Monday, February 22, 2010

Srinath- The lion hearted Indian quick bowler

If we look at the history of Indian cricket, it can be said that Indian cricket has produced some great batsmen like Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Vishwanath, Nayadu, Merchant, Hazare, Vengserkar and many more. Spinners like Gupte, Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna, Kumble and all rounders of the calibre of Lala Amarnath, Kapil dev and Mankad, but rarely have we seen quick bowlers coming out of the Indian cricket system. It maybe due to the fact that Indian wickets aren't suited to quick bowlers, or it maybe due to India over the years has produced so many great batsmen that youngsters look up-to them and follow in their footsteps. It is not easy to pinpoint the exact reason, but the simple fact is, India hasn't been able to produce too many quick bowlers in the past.

So, when Javagal Srinath burst onto the international scene it was like a breath of fresh air for Indian cricket as here was a quick bowler, who could push the opposition batsmen onto the back-foot unlike in the past when even Gavaskar used to open the bowling. I would like to add that I haven't forgotten the contribution of the legendary Kapil dev to Indian cricket as in the late 70's and 80's he could bowl reasonably quick and of course, he carried the responsibility of taking early wickets with the new ball for so long. I would also like to mention Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh, who both played for India way back in 1930's. Nissar was said to be quick and in his first test against England in 1932 he sent shock waves through England's top order by uprooting the stumps of the legendary Sutcliffe and Holmes.

So, after a brief look at the history of Indian cricket, let us comeback to our man, Javs. Sri unlike many other great or good bowlers of the past, mainly got it to comeback into the batsmen sharply and straightened the odd delivery away from the righthander with a chest on action.

He made his first class debut for Karnataka in 89/90 and is said to have made an immediate impact with his pace and bounce. The selectors were impressed with the amount of pace he could generate and soon drafted him into the one-day side to play in Sarjah. He didn't had the best of tournaments, but the selectors could see the fact that he had the potential to become a fine bowler. He was selected to tour Australia in 91/92 to play the test series, an one day tournament involving the giants of the game both Australia and West Indies and the world cup. Again he had moderate success in Australia, but the Aussies were impressed with his ability to bowl at good pace and I do remember Rodney Marsh in a interview saying that he hasn't seen bowlers from India, who could bowl quick and get bounce like Sri did, though I have to add that they were sceptical about his fitness. Sri in his early days was wiry and there were question marks over his fitness for sure. In South Africa in 92/93, he got more success and troubled all their batsmen and that includes the likes of Wessels, Hudson and Peter Kirsten. He even gave India an outside chance to level the series 1-1 with an incisive spell at Capetown but Wessels's battling knock meant that South Africa won the series.

After playing a few matches away from home from 1991 to 1993, India played most of their games at home from 1993 to 1996 and because of that Srinath had to bide his time as Kapil was still in the side and as Indian wickets mainly helped the spinners, Azhar and the coach Wadekar usually had 3 spinners in the side which meant that there was no place for Srinath. So, Srinath mainly played in onedayers and he did make his mark in the hero cup against Lanka, when he got a 5 wicket haul, but that was a period which Sri would like to forget as he had problems with his accuracy and used to bowl lots of no balls. In 1994 the legendary Kapil dev retired from international cricket which paved the way for Srinath to make his mark in the highest form of the game, test cricket and didn’t he make his mark straightaway in the test series against the West indies in 1994/95? Of course he did as in the first test at Mumbai, he surprised the Windies batsmen with his pace and bounce. Rarely would have the Windies batsmen played a quick bowler from India, who could push them onto the back-foot and that is what Srinath did to the likes of Lara, Adams and Hooper. He took 5 wickets in that match and even scored a quick-fire 60 which helped India to win the match. His important contribution though, perhaps was getting the wicket of Adams lbw. It was an important wicket as both Adams and Murray were looking dangerous and it seemed like they could have taken the game away from India’s grasp before Chauhan, the off spinner got the wicket of Murray and Srinath followed it up by getting rid of Adams. His exploits against the Caribbean team impressed Walsh who recommended the Gloucestershire club to give him a contract and I have to say that he did very well for the Gloucestershire club!

