct of a Holmes (Sherlock and not Percy!). It is a moot point to ponder as to whether Rahul Dravid would have been the best batsman India has ever produced, but for the simple presence of a phenom going by the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Even with a bounty of laurels to his credit, it would not be an exaggeration to state that this unassuming and formidable cricketer has spent the best part of his career under the shadows of the illustrious Mumbaikar, and has on more occasions than one been relegated to being an unsung hero.

Being the human that he is, Dravid has also not been bereft of the attendant frailties and flaws. Though a keen and avid reader of the game, this great student has not able to metamorphose into a master. As a captain and a leader of men, even though not an abject failure, Dravid has not matched up to the standards of either an aggressive Ganguly or an astute Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A controversial declaration leaving Tendulkar stranded on 194 against Pakistan irked an entire nation and made for a stirring debate. In the shorter version of the game, Dravid has copped criticism (at times unjustified and unfair) for not having the ability to up the ante when needed. The non-selection from the historic World Cup winning squad of 2011 must have hurt his pride no end. However, frailties and imperfect contradictions play a vital role in enhancing the perspective about an individual and in unearthing his/her real characteristic traits.

The man who narrowly missed scoring a century on debut at the Mecca of cricket, has indeed come a long way. An unwavering determination, an unflappable temperament and an unbelievable technique spanning more than a decade and a half represents a selfless service to Indian cricket. This messianic cricketer, who abhorred flamboyance and flourish for effectiveness and efficacy, has now decided that the time has come to bid farewell to the game. The famed assurance factor now has found a permanent place in the cricketing hall of fame.

Maybe Dravid decided that it was time when many a delivery mischievously found a gap in a defence, hitherto impregnable, to kiss the stumps; maybe he felt that the ball bouncing off his once ”as-safe-as-a-house” hands was an indicator that a different professional career was on the anvil; or maybe the great man sincerely felt that he had given enough of his blood, sweat and tears for the cause of the game. Whatever the reason, only a cricketing illiterate would dispute the fact that Dravid has done enough and more for the game which he has dearly loved and lived. The sight of this fascinating batsman striding in to bat at the position which he has made his own, along with the likes of Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis will now be one for the archives. However, in a queer way, even while departing from the game, the illustrious Dravid has left behind an assurance factor; an assurance that perhaps he is the only one of his kind – with none before and none to follow.

The redoubtable ‘Wall’ might have been battered, bruised and bleached, but it has always given an assurance and stood by it that it would never ever be broken down. And as it has finally decided to shift itself from the view of many a relieved bowler, every single brick therein stands unblemished with pride, passion and dignity!

Rahul Sharad Dravid, Thank you!

Shivnarine Chanderpaul – A Blind Watchmaker but never Dobell’s ‘Selfish Gene’

The erudite and extremely readable George Dobell, in an insightful piece has gone on to describe Shivnarine Chanderpaul as not only a dogged batsman, but also as one possessing a selfish gene. In the said piece titled “Selfish gene fails shallow talent pool”, Mr.Dobell has also cited a few instances supposedly lending credence to the selfish gene argument. Such instances are predominantly gleaned from the first day’s play in the ongoing Test Match at Lord’s where the men from the Caribbean are now in an all too familiar spot of bother (at least as I am penning this). I did have the unexpected but extremely privileged fortune of being a spectator soaking in the hallowed atmosphere that is the sole prerogative of the Mecca of cricket on this very day. Whilst I claim myself to be neither a Chanderpaul fanatic, nor a Dobell critic, I would, with due respect to Mr. Dobell, try and refute his arguments on the basis of both the happenings on the first day’s play and almost two decades of maniacal cricket watching.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, in the current unenviable West Indian set-up is one rock solid boulder amidst an extremely unstable and fluid collection of pebbles. Application at the crease has been his unquestionable forte and as Mr.Dobell himself is wont to believe, he is one batsman who just hates to throw his wicket away. A batsman who puts such a heavy and almost extortionist price on his wicket is sans a semblance of a doubt a priceless asset to be possessed. Here neither Mr.Dobell nor yours truly have an axe to grind against each other as we both seem to be standing on a mutual admiration pedestal. Chanderpaul is indeed the proverbial cockroach which gets smashed, swept and savaged, but never dies, at least not without putting up a remarkable resistance.