He had a decent world cup in 1996 in the subcontinent as he took 8 wickets in conditions that doesn’t suit the quick bowlers, though India couldn’t win the world cup as they faltered at the semifinal stage against Lanka. A match most would like to forget because of the unnecessary stone throwing incident by the crowd, who got angry as India were losing the match.

I do believe Javs was at his peak of his prowess in 1996, when he along with his Karnataka teammate Prasad teamed up to take early wickets against England and South Africa. I have a feeling that India would have been more successful in both England and South Africa if there was a decent third seamer but Mambrey, Johnson and Ganesh couldn’t support Srinath and Prasad nevertheless, both bowled some lion-hearted spells in that period in 1996. It was a sight to see the England' captain, Atherton, who himself had already played some fine knocks against genuine quick bowlers like that knock at Johannesburg in 95/96 against Donald and co. was made to look uncomfortable by Srinath’s pace, but it wasn’t enough as India lost the series 1-0. At home at Ahmadabad he bowled a match winning spell as he took 6 for 21 in 11 overs to help India win by 65 runs against South Africa. Most of the South African batsmen were either bowled, or were out lbw as they couldn’t handle Srinath’s ability to attack the stumps and hit those cracks to get uneven bounce. He also got it to reverse swing in that match. South African batsmen like Cullinan, Hudson and Kirsten were rattled by Srinath’s pace and accuracy. Surely SA would have expected Indian spinners like Kumble to do the damage, but it was Srinath who did the trick.

In South Africa in 96/97, both Prasad and Srinath tried their best, but again with greenhorns like Johnson and Ganesh around, India just couldn’t match the South African attack as they had Klusener and Macmillan to support the deadly duo of Donald and Pollock. I have to add that Indian batting was no better as in the first test the Indian team made only 100 and 66! It was a series which was easily won by South Africa 2-0 as they extracted revenge for the loss in India, but no one can question the efforts of both Srinath and Prasad as they bowled some fine spells in that series.

India’s next tour was to Westindies and that was the time when there were fears over the amount of workloads of both Srinath and Prasad as they both had bowled lots of overs during that period. It took a heavy toll on Javagal Srinath as he suffered an shoulder injury in the Caribbean. It was a cruel blow to Srinath as he was at the peak of his prowess in 96/97. Srinath though didn’t give up as he worked hard on his fitness and came back fitter and stronger at the end of 1997. He showed against Australia in 1998 that he had lost none of his ability as he bowled a hostile spell at Kolkata to reduce the formidable Aussies to 15 for 3 on a good batting track. He bowled with pace and just enough movement to trouble the Aussie top order. Slater was out caught at short leg by Dravid and Blewett was done in by the huge inswinger which was Srinath’s main weapon. Blewett in an attempt to flick it through the mid wicket left a gap between bat and pad only to get bowled and finally he got the important wicket of the elegant Mark Waugh as he trapped him in front with Mark looking to play his favourite flick shot, but was again done in by the sharp inward movement of Srinath. The spell by Sri helped India to win the match and India also won the series 2-1.

In 1999 he took 13 wickets against arch rivals Pakistan, but Anwar’s brilliant 188 in the second innings helped Pakistan to win the match, but getting 13 wickets in a match is one hell of a effort. Of course that match sadly would be remembered for that controversial run out of Tendulkar which resulted in crowd getting angry as they started to throw stones. The match had to be sadly completed in front of empty stands as Pakistan won by 46 runs. He also played in the 99 world cup, but the Indian team was disappointing as they couldn’t progress beyond the super six stage. Srinath though, enjoyed the sideways movement that England’s pitches can offer and showed his worth with a 3 wicket haul in the crucial game against Pakistan in the super six stage. It was also a match that India won. He ended up with 12 wickets in that tournament.

At the end of the millennium, India embarked on a challenging tour of Australia. Australia at that time were at their peak as they had the likes of McGrath, Dizzy, Waugh twins, Ponting, Warne, Fleming, and upcoming players like Lee and Gilchrist in the side. As expected, they were too strong for an inexperienced Indian side led by Tendulkar. Srinath himself didn’t had a great time in Australia, though I have to add that he was unlucky at Sydney in the third test as he repeatedly beat the bat of the Aussie batsmen with no luck especially, it looked like gods were smiling on Langer that day as whenever he would get an edge, it would go past whatever gap that existed in the slip cordon and even when Srinath induced an inside edge onto the stumps it was declared as a no ball. It continued to be a great day for Langer as a close lbw shout was turned down by the umpire Ian Robinson, but as it is said that when it is your day make it count and that is what Langer did as he scored 223 as India lost the series 3-0.

As the years went by, Srinath wasn’t getting any younger as a new crop of quick bowlers like Zaheer, Nehra and few others started to make their mark yet, Srinath was still able to make his mark as he took 5 for 114 at Galle against Lanka and it is interesting to see that Srinath was hit on the finger by Fernando yet, he bowled a lion hearted spell and took 5 wickets. India lost that match and the series but yet again Srinath showed that he would give his heart and soul for the sake of Indian cricket.

In 2002, Srinath was coming to the end of his career, but he decided to play in one more world cup in 2002/ 2003 in South Africa. He wasn’t as quick as he used to be yet his experience came in handy as he helped younger bowlers like Zaheer and Nehra. Srinath himself had his share of success as he took 16 wickets. His best spell was probably against Lanka as he took a 4 wicket haul to destroy the Lankan batting line-up and against others teams too he was consistent. Zaheer, Srinath and Nehra helped India to reach the finals where they were crushed by the great Australian team. India were suddenly hit by a storm called Ricky Ponting as he simply tore apart the Indian bowling attack with some audacious pull shots and lofted strokes against the spinners as India came a cropper at the final hurdle. One can surely say though that the Indian team performed well in the world cup especially, when one thinks about the fact that India lost the match against Australia in the round robin phase and were in a spot of bother in what was a tough group consisting of teams like Australia, Pakistan, England and Zimbabwe. It also made sure that Srinath won’t get the chance to end his career as being part of a world cup winning team.

Finally, Srinath had his critics, who thought that he bowled a touch too short otherwise he could have been more successful and there were others, who thought that he wasn’t aggressive enough like other quicks. The points so mentioned can be considered, but there is no doubt that Srinath has done yeoman services to Indian cricket. He had to bowl on some unresponsive wickets in the subcontinent and didn't get much support at the other end. On has to always remember that even Kumble was below par, when playing away from home in the 90's and as a result it did put lots of pressure on Javs  yet, he  was able to take more than 200 test wickets. After the retirement of Kapil, it was Srinath who took up the mantle of being India’s spearhead in the pace department and did an admirable job.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff GB.

Shridhar Jaju said...

A correction - its Gundappa Vishwanath, not Vishnatah. And amongst the list of great Indian fast bowlers of the past, you have missed the name of Lala Amarnath, father of Mohinder Amarnath.

But a very good article and good to see someone remember and talk about the unsung heroes of the past.

greyblazer said...

I had already mentioned the name of Lala Amarnath among the all rounders and I thought he was more of a all rounder. His fc record of 10426 runs and 463 wickets likely proves he was a all rounder.

As far as Vishwanath being Vishnath I agree it was a typo.

SportbloggerAdi said...

Good blog again mentioning the memories of his performances.

Since Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer have been the most successful Indian pace bowlers. Kapil Dev was the best without any doubt IMO.

Srinath cramped the batsman for room, was quick. He developed a leg cutter only in later part of his career, and hence missed one potent wicket taking delivery for most part of his career. I remember Azhar saying that he was the fastest Indian pace bowler he has seen. Surely he lead the pace attack well, like Zaheer is leading the pace attack at the moment.