Let us now come to the point where Mr.Dobell dwells about Chanderpaul leaving Bravo stranded and more importantly being the instrument of catastrophe when it comes to running between the wickets. As per the statistics quoted by Mr.Dobell, Chanderpaul has had the ignominy of being involved in 23 run-outs where he has been the suffering party on only 3 occasions. Thus on 20 ocassions in Test Match cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been the harbinger of doom for his batting partners. Does this statistic in itself make Chanderpaul selfish? If that were to be the case then the most selfish batsman the game has ever seen would be the legendary Steve Waugh. This redoubtable Australian master class has been a nightmare for his batting partners not only in Test Match cricket, but also in the shorter form of the game. In Tests, while Steve Waugh was involved in 27 run-outs  his partner was run out a whopping 23 times, which means that  Waugh was dismissed on just four occasions. When it comes to one-day internationals the record only gets more garish – Waugh’s involvement in run-outs is on 77 occasions with his partner being left stranded 50 times! So much for being the “Iceman”! The history of cricket abounds with many such players. Even the great K.S.Ranjitsinhji was not bereft of this ignominy. Does it make the champion batsman selfish? I emphatically think not!

Now coming to the second argument of Chanderpaul exposing Fidel Edwards to the guile of Stuart Broad in the last over of the day. The state of the current West Indian batting line-up is such that, there are quite a few batsmen who need to be protected against quality bowling, whether it be pace or spin. Even assuming Chanderpaul had cleverly palmed the strike and faced Broad, it was only a matter of time before Edwards would have faced some bowling. That moment would have come eventually. There is no way that Chanderpaul can either bat from both ends or grab a single off the last ball of an over with the consistency befitting that of a metronome! The act of Chanderpaul leaving Edwards to face Broad, hence does not reflect upon the selfishness of the former. On the contrary it portrays in a starkly naked vein the brittleness that is the hall-mark of the present West Indian batting line-up. while Chanderpaul would be willing to face the first, middle and final overs in a day, his team’s cause will never be furthered if there is none to support him at the other end.

Yet another argument advanced by Mr.Dobell is with reference to the position at which Chanderpaul has to wield his willow. While it brooks no argument that West Indian prospects of a good batting total would be enhanced with the entry of Chanderpaul at No.3, which would allow this unique southpaw to face more deliveries, such a move might come to naught if the rest of the batsmen flatter to deceive. Irrespective of the position in which Chanderpaul bats, he cannot be the ever reliable and ever dependable Knight in shining armour. The fact that this dour and gritty batsman still boasts an average of above 50 in Test Match cricket and dons the mantle of the best batsman in the world bears ample testimony to his selfless service to his nation. Also if the West Indian team management feels that the ideal position for Chanderpaul to bat, in the interests of his country, would be No.3, then logic dictates that the fact should be conveyed to him in a direct and emphatic manner. The player that he is, it is hard to envisage a refusal emanating from him.

The bane dogging West Indian cricket seems to be a combination of things. An unrelenting Cricket Board, an unwavering set of players in rebellion, and an unreliable infrastructure for encouraging the game at the grass root level. Where the cause is systemic, the consequence would obviously be systematic. This is highlighted in a classical manner by the fact that a precocious talent of West Indian cricketers are peddling their wares in the ongoing IPL, instead of plying their talents for enhancing their nation’s cause in England. Till such time the internecine conflicts between the Board and the players remain unresolved, the fortunes of West Indian cricket will remain uninspiring and insipid.

Till such a revolution happens, one selfless batsman will continue to keep his head high, place a proudly beating heart on his sleeve, wear war paint under his eyes, mark his guard by beating a hapless bail into the ground, and continue to frustrate the best in the business by unpretentiously doing what he just loves and never tires of doing – plunder runs, more runs, still more runs and lot more runs.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, is not a selfish gene but a blind watch maker who irrespective of the tumult and turmoil going on around him continues to fix a badly broken watch, and in the process remaining timeless himself